I thank the joint committee for the opportunity to provide an update on recent developments in apprenticeship. I know the committee is very interested in apprenticeship and has been a consistent supporter of its promotion and expansion. I also note the publication of the report last month by the committee on the uptake of apprenticeships and traineeships.
As the committee is aware, SOLAS is an agency of the Department of Education and Skills with responsibility for funding, planning and co-ordinating further education and training in Ireland. We also have statutory responsibility for the national apprenticeship system which spans further and higher education, as well as supporting further education and training provided by sixteen education and training boards, ETBs, around the country. As we enter the final quarter of 2019, we are almost four years into a five-year action plan to expand national apprenticeship provision and to establish apprenticeships as a major route to skills development in Ireland. The committee will be aware that the Action Plan to Expand Apprenticeship and Traineeship 2016-2020, set a cumulative target of 31,000 apprentice registrations by the end of 2020, along with annual registration targets and targets for new apprenticeship programme development. In May of this year, a review of progress on the action plan got under way, with the aim of developing a new action plan post 2020. Employers were the first stakeholder group who were met at a dedicated session hosted by the Apprenticeship Council in May 2019 with the Minister of State with responsibility for higher education, Deputy Mitchell O’Connor, in attendance. The note of this meeting is attached with this statement for the information of the committee. Each of the action points from this meeting is being implemented.
Since 2016, there has been a cumulative total of 18,763 apprentice registrations. Fifty-four apprenticeship programmes are now operational, which is more than double the number of programmes four years ago. Apprenticeships span 12 industry areas, including information and computer technology, ICT, finance, engineering, logistics and supply chain, biopharma, auctioneering, construction, motor mechanics, electrical, hairdressing, retail and hospitality. The 54 programmes lead to a range of awards on the National Framework of Qualifications, NFQ, from level 5 to level 9. The number of registrations on craft apprenticeships has continued to increase in 2019 and forecasts are strong for 2020, particularly in the construction-related areas of electrical, plumbing, carpentry and joinery.
Despite this growth in registrations and the number of participating employers, the committee will be aware that the take-up of new apprenticeship opportunities by employers has been slower than envisaged. Nevertheless, the numbers of employers hiring apprentices on the new apprenticeship programmes is increasing with a total of 540 employers in 2018 compared to 947 as of September 2019. A further 23 new apprenticeship programmes are in development and are due to be launched in 2020. These new programmes will include training for the occupations of recruitment executive, sales specialists, advanced healthcare assistant and quantity surveyor, and will lead to awards at levels 5 to 10 on the NFQ. Table 3 in the appendix lists the apprenticeships in development and the planned date for their launch.
To support apprenticeship expansion, the Government, assisted by additional contributions from employers to the National Training Fund, has committed additional resources to apprenticeship, where €27 million has been signalled for budget 2020, a tangible commitment at a time when the uncertainty around Brexit has required diversion of substantial resources to help Ireland manage the coming months and when there are many competing demands for investment in education and training.
Two key events for apprenticeship in Ireland in 2019 were Ireland Skills Live, which took place in the RDS in March 2019, and the WorldSkills competition, which took place in Kazan in August 2019. Both were highly successful, with Ireland Skills Live putting apprenticeship and skills development on the map nationally in a way that had not been done before. Through close collaboration, Generation Apprenticeship and Ireland Skills Live succeeded in creating a powerful and coherent message about the opportunities in apprenticeship and work-based learning for school leavers, parents, teachers and older learners, including career changers. Ireland brought home 12 awards from the 2019 WorldSkills competition, which resulted in the country being placed tenth in the world, out of 64 countries. Planning is now under way for Ireland Skills Live 2020.
The national Apprenticeship Council, which is chaired by Mr. Pat O’Doherty, chief executive of ESB, has been steering the expansion project and overseeing initiatives to support the uptake of apprenticeships by both employers and potential apprentices since late 2014. The council comprises industry and social partner representatives, the Department of Education and Skills, SOLAS, the HEA, Quality and Qualifications Ireland, QQI, Education and Training Boards Ireland, ETBI, and the Technological Higher Education Association, THEA.
As noted by the committee in its report and recommendations, promotion of apprenticeship opportunities to employers to encourage wider take-up is a key focus for the council in 2019. To support this, the strategic communications campaign, namely, Generation Apprenticeship, has been stepped up. As well as strong branding, public relations, online and media campaigns across print, online, TV, radio and social media by all partners around the country, this campaign also features an innovative Generation Apprenticeship team competition for apprentices where, through creation of a six-foot, three-dimensional "A", they showcase the leadership, teamwork, creativity and problem-solving skills, as well as the technical skills developed via apprenticeship. Following two years of the competition,16 of these six-foot "A"s are on display in high-profile locations around the country.
To engage in a novel way with second level students, and in particular transition year learners, the Generation Apprenticeship competition is expanding this year to second level schools, Youthreach and community training centres. There is extensive and broad-based participation across the country, with guidance counsellors and teachers of all subject areas getting involved with learner teams. Generation Apprenticeship has a particular employer focus in 2019, with a target of 1,500 new apprenticeship employers by year-end. A national employer ambassadors initiative is under way, to which 28 employers have signed up. On 26 September in the Aviva Stadium, a large-scale showcase of apprenticeship opportunities and an apprentice employer fair, with over 500 people in attendance, took place.
The focus on employers stems from the awareness the Apprenticeship Council has of the challenge to grow the numbers of employers involved in apprenticeship programmes introduced since 2016. In these new programmes, the number of potential apprentices applying for apprenticeships is far higher than the number of employers available to employ them. For example, in the case of the tech apprenticeships during 2019, there were more than 1,500 applications for 34 apprentice jobs in the Civil Service. In the case of accounting technicians apprenticeship, each year there has been on average three applications for every available job.
To enhance the visibility and accessibility of apprenticeship job vacancies, and to assist small companies to advertise apprenticeship jobs to a wide audience, an apprenticeship jobs platform was launched on www.apprenticeship.ie in April 2019. The platform enables approved apprenticeship employers to post apprenticeship jobs for free. It also provides employer access to a range of data and information on their current apprentices that previously was only available via letter and the post. The platform is building traction month-on-month, with 388 employers now registered on the site and 74 job vacancies posted to date in 2019.
The technology underpinning the national apprenticeship system is being transformed, with an online facility for approval of new apprenticeship employers due to be launched in October 2019, followed by an online facility for registration of apprentices in early 2020. These will modernise and streamline the core administrative processes that underpin apprenticeship, which has been flagged in the report.
National apprenticeships play an important role in driving and promoting sustainability and helping to halt climate change. Updated apprenticeship curricula in construction-related areas in particular include content, skills development, materials and technologies that are climate-friendly.