WorldSkills Competition 2019: Discussion

The next matter on the agenda is engagement with SOLAS and Ireland's representatives at the WorldSkills competition in Russia. The purpose of this part of the meeting is to welcome Mr. Andrew Brownlee, the new chief executive officer of SOLAS, who will talk to us about the success of the team that represented Ireland in Russia earlier this year. We take this opportunity to wish Mr. Brownlee well in his new role. The Irish team has again done us proud by winning four gold medals, one bronze medal and seven medallions for excellence at the WorldSkills Competition. This is an excellent achievement and I have no doubt all of the competitors are proud. We are interested in hearing about their experiences at the competition.

On behalf of the committee, I welcome Mr. Brownlee, CEO; Mr. Ray English, chair of WorldSkills Ireland; Mr. Luke O'Keeffe; Mr. Ryan Dempsey; Mr. Ryan McLoughlin; Ms Megan Yeates; Ms Hanna Mathe; Mr. Pat Twomey; Mr. Chris Kehoe; Mr. Adam Flynn; Mr. Jack Lynch and; Mr. Mark Wasson, who all represented Ireland. I also welcome a number of people in the Gallery. Every team needs to have a good and supportive team beside them. I welcome Ms Shauna Dunlop and Mr. David Tracey, who were official observers; Mr. Michael Hourihan, who was an official delegate; Ms. Nikki Gallagher, director of communications and secretariat of SOLAS; Ms Emma Kelly, communications officer with SOLAS; and Ms Vivienne Patterson and Ms Louise Sherry from the Higher Education Authority.

The format of this part of the meeting is that I will invite Mr. Brownlee to make a brief opening statement. Mr. English will then contribute, after which we will have an engagement with members. If any of the other witnesses would like to contribute thereafter at any point, I ask them to indicate and I will be more than happy to allow them to do so.

Before we begin, I draw attention to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to this committee. However, if they are directed by myself, as Chair, to cease giving evidence in relation to a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in relation to their evidence. They are directed by myself that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise nor make charges against any person, persons or entity, by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I also wish to advise witnesses that any submission or opening statements that they make to the committee will be published on the committee website after this meeting. Members are also reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice members to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses, or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I now invite Mr. Andrew Brownlee, CEO of SOLAS, to make his opening statement.

Mr. Andrew Brownlee

I thank the Chairman for the good wishes. I look forward to working with the committee and helping it in anyway I can as we move forward. I will keep this brief as I know the committee really wants to hear from the WorldSkills team. On behalf of SOLAS, the HEA and WorldSkills Ireland, I would like to thank the committee for the opportunity today to celebrate the excellent performance by a brilliant team of young apprentices, trainees and students at the WorldSkills Competition in Russia in August. I am delighted to be joined today by members of the team, including Ray English, chair of WorldSkills Ireland, and his colleagues, and Vivienne Patterson of the HEA.

I would like to provide a short overview of the WorldSkills competition, and explain how SOLAS, the HEA and the Department of Education and Skills and provide support to the Irish team. The WorldSkills competition, which is held every two years, has a 60-year history and is the biggest vocational education and skills event in the world. The competitors represent the best of their peers in 56 different skills and are selected from skills competitions in over 77 WorldSkills' member countries and regions. The Department of Education and Skills introduced national and international skills competitions to Ireland in 1957 and Ireland has taken part in every single competition since. Funding of almost €400,000 for the WorldSkills team comes through a number of sources, namely, SOLAS, the HEA and the Education and Training Boards Ireland, ETBI.

WorldSkills Kazan took place from 22 to 27 August. It involved 63 countries, more than 1,300 competitors, and had over 200,00 visitors. The opening and closing ceremonies, which were held in the Kazan Stadium, were attended by more than 40,000 people and were broadcast live on Russian TV to approximately 45 million viewers. Ceremonies were also streamed live on the Internet - I know many people in Ireland tuned in - so that everybody could be part of these Olympic-style spectacular shows. The closing ceremony was addressed live by President Putin.

The WorldSkills Conference, which was run in parallel to the competitions, included contributions from people such as Scott Kelly, a NASA astronaut, and our very own Minister of State with responsibility for skills, Deputy John Halligan. The Irish team was made up of 17 young apprentices, trainees and students. They are Cormac Thompson, Allanagh O’Sullivan, Ryan Dempsey, Luke O’Keeffe, Jack Lynch, Olivier Bal-Pétré, Hanna Mathe, Glen McNamara, Adam Flynn, Mark Wasson, Megan Yeates, Patrick Twomey, Jack O’Donnell, Ruairí Grealish, Jennifer Mangan, Christopher Kehoe, and Ryan McLoughlin. They showcased their skills in the areas of aircraft maintenance; beauty therapy; building information modelling; bricklaying; cabinet-making; cloud computing; construction metal work; cookery; electrical installation; freight forwarding; industrial mechanic millwright; joinery; plumbing and heating; restaurant service; visual merchandising; and welding.

The competitors spent several months prior to the competition being trained by experts at TU Dublin; the institutes of technology in Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Dundalk, Carlow and Athlone; the education and training boards in Kerry, Waterford, Wexford, Limerick, Clare, Donegal and Dublin-Dún Laoghaire; and Shannon College of Hotel Management.

The training and the hard work paid off. Ireland has a long history of winning medals and Medallions for Excellence and this year was no different. The team won four gold medals, one bronze medal, a Best of Nation medal, and seven Medallions for Excellence. Ireland is also now ranked tenth in the world for skills in terms of the medal rankings. I am sure the members will hear from the team themselves in more detail about this remarkable achievement.

Ireland has also been chosen to host the next WorldSkills General Assembly and Conference which will take place on 5 to 8 October 2020 in Dublin and plans are progressing to finalise this and the next Ireland Skills Live event, following the success of the inaugural event in March this year.

I would like to conclude by saying that WorldSkills competitions are an excellent way to promote Ireland’s skills to a global audience. Our brilliant teams benchmark the quality of further education, training and skills against the best in the world. They are also incredible role models here at home for anyone considering their post-secondary education choices.

I thank Mr. Brownlee. I would like to welcome the Deputy Butler, Chairman of the Joint Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation, which is also doing a report on apprenticeships. Would Mr. English like to say a few words?

Mr. Ray English

I will say a few words. It is worth noting that WorldSkills Ireland remains primarily a volunteer organisation from the competitors themselves who, after selection commit to training to the experts who we rely on to train to WorldSkills standards, often for up to 40 hours a week. All of that is all done on a voluntary basis. That training takes place in education and training boards, institutes of technology, and Technological University Dublin.

The basis of this team came from the 2019 Ireland Skills Live Competition, which was held in March in the RDS, as has been noted. That attracted 15,000 young people who came to look at the skills. A number of young people went to Kazan and many others did not. The support of the Higher Education Authority, SOLAS and industry partners, such as John Sisk & Son, in delivering Ireland Skills Live needs to be noted. That led to the great success that we saw in Kazan. It is important to note that it was each team member who gave us that overall tenth position. In any of the indices, Ireland came in the top 20 of the 63 countries that participated in Kazan.

I thank Mr. English.

On behalf of the committee, I want to congratulate everyone on their achievements. Given the Olympic standard, it is incredible to think how well everyone did, and across such a wide breadth of different skills and areas. It is really fascinating. On behalf of the State, I thank everyone and acknowledge the positive impression of Ireland I have no doubt everyone gave in Russia. That is hugely important. We want to send our best people because they are ambassadors for us abroad. Given their significant achievements, I have no doubt that they played that role really well.

Most importantly, I acknowledge the inspiration I have no doubt the competitors are to the young people in Ireland. They are an inspiration to their fellow citizens, to their fellow students and to us, as committee members. I have no doubt that they, along with their families, are very proud of what they have achieved.

The team had the opportunity to sit in on our earlier hearing on reduced timetables. Normally, parliamentary committees discuss what is wrong in society and the difficulties and problems we have, in particular within the education and skills system, which we deal with in this committee. In our experience, these problems affect younger and vulnerable people, in particular. It is so refreshing and encouraging to have the team here to shine a light on what they have achieved. Despite the difficulties and problems we have in society, the work they do and their achievements will give all of us better hope for the future.

I would like to ask our guests to say a few words about their experience and about their particular skill and achievement. If they are not comfortable doing that, that is absolutely fine. If anyone who would like to speak, perhaps they might indicate. We will be more than happy to welcome them to do so.

Ms Megan Yeates

I would like to thank the committee for inviting us in. This is an amazing opportunity to speak on behalf of the team. I know everybody will want to give their input.

I also thank the team we have behind us. As was said, a great team supports us and brings us along. To give a little background, I won gold in the freight forwarding category at WorldSkills. It was the very first year in which freight forwarding made it to the WorldSkills. Two years ago it was a future skill that was being tested. It was an amazing opportunity to be able to take part in it the first year going.

WorldSkills is an absolutely amazing opportunity to get to represent one's country at an international level. There are not enough words to say how great this year's event was. What one takes away from it is the training opportunity we had leading up to it. I had ten weeks of intensive training from June to August, which was supported by TU Dublin. As Mr. English mentioned, I had my chief expert, who worked with me on a volunteer basis, and I was training five days a week, Monday to Friday, from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. It is intense and a lot goes into it. When we travel over there we are up against the best in the world so we have to give it our all and be as informed as possible. We go over there almost wanting to know more than our experts. My expert is quite a few years ahead of me, but the support we get from the institutes is amazing. I know that some of my colleagues here had the opportunity to train with different institutes across the country. I was very lucky that I got to go out into my industry. My background is that I completed my logistics and supply chain management level 8 undergraduate programme in TU Dublin, so a lot of the companies that support the college through the work placements were very welcoming and opened their doors to me throughout the summer, took me on and gave me training. Not a single person in industry who was approached refused to get involved. It is very refreshing to see that and that all the companies out there are very supportive of the younger generation coming up and want to give that support to nurture our skills and help to educate us to make us the leaders and the industry experts into the future.

I would now like to pass the floor to one of my colleagues, who would like to continue the discussion.

The partnership Ms Yeates highlighted is incredibly important. Of course, we in Kildare are very proud of her as a Kildare person.

Ms Megan Yeates

I thank the Chairman.

Would anybody else like to say a few words about how they found the experience and perhaps something about their own areas of expertise? Perhaps they might do so after the members have asked a few questions. I will hand the floor over to the members.

I join the Chairman in congratulating all the participants. It is an incredible achievement, and I know that Ireland has been really successful over the years. Well done to everybody involved. One thing I feel strongly about is the fact that opportunities for young people coming out of school do not have to be the standard go-to-college, get-a-degree opportunities. I commend SOLAS on the work that has been done on apprenticeships, including the new apprenticeships that are now available. My main question is this, and Ms Yeates has already given us an example: have some of the participants some experience of how what they have done will help them in terms of a career and job opportunities? It is so important for young people to recognise that by going down the skills route, there are fantastic opportunities out there, particularly for those of them who have represented the country so well.

I congratulate each and every one of the participants. I do not know if SOLAS would like to respond about the new apprenticeships and whether some of them are tested. Traditionally, there were a number of skills. I think Mr. Brownlee said there were 56 different ones.

Mr. Andrew Brownlee

Yes.

Has the number increased in recent years? Is Ireland participating in a wider range now than previously?

We will wait until everybody has had an opportunity before coming back to the witnesses.

Congratulations, comhghairdeas, on the participants' wonderful achievements at WorldSkills this year. I also commend the work of SOLAS, the HEA and the volunteers and WorldSkills Ireland on what they are doing for our youth. The participants should not underestimate the inspirational role models they are on that world stage for the youth of Ireland as they ponder their next careers. They are showing them the potential they have. Do the participants think their schools or career guidance counsellors give them enough encouragement to consider apprenticeships? What was their experience in secondary school and so on? Furthermore, I noticed that of the 17 participants, four were women. That is roughly the percentage of women we have in the Dáil, so we definitely need more women in the Dáil and more women apprentices. I, therefore, ask the following question of the women in particular, although I would like answers from some of the young men here as well. What has the women's experience been and what can we do to get more women involved in this? What do the men think we can do to get more women involved in apprenticeships? It is an untapped resource. There is such potential there.

Congratulations - comhghairdeas libh go léir. I thank the witnesses for coming before us. At the risk of singling him out, I think I saw Mr. Twomey in The Echo in the run-up to-----

Mr. Pat Twomey

Yes.

He is a Coolea man, I think, but I congratulate all the participants. It is an amazing achievement. There has clearly been a strong track record over recent years.

I have a few questions for the participants but also for SOLAS. New courses are opening up and we are moving in the right direction, but we are still a long way behind the likes of Germany and Austria in that I think they have occupations well into the hundreds. I am not sure how many occupations we have. The witnesses can tell me now. It is certainly fewer than a hundred, I would say. It is in the 40s. There is surely significant scope for enhancing that, so perhaps the witnesses could tell us a bit about how they intend to move in that direction and how we might move towards the way in which they manage things in Germany or Austria.

I have a very specific question about something that has come up with industry. Are there many apprenticeships in instrumentation and electrical instrumentation at the moment? As far as I know, there is a serious shortage in this regard. It comes up with businesspeople in Cork - pharmaceutical companies and so on. There is a gap there. It is a really attractive trade but not many people seem to be going into it. If the witnesses have not already answered that, perhaps they might do so. It is an anecdotal matter.

It is probably difficult for the participants to say what about the system could be fixed, given the current environment, but perhaps they could tell us what the best elements of the apprenticeship system in Ireland are and what we need to work on. Also, many schools across the country do not really give many students the option of entering apprenticeships. It is not really open to them as an option. People are discouraged and it is not really considered a viable option. Do the participants think there is a role for them as well as SOLAS in going into schools and outlining the positive experience they have had and how apprenticeships can be an attractive option? I know they might be reluctant to speak but perhaps they could give us just a sense of how diverse their ranges are. Could they tell us in just a phrase what competitions they entered and competed in?

I thank everybody for coming in. I reiterate the congratulations that everyone here has expressed to the participants for their participation, their representing the country and their achievements at the world games in becoming world leaders in their particular fields, and that is the way they have to look at it. Part of their being here is recognition for that. The Minister quite rightly criticised some of the media here, who shall remain nameless, for not giving the games the recognition it merited. It is important we give it that recognition. I note that 45 million people saw the participants on Russian television. It is up to us as public representatives to do our best to promote this because it is certainly one of the few world championships on this scale - and it is a huge scale - that has a lower profile here, which is a problem. If the media are listening - there is always someone listening - I urge them to show this hearing rather than us. We get on the telly all the time, and we hope to put the participants on the telly to show the achievements they have made. That is really important. They have represented the country at the highest possible level in their chosen fields.

I do not expect them to answer questions but I have a couple. They have all come to apprenticeships. Do any of them have any ideas or suggestions as to how we can promote apprenticeships and skills at school? Perhaps some of them had a good intervention, a good guidance counsellor, a good teacher, a good ETB person - whatever.

Does anyone have suggestions on that? What can be done to encourage more women to become involved? The apprenticeship field is the outstanding example of underrepresentation of women in Irish society. The number of women is crazily low. I would like to ask Ms Yeates in particular what brought her to her category of apprenticeship, which is relatively unusual. How did that happen?

It is quite shocking to think that only 4% of apprentices last year were female and the number prior to that was only 2%.

I thank the Chairman for her warm welcome. I am the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation. There is a bit of an overlap between our briefs. I congratulate the Irish WorldSkills team on being ranked tenth in the world with four gold medals, one bronze medal, a best of nation medal and seven medallions of excellence. We could say it all day long. It is a phenomenal result. This is an amazing opportunity to represent one's country at an international level. I have no doubt that of the team members' commitment and determination, and as Ms Yeates rightly pointed out, the five days a week of training for eight weeks. I am sure all of the witnesses did the same. We recognise the commitment and dedication they gave to representing Ireland. On behalf of the Joint Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation, I congratulate each and every one of the competitors and their mentors. It is a fantastic achievement. The committee will write to each one of them individually.

As the Chairman said, last year there were 15,500 apprenticeships in Ireland but only 400 were undertaken by women, which is an appalling number. Apprentices have a key role to play in addressing future skills needs. My committee looked at the role of apprentices in respect of work permits. We found that during the recession, secondary schools focused more on academia than on apprenticeships that allow students to earn as they learn. We also lost a lot of guidance counsellors during the recession. It is very important that it is not only ETB schools that encourage students to consider the various trades. My daughter is only 13 years old. She started secondary school last year and her favourite subject is technical graphics because she loves maths. I never thought she would be drawn to that. If she had not had the opportunity to engage with a subject like technical graphics at her school we would never have known that this could be the way she would like to go.

It is great to see Ms Mathe and Ms Yeates here. Were there only two female representatives on the team? I concur with the Chairman. I noticed that when the competitors returned, my constituency colleague, the Minister of State, was disappointed by the lack of media coverage. As a Deputy from Waterford, I to congratulate Mr. Flynn and Ms Mathe. I compliment the Chairman for inviting the delegation and acknowledging what they have done. Onwards and upwards. I wish the witnesses the best of luck in their future careers.

I will put the witnesses on the spot. I have given them enough time to warm up. I wish to ask about their areas of expertise. When I heard about the various areas, I thought it was incredible to have such a wide variety. I ask them to say a little about their area and how they think apprenticeships or training can be given more prominence. It seems there is not parity of esteem between apprenticeships and academic subjects or degrees. We have discussed this several times as a committee. We believe that is completely wrong. We want to help to raise the profile of apprenticeships and we would like ideas from the witnesses on how to do that.

Mr. Luke O'Keefe

I thank the committee for invitation. My skill is building information modelling, BIM. Mr. Ryan Dempsey and I were a team in Russia, where we had to make 3D models of buildings. It is an architectural skill. We went to college. I did not undertake an apprenticeship from the outset, mainly because it was not encouraged in secondary school. I always loved woodwork and making stuff with my hands. I always wanted to go down the apprenticeship road but I was discouraged by school and a little by my parents, as if one should not do that. One should go to college, get a degree and then get a job. Finally in college I found something I enjoyed, that is, architecture. It is still pertains to apprenticeships in some ways.

The experience in Russia was unreal. The scale of everything there is immense. If it was not for Ireland Skills Live last year, half of the team would not have done as well as they did this year. Ireland Skills Live brought everyone under one roof. We competed and saw some of the scale we would see in Russia. Without that we would have struggled. We would have been caught in the limelight as there was so much going on around us. Ireland Skills Live got us in the right mindset. We knew what we were expecting when we went over there. The Government should focus on that event, because it helps students. Other colleges and secondary schools are invited to Ireland Skills Live to see apprentices and apprenticeships and meet the best people working in those areas.

Mr. Ryan Dempsey

I thank the committee for inviting us. As Mr. O'Keeffe said, our skill is building information modelling. This is a new skill so it is in the "Future Skills" category. The event took place over 19.5 hours over three days. As Mr. O'Keeffe said, our background was in college but I see potential for BIM to become an apprenticeship. There is a skills shortage in the construction industry at the moment. There must be a greater emphasis on bringing people into the industry, including other apprentices. Speaking from a selfish point of view, there must be a better roadmap so that students know the options out there. There is an emphasis on going to college, but if the right roadmap is in place, students will know that apprenticeships are a viable option and they can get great careers from them. The people around me show the immense potential of apprenticeships, which can allow people to represent their country. It is not just about college. It is important to push apprenticeships and get the message into schools by inviting people in to speak.

The Ireland Skills Live event was a great success this year. It was great to see the students come in and walk around. One never knew who might come along. I even sensed a bit of inspiration from what we were doing and had the feeling students might follow us down this road. Ireland Skills Live should continue and the media must be involved.

Mr. Ryan McLoughlin

I thank the committee for having us. I represented Ireland in bricklaying. I did not like school at all. It did not work for me. Apprenticeship was looked down on when we received career guidance. No one spoke about it. When we received career guidance, we were given a stack of books on all the colleges around the country but all we were given on apprenticeships was a leaflet. There was no emphasis on trades or anything like that. I followed the norm; I filled out the Central Applications Office, CAO, form and applied for colleges, but I did not want to do that. I started an apprenticeship and enjoyed it. Many more people could do the same. I was the first bricklayer to register in counties Longford or Westmeath since 2009 and I do not know of one since. There is a massive shortage of bricklayers and so on around the country.

In schools, there is a massive emphasis put on Higher Options and going to see colleges. I believe there should also be an emphasis on Ireland Skills Live to see what apprenticeships are about and what people do in the trades, because currently a person cannot see what is done in each trade just by looking at a leaflet or researching it. A person would have to see it to find out what it is about and it should be emphasised more.

Ms Yeates told us about freight forwarding earlier. Perhaps she will tell us what attracted her to that as opposed to anything else, and respond to any of the questions that have been put.

Ms Megan Yeates

I will address the couple of questions directed towards me, but I will respond to the Chairman's question first. It is a question people love to ask me, because the industry I am in of freight forwarding and logistics is quite unusual. My degree title is logistics and supply chain management. I did my work placement with DHL in my third year and I moved into the transport sector. I also completed my certificate of professional competence management examinations at the end of second year. Like many others I meet in the industry, I was not especially attracted to it, but I ended up in it by default.

I was only aged 17 when I did my leaving certificate. I considered myself quite young to be leaving school and to be deciding what I wanted to do moving on. I took the initiative to have a year out and took a gap year, during which I worked. In that time I decided I would like to do a business course because I was drawn towards that area. In school, however, I had done all science subjects and I never completed a business subject to the leaving certificate. I was looking for a business course that was a bit more detailed and specific as opposed to a broad business subject. By chance I stumbled across the course in the Dublin Institute of Technology, which is now Technological University Dublin. I had studied applied maths and higher-level maths and I enjoyed them so it drew me to the course with its spreadsheet modelling and other maths subjects it offered. As I get more into the industry and the more business events I attend, I find that most people working in the logistics have just stumbled into it. One does not go through secondary school saying, "I know what I will do when I leave school; I will go into freight, or transport or supply." As I attended events, and especially over the summer as I met people, I have started working more on telling my story and I have taken time over the summer to write a blog. I cover topics such as why I chose freight forwarding, why I got into logistics and my WorldSkills journey. I have tried to share that journey to perhaps inspire somebody else along the way who might be looking for that little bit of inspiration.

My course is not an apprenticeship but TUD launched the logistics associate apprenticeship last year, which ran successfully for its first year and is now in its second year. It has also launched in Cork this year with significantly high numbers.

Reference was made to the gender gap, which is a topical issue at the moment, especially in the industry itself. I sat in on some of the meetings for the apprenticeship programme. There was quite a high proportion of males. My graduating class numbered 53 in total, of whom only eight were women. We can see a gender divide in this regard but it is interesting that it was 95% women to 5% men competing in the WorldSkills competition. In Europe, there appears to be a greater emphasis on women in the industry. Noting the other competitors in my category, there was a higher percentage of apprentices than students in the competition. There is a greater emphasis in Europe on freight forwarding and so on in apprenticeships.

A question was asked about school support at leaving certificate level. I believe that honesty is the best policy here. No support was given by my school in respect of leaving certificate choices for other options afterwards. Once a week, career guidance time was set aside where we were given time but it was very much a case of, "Go and work in the computer lab and work on it yourself." When I came to leaving certificate level, I was unsure. I was only 17 and it is quite a big life decision to make at such a young age. I took the decision to take a year out to do further research, so I knew I was going into the right course. Many of my classmates went straight into college and then dropped out within their first year. This is quite normal. I must give credit where credit is due. The push by SOLAS now, and the Generation Apprenticeship launch is doing a fabulous job at the moment. We are definitely starting to see it more across social media and reaching out to that younger generation. As Mr. Dempsey pointed out, there is no support from schools for apprenticeships. They are still struggling to get over the kind of image problem at the moment. As Mr. O'Keeffe said earlier, even parents will still discourage apprenticeships because they were always seen at one level while third level education was at another level. That is the way they were pushed. A lot of positive work is being done at the moment. It will just take some time to build up the momentum. It has to be a case of going into secondary schools and starting with the students at an earlier level, perhaps at third year and transition year and fifth year. If it starts at sixth year, it is too late. As Mr. Dempsey referenced, the student fills in his or her CAO application in October or November just for the sake of getting it done and out of the way so he or she can focus on the leaving certificate at that point. This is definitely something that could be taken into account moving forward to target the younger audience.

My younger brother is currently in sixth year. The students were brought to the Higher Options conference but there has been no push to bring them to any of the Generation Apprentice events. Schools could be encouraged to cast a wider net. The apprentice events are out there so there are opportunities to bring them along. Ireland Skills Live does a great job at showcasing apprenticeships and we ourselves show what can be achieved, be it through an apprentice route or a third level education route. There are amazing opportunities. The content of the logistics apprenticeship is quite similar to the third level content, so the opportunities are available at the end are also quite similar and there is huge scope for opportunity with either path.

During transition year, all students should have the opportunity to attend a taster session of a skill or apprenticeship and learn a little more about the options through that.

Ms Hanna Mathe

I thank the committee for inviting us. It is a huge honour, especially considering that we were 17 men and four women going to Russia for the competition. I was grateful to have the opportunity to be one of them. I can only speak for my own skill and I believe there are a couple of things that need to be addressed in terms of cookery nationwide - worldwide is a whole other conversation - especially for women.

I did not decide to go into cookery. I finished the leaving certificate and took a year out as I was not really sure what I wanted to do. I stumbled upon the four-year bachelor of arts honours course in Waterford Institute of Technology. I was attracted to that course because the third year is done abroad. I have just come back from that. I was placed in a one-Michelin starred restaurant in Budapest, and then at the Institut Paul Bocuse in France. I do not know if any member is familiar with it. I believe that one of the major issues in the industry that scares women off - and men as well - is the toxicity of the long hours and the fact that we will always work on those occasions other people are off. That is a whole other conversation and is something that needs to change within the job itself. Women are put off the industry when they see that working kitchens generally are made up of 80% men and 20% women, and I saw this even in Budapest and France. Head chefs and sous chefs are mostly men. A woman has to go into a kitchen and doubly prove herself. If a woman in a working kitchen asks anyone else to lift a heavy bag that she cannot, she will be looked down upon. It is extremely unfair.

Apprenticeships were not encouraged. My parents were not aware of the job I was going into but were very supportive. Ireland had not put forward competitors for the cookery element of the competition in a very long time so I am the first one to go in eight years. Ireland is a lot better than what we are putting forward. More funding could go towards cookery and towards publicising and advertising the fact that there are good restaurants in the country. Our food is some of the best in Europe and we should be showcasing that by sending more cookery competitors over there. I must also say a major "Thank you" to Alan McCabe - who is not here today - who was my mentor.

Another issue I have seen relates to training for cookery. Institutes of technology are mostly the institutions that provide cookery training. I mostly had people from other institutes of technology who came to train me, which was incredible, but younger members of the industry need to be involved too.

People who are out working in industry need to be called on to work together with the institutes of technology to train the competitors. Having been over there, competitors need to be warned about the vast numbers of people who will be there. There were 46 competitors in my skill. I observed the skill sets and the experience they had. We could put more training into Irish competitors to compete against them. We are well able for it. This is something that should definitely be done. More encouragement should be given to women to go into kitchens. I have absolutely no idea how we can make it easier for them, but I think we could be doing much better.

I thank Ms Mathe. It is a shame that this is not a practical session because she could have cooked dinner for all of us. It would have been nice.

Mr. Pat Twomey

I represented Ireland in the construction metalwork category and, luckily enough, I came out with a medallion. I will explain how I came into the job. I would not say the career guidance I was given in secondary school would have been much of a help. Like others, I found there was a focus on college and on filling in the CAO form just for the sake of it. I was offered an apprenticeship by a man for whom I was working in a summer job. That was how I got to learn about apprenticeships. The school did not help at all, really. To be fair, SOLAS gave me some good help. Any time I had questions, I could ring them up and that was good. As I come from a Gaeltacht, I also got support from Údarás na Gaeltachta, which was a great help. My experience at Ireland Skills Live was of great assistance when I was in Kazan. I was used to having to deal with crowds passing by, and watching everyone as they did so, and that helped to calm me down and to get a little more used to it.

Mr. Twomey enjoyed it anyway.

Mr. Pat Twomey

I enjoyed it all right.

Mr. Pat Twomey

I can answer any other questions that members might have later in the meeting.

I thank Mr. Twomey.

Mr. Mark Wasson

I thank the committee for having me here today. I am originally from Donegal. I started secondary school, just like everyone else, and when I came to leaving certificate, there was no word of apprenticeships. When I was going through school, I had slight learning difficulties. I was not very much into books and all of that. I was always into physical tasks, like those we did in woodwork and metalwork. As everyone has said, there was a focus on going to college or to university but nothing was said about apprenticeships. The big problem with being from Donegal, or from rural Ireland in general, is that it is difficult to find employers who take on apprentices. Many employers do not know what apprenticeships are. Many of them do not want to hear about apprenticeships because they are not interested in young fellows who will be going away for weeks. This is a big problem up with us. I went through the whole of Donegal before finally getting an apprenticeship after a while. I could only get one company. After I started out, I went from strength to strength. I have done three years so far. I represented Ireland in the joinery category and I definitely enjoyed the whole thing. It was an unbelievable experience. It definitely enjoyed it all. I thank the committee for having us here today.

Mr. Wasson is welcome.

Mr. Chris Kehoe

I can definitely say that I cannot recommend an apprenticeship enough. It is amazing. Ireland Skills Live needs to be addressed more. It needs to be bigger. The route towards apprenticeship needs to start in primary school. People can leave secondary school at the age of 16. My dream started at primary school. Things like posters are needed to give apprenticeships a higher profile. They have to be seen more. When school pupils come to Ireland Skills Live, they get an idea of what is going on and they want to have a chance to do an apprenticeship. A greater focus on apprenticeships would strengthen Ireland's WorldSkills team. A wider level of involvement will lead to more competition and a greater number of competitors. If this sector is broadened, we will have a much better team and it is to be hoped we will get more medals.

What is Mr. Kehoe's particular skill?

Mr. Chris Kehoe

I am a welder.

Good man. I saw a video that Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board did about a female welder as a really good way to encourage women to get into this area of activity.

Mr. Adam Flynn

I competed in the industrial mechanic millwright category. In Ireland, our trade is known as mechanical automation and maintenance fitting. Luckily enough, I had a brilliant engineering teacher in secondary school. Without her, I would not be here today. There was no focus whatsoever on apprenticeships other than in her class. Going into her class every week was the light at the end of the tunnel. I hated school otherwise. I had a career guidance teacher, and I could not say she was a help. Everything was focused on open days in institutes of technology and universities or on the agricultural side of things. Absolutely nothing was done to encourage people to go down the apprenticeship road. Why could they not have brought us out to industry or even to a pharmaceutical plant for an open day? There was absolutely none of that. I would like to see a greater emphasis on apprenticeships in secondary schools. If it is not driven into us when we are younger, we will not bring it with us to this kind of level. We will not get any further without somebody guiding us in the right direction. That is basically what I would like to say about it.

I thank Mr. Flynn for his observations.

Mr. Jack Lynch

I competed in the cabinet-making competition. Like other speakers, I found when I was in school that apprenticeships were not really pushed at all. All of the focus was on the third level sector. I got sucked into that and I went to college. As I was going from third year into fourth year in college, it struck me that I would have preferred to go down the apprenticeship route. When I was in school, apprenticeship did not seem accessible to me. It seemed a bit too complicated. It was not well enough advertised. It was harder to get into an apprenticeship than to go to college. College was easy to get into because it was a case of filling out the CAO forms and there you go. The other thing seemed a bit harder to me. Basically, that was it.

I thank Mr. Lynch. It has been interesting to listen to the experiences and observations of the witnesses. On behalf of all of us, I congratulate them and assure them that they are ambassadors for Ireland in this area. We will call on them when we need to avail of more expertise as we make a input into the whole apprenticeship area. I think they have shone a light on where we need to go in this regard.

Mr. Ray English

I would like to make a couple of points. We recognise as champions the 17 people who went to Kazan this year and indeed all of those who competed in the competition in previous years. WorldSkills has also recognised them by giving them special pins to mark their achievements as competitors and champions. We do not make enough use of that when they are back here. Why are we not sending them out to second level schools and other places? We should tell them that we are going to send them around the second level schools for a couple of weeks as part of a sort of roadshow. We need to look at how we are going to develop that idea further on.

Interestingly, we have just started a conversation with WorldSkills about the One School One Country programme, which the guys would have seen in Kazan. The programme involves the creation of links between schools in Kazan and teams elsewhere. When I discussed this in general terms with Dr. Mary-Liz Trant of SOLAS and Dr. Vivienne Patterson of the HEA recently, we looked at how we can translate One School One Country into a much bigger event with the involvement of Generation Apprentice and the team. We want this programme to grow dramatically within Ireland. We will propose that to the WorldSkills board when it meets here in October.

Although we did not have a competitor in the painting and decorating competition in Kazan, it is interesting to note that 80% of the competitors were young females. Most of them were from European countries. It is also interesting to look at some of the results from Ireland Skills Live, which was attended by 15,000 people. Slightly more young women than young men turned up at the event. The ratio was approximately 51:49 in favour of young women. This is interesting given that the event was aimed at skills, apprenticeships and undergraduate studies. We really targeted the Saturday for parents. We were not sure how it was going to work out. It was really interesting to see a huge return on one of the days from young people who were saying that this is what they want to do and asking how they can move from an undergraduate course into an apprenticeship.

WorldSkills Ireland runs 56 competitions.

Some of them are new apprenticeships, so there is a changing demographic in the skills that we are involved in. It is also interesting that Ireland promoted cloud computing as a competition and it is now a WorldSkills competition. We have promoted building information modelling, BIM, as a competition, and it will be a full competition in Shanghai. We are starting to use our awareness of our economic key factors and to promote those to WorldSkills as competitions. New apprenticeships are coming on board which, when we build capacity, will also become apprenticeships. The comment about technical graphics was very interesting. That is a real lead-in to BIM as the guys there can tell the committee. How it is not an apprenticeship at this stage is beyond me, because there is a huge economic demand for it as well.

It seems that there needs to be greater educational awareness, not just for the students but for the parents and for the schools, about the opportunities that exist when we think about the world that will open up to us in terms of new jobs opportunities. It was highlighted earlier by Mr. McLoughlin that we need interchangeability between courses so that people can start off something and then possibly transfer into a more niche area.

I congratulate all of the participants. They are all great ambassadors and we will be back to them again. We look forward to hearing all about the conference that is going to be in October. If there is a possibility for some committee members to attend, we would like to do that.

We are going to ask everyone, and they are very welcome to do so, to take a photograph with all of the participants, because we want to do our bit to highlight their achievements and to spread the message to media outlets that it is very important what they have, their achievements, and the fact that they are 10th in the world. That is quite incredible. That will bring them a long way in terms of future career opportunities. I thank the volunteers and mentors who were mentioned. I thank Ms Nikki Gallagher who organised today's meeting. I will see everyone outside for a quick photograph and we will resume in private session because we have a huge amount of correspondence to get through.

I have another parliamentary party meeting to attend now. Can we postpone the next part of the meeting?

We will deal with some of the correspondence.

Does Mr. Brownlee wish to respond to some of the points raised at the end?

As Mr. Brownlee did not indicate his wish to comment, does he wish to comment now?

Mr. Andrew Brownlee

Yes. I know specific questions were asked. On general promotion, it is using these guys as incredible ambassadors. The mainstream media did not cover the events in the way that we wanted, but the participants were stars on social media and that is the type of stuff that gets traction with young people. We need to look at different ways to get the message across.

We talked a lot about guidance. I do not think that it is just about guidance. We need to look at how we develop vocational options and pathways in second level as well. The last time I attended a meeting of this committee, there was a female apprentice who talked about the fact that she had to change schools because she did not have the subject options that she needed to pursue a vocational pathway. We need to look at how the role of further education and training, FET, can deliver vocational options, vocational pathways and apprenticeship-type taster programmes in transition year or as part of a junior cycle and senior cycle. There are a lot of things to think about.

New apprenticeships are rolling up. We are targeting about 70 by the end of the year. I understand the committee has looked at apprenticeship issues separately, and I am sure it will coming back to that. There are issues to be addressed. We need to get more employer buy-in. We are kind of getting traction in terms of changing the culture and getting families and young people more interested in vocational options. It is not just about apprenticeships. It is about traineeships, vocational degree programmes in institutes of technology, and post-leaving certificate, PLC, courses that lead to exciting careers. There is so much opportunity that we are pushing an open door if we can get the product right and promote it effectively. Mr. McLoughlin mentioned that there are prospectuses for higher education. We give a leaflet to people who are interested in apprenticeships. Therefore, we need to package things a bit more, which is a big challenge.

There was a specific question on instrumentation and pharma. There are new traineeships in that space. I am happy to come back to the committee members to talk about the things that are being worked on in these areas. I thank the Members for their time today.

I thank Mr. Brownlee. It has been our pleasure. We will go outside now and will resume afterwards in private session. We may not deal with everything that is on the agenda because we have a large amount of correspondence to get through after we pose for a photograph. We will get through some of the correspondence.

The joint committee suspended at 5.55 p.m., resumed in private session at 6.05 p.m. and adjourned at 6.25 p.m. sine die.