Apprenticeships: Discussion

I remind members and witnesses to turn off their mobile telephones or switch them to flight mode because, as we know, mobile phones interfere with the sound system and makes it very difficult for the parliamentary reporters to report the meeting. Television coverage and web streaming can also be adversely affected.

We have reached item No. 8 on our agenda, which is engagement with the stakeholders on recent development in apprenticeships and efforts to increase their uptake including the role of guidance counsellors in promoting apprenticeships as a viable route to further education and training in schools. We have had a number of engagements on apprenticeships over the number of years since the committee came into session. As a committee, we feel that apprenticeships and skills can provide a valuable career path for young people. SOLAS has been at the forefront of that engagement.

We had some of the 17 Irish participants from the WorldSkills competition before the committee last month and we were enthused by the young people who were representing Ireland. It is very notable that they came tenth in the world and won four gold medals and a very high number of commendations. It was of concern to the committee that, in speaking to the young people about the roads that they took in consideration of apprenticeships and skills, apprenticeships were lacking a parity of esteem with third level universities and colleges. This is something we had come across before so we thought it was important to look at that, have a discussion and see how, as a committee, we can help and what recommendations we can make to the Minister to ensure that apprenticeships and skills are taken seriously.

I know that Senator Ruane has left to speak in the Seanad so I was given apologies on her behalf.

She will be back in three or four minutes.

That is fine.

I welcome Mr. Andrew Brownlee, chief executive office of SOLAS, who was with us on the day representatives from WorldSkills were before the committee. He is welcome before us again. We also welcome Ms Mary-Liz Trant, who looks after apprenticeships for SOLAS and Ms Beatrice Dooley, who is the President of the Institute Guidance Counsellors, a group of people who play a large role in giving information to young people and helping to provide them with a pathway.

I will invite our guests to make a brief opening statement, which will be followed by an engagement with the members of the committee. I will ask our guests to make a three-minute statement and there will then be an opportunity for questions and follow-up with the committee.

I draw the attention of witnesses 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 the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed 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 or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

I also advise our guests that any opening statements they make to the committee will be published on the committee website after this meeting.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I call on Mr. Andrew Brownlee from SOLAS to make his opening statement.

Mr. Andrew Brownlee

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.

I have given Mr. Brownlee three-times the amount of time allotted.

Mr. Andrew Brownlee

Alongside the review of progress since 2016 and planning post 2020, a priority area for progress over the next 15 months in apprenticeship expansion is to secure a much broader base of employers using apprenticeships as a pipeline of talent. The Apprenticeship Council, and SOLAS in its statutory role overseeing apprenticeship, welcome the support of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Skills in driving this employer goal, including the aim to have at least 1,500 new apprenticeship employers in 2019. To reiterate a core message in the SOLAS submission to the committee in 2018, employer buy-in to new apprenticeships is a key success factor and dependency, and this challenge remains.

The committee’s recommendations in its September 2019 report are being incorporated into the review of the 2016-20 period and preparation for the future post 2020. Any further commentary and ideas are most welcome and my apologies for the length of my statement.

I gave Mr. Brownlee the extra leeway because we have only two submissions. If he appears before the committee again we really would appreciate if he could try to respect the timeline.

I ask Ms Dooley to make her opening statement now, please.

Ms Beatrice Dooley

I thank the committee. I was told I have six minutes and I will try to keep it within that timeline.

I thank the committee for its invitation. I am here to talk about the role of guidance counsellors in schools in promoting apprenticeships as a viable route to further education and training. I am delighted to have the opportunity, in the words of Tracy Chapman, to “tell it like it is.” In last decade industry has not engaged with guidance counsellors in the way it used to in the past. In sharp contrast, all colleges provide comprehensive information on their courses for our members annually. Thanks to an IGC initiative and the labour market stakeholders who answered our call last year, guidance counsellors are knowledgeable about skill shortages and new initiatives in the area of apprenticeships and traineeships.

During the review of guidance l was surprised to hear stakeholders criticise our members for not promoting apprenticeships. I knew a lot of good work was happening on the ground but also recognised that our members had been under a lot of pressure since the cuts in 2012 when we had lost 25% of our guidance allocation. In the autumn of 2018 I reached out to our labour market stakeholders and approached SOLAS, with a view to joining forces to deliver continuous professional development, CPD, programmes to over 1,300 guidance counsellors nationwide. Ms Maria Walsh from SOLAS was instrumental in helping me to kick-start my vision to bring labour market information on CPD to guidance counsellors. I invited the major labour market stakeholders in Ireland to collaborate with the IGC to deliver a joint CPD initiative focused on skill shortages and new initiatives in the area of apprenticeships and traineeships. The up-to-date CPD programme was developed by the IGC in collaboration with SOLAS, Future Skills, the institutes of technology, all education and training boards, ETBs, local employers and apprenticeship providers, including the Electricity Supply Board, ESB; the Construction Industry Federation, CIF; Accounting Technicians Ireland, ATI, and CareersPortal. These eight labour market stakeholders have travelled the length and breadth of the country to deliver the CPD programme to our members. We have nine branches complete and the remaining seven are booked for this year. The tenth, in Kilkenny, is taking place today. Thanks to this CPD programme, guidance counsellors in all 16 branches will ultimately be equipped with cutting-edge information on labour market skill shortages, apprenticeships and traineeships. The information is bespoke to each individual IGC branch. It is in PowerPoint presentation form and can be communicated to students through one-to-one appointments, in class and to parents during annual presentations. Furthermore, at CPD events, guidance counsellors are afforded the opportunity to network with labour market stakeholders and invite them to their schools to deliver careers talks and to liaise with local employers to set up appropriate work placements for their students. Already, participating apprenticeship providers have reported that they are visiting schools more frequently at the invitation of the guidance counsellors who attended the CPD programme. Guidance counsellors are once again knowledgeable about skill shortages. The remaining obstacles facing guidance counsellors who wish to acquaint their students about the advantages of pursuing apprenticeships are a lack of time, inadequate access and parental prejudice.

In terms of time, the ICG argues that for students who are predominantly kinaesthetic learners, the traditional learning experience which still dominates second level education can be soul destroying. These students typically excel in hands-on, practical learning. If they become switched off at school and have no one to join the dots for them, they are in danger of not signing up for apprenticeships. In many schools the guidance counsellor’s first opportunity to interact with students on an individual basis is in fifth year but by then it is too late to retain or influence disenchanted students. We need timely, one-to-one access to students to identify potential apprenticeships at the very latest by third year but ideally in first year. For this to happen, we need a return to the ex-quota guidance allocation system and the pre-2012 circular on allocations. We also need a guidance allocation ring-fenced for apprenticeships that will enable us to adequately support new apprenticeships and traineeships. We are spread too thinly, with 64% of our members dealing with mental health issues on a daily basis. The 2019 action plan for education committed to reintroducing and enhancing guidance counselling in second level schools. When will the Department deliver on this promise?

The Adult Education Guidance Association, AEGA, called for a suitable process for adult learners to sign up to an apprenticeship in its Future and Emerging Technologies, FET, submission. In the evaluations of the national roll-out of labour market information on CPD our members are calling for a full day of CPD on an annual basis. Last year the four managerial bodies demonstrated their support by releasing our members for one full day to attend the prototype of the CPD programme in Combilift, County Monaghan. The event was attended by guidance counsellors who had travelled from the four corners of the country. It is our further recommendation that time be allotted at future IGC labour market information CPD events to present to parents and communicate to them the wide range of apprenticeships available, with almost 60 currently on offer. We also want to explain to parents how apprentices earn as they learn, how much they earn, that apprenticeships suit smart people, that there are eight learning styles and that different apprenticeships suit different students. It is also important for parents to know that apprentices go to college as part of their training and can proceed to level nine courses if they demonstrate the ability and interest to do so.

At a recent ETB conference I flagged an input on apprenticeships for the National Parents Council Post Primary, NCPPP, in which it was very interested. The de-stigmatising of apprenticeships is essential to ensure buy-in from parents. Our members are frustrated because they are identifying potential apprentices in school and bringing in employers to address them at career events only to find that some parents are preventing their children from attending the talks. Can we work together to facilitate a space in which qualified apprentices can describe their positive experiences directly to parents?

I draw attention to some of the IGC's recommendations. We need practical support from policy makers to put in place the scaffolding to support the IGC's labour market information on CPD in order that it will continue after my term of office ends. A more structured policy-driven approach is needed to ensure students will be accessing good quality, appropriate and safe work experience that is meaningful and focused on skills attainment during senior cycle in second level schools. Incentives such as the provision of tax breaks could be used to encourage small employers to take on apprentices.

I will finish by again quoting Tracy Chapman: “What breaks your heart, What keeps you awake at night, What makes you want to break down and cry.” For over 1,300 guidance counsellors, it is to walk past students who need their guidance counselling expertise on their way to teach French or business, to have the skills and the smarts to solve their problems and not be allocated adequate time to do the job they are qualified and have been trained to do.

I thank Ms Dooley.

I apologise, but I must leave to vote in the Seanad. I hope to be back later.

I thank the delegates for their presentations. As a former secondary school teacher, I am very interested in this issue. I worked in a DEIS school which offered a leaving certificate applied programme to children who were very suited to apprenticeships. Sometimes I believe the success that can lie ahead for those who pursue apprenticeships is not widely known and that that message is not being delivered. Instead of saying students can do this instead of going there, we need to tell them that there is a really successful path ahead for them if they pursue it. Encouragement is needed.

My first question is for Mr. Brownlee and probably obvious, given that I am a Green Party Deputy. I am particularly aware of the need for an increase in the number of apprenticeships in retrofitting, energy efficiency measures and so on. There is a huge body of work to be done to bring our homes up to the standards required, make them warmer, healthier and improve our quality of life. As things stand, it is my understanding a lot of the training in retrofitting and renovation and acquiring energy efficiency skills happens outside Ireland. Last week I was chatting to a housing expert who emphasised two very interesting points about the lack of skills training in Ireland. He said that with the revisions to the leaving certificate construction studies course, many students on leaving school who had taken the course were particularly well equipped to deal with many of the newer, greener aspects of construction than people who had been working in the area for decades. He also said that, fundamentally, the big thing that was missing in incentivising students to pursue green skills apprenticeships was job certainty once they finished their studies. While I welcome the focus on sustainability across all aspects of apprenticeships, what actions can be taken in particular areas such as retrofitting and renovation to encourage more participation and a greater uptake?

Currently, building standards are abysmal, under-regulated and under-inspected. There is a severe lack of trained professionals to do the work required. What supports are needed from across Government, not just from the Department of Education and Skills but also from the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, to ensure that we will be in a position to provide these skills and encourage people to pick them up?

I was delighted to see an almost tenfold increase in the number of women taking up apprenticeships since 2016. It is fantastic to see that because we need to ensure diverse engagement with apprenticeship. I was here for the WorldSkills event a few weeks ago. The committee was delighted to see it. They are such fine young ambassadors and are so successful on that world stage for us. It is inspirational when they come here. I was fascinated by some of the roles. There was one young lady in freight forwarding and logistics. She mentioned that she would never have come across the role as a possible job if she had not accidentally stumbled across it. How do we highlight the broad range of apprenticeships that are available, particularly the more unusual ones?

My next question is for both SOLAS and the IGC. The IGC emphasised the need to have contact with students earlier than during the second half of secondary school. Is there a value in having apprenticeship engagement in the earlier part of secondary school or even in primary school, not just with students but with parents? The stigma in this regard has to be broken down with parents as well. Should we be reaching into primary schools?

In the context of the restoration of ex quota guidance provision, I witnessed the impact that had in our schools and have consistently called for it to be restored. On the WorldSkills event, for the IGC, they are such fine young ambassadors for our country and in motivating and encouraging people to pursue apprenticeships. How can we effectively deliver that information to the students in our schools? Anyone who heard their stories would consider pursuing it. What sort of engagement would be possible? It would be lovely to put them on a road show but they have their own jobs so it is hard to do that. It is even difficult to get them here for the committee for that one day. Is there some way of working with schools, for example through video presentations, or to have one of those brilliant young ambassadors mentoring a class or having engagement with classes? Is that being pursued?

On the IGC and green apprenticeships, from the point of view of a guidance counsellor, how do we encourage more uptake of green skills? Are there any concrete plans or considerations given to how the IGC could engage with green apprenticeships?

I thank the Deputy. I have a few questions and observations also. On SOLAS, has the increase in the national training fund resulted in more vocal feedback and involvement from employers in respect of training needs? As was stated, the 2020 target for apprenticeship registrations is 31,000 and currently only half of that number are registered. What is SOLAS planning to do to meet the target? The take-up of new apprenticeship opportunities by employers has been slower than envisaged, which is a problem that has to be addressed. What ideas does SOLAS have in that regard? I agree with my colleague on the age that a young person starts engaging in terms of looking at their career path. Fifth year is definitely too late.

I am hosting a public meeting tonight in Newbridge on career options for young people. Megan Yeates, the young lady who won the gold medal for freight forwarding, will be speaking at it. Schools from all around Kildare are coming to. Like my colleague, I felt she was such an ambassador for skills. I engaged with her after that meeting and she said she would be willing to talk to schools. I am really looking forward to hearing her again. I have somebody speaking about apprenticeships and a career guidance teacher as well.

Ms Dooley was talking about the lack of engagement with industry. How is she proposing to reinstate that engagement? Is her organisation consulted on plans with State organisations such as SOLAS in terms of moving them forward? Ms Dooley mentioned that she was surprised at some of the criticism. Very genuinely as a committee, the engagement we had was very clear and was not isolated, so we felt it was important to address it, not to hide behind it. Ms Dooley was talking also about working together to facilitate a space where qualified apprentices can describe their positive experiences directly to parents. That is very important and it is something I am hoping for tonight because it is for parents as well as for the young people, the students from transition year and up. There is an onus on schools and career guidance teachers to do that. To be fair, many of them are. Coincidentally, I was in a school in Newbridge, the Patrician secondary school, for a different reason two weeks ago. There was a trade fair there and there was quite an emphasis on apprenticeships, which was really good. Sometimes I get the sense that it is down to the individual career guidance teacher to show leadership on that. Certainly, when we were discussing this as a committee, we felt that there needed to be a more co-ordinated national response.

Someone, I cannot remember who it was, stated in one of the newspapers that nobody should recommend an apprenticeship until the middle and professional classes and the politicians start deciding their children should pursue them. That is a good point. I am aware that the Institute of Guidance Counsellors is working very closely with the organisations. That is important and in fairness to Ms Dooley and her team, they are making great efforts to continue to adapt what they do. I am not asking them to change what they do or to be different as guidance counsellors. We do not want that. We want them to do what they are doing and to continue to adapt to changing circumstances.

It is worthwhile to reiterate that under the confidence and supply agreement, our priority really was to increase the number of guidance counsellors. There were a few in the Department at the time who held a view that was certainly expressed to me, maybe not on the floor of the Dáil but privately by a politician, that business people should be in schools teaching kids about business, careers and all that. I have no difficulty with that but it has to be done at the behest of a qualified guidance counsellor. It is really important that they work together and that guidance counsellors continue with the mission they have, which is a mission of education, rather than simply a mission of career progression. They are educators first and foremost and are guidance counsellors in the context of education. Education is very broad. We want to emphasise the importance of apprenticeships; I want that as much as anyone and have written a policy document on it. However, it is one aspect of education.

Some people are looking to the examples of Germany and Switzerland where there are a large number of apprentices in training courses and so on. They are completely different systems. I am also afraid on the other hand of some people using apprenticeships as a way to reduce pressure on the third-level system. That is the wrong approach. We cannot push apprenticeships with the message that a large proportion of students are not going to get the traditional third-level education that previous generations have felt entitled to. Apprenticeship must be recognised as an equal partner in the education system. The qualifications apprentices get may be on a par with the equivalent level in academia but that really means nothing until society knows it and it is up to us to continue to press the point home. The guidance counsellors are to the fore in that regard but it is really the parents and society in general that have to change mindsets.

When our friends in the media, who are, I am sure, hanging on every word of the committee, publish league tables of schools based on where students go to college, it should be recognised in large print at the top that they do not include apprenticeships, which are at the same level as the university degrees on which schools are ranked. Such tables do not include people who go back to college later either. I have no difficulty with people examining ratings to see where kids are going, but it is important to know that these tables do not show the full picture. It is up to all of us to press that point home. The organisations present do that together. It is the mission of SOLAS, but the educational mission of members of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors must also be much broader than a focus on careers only.

Ms Beatrice Dooley

Deputy Catherine Martin asked about how we deliver information on apprenticeships to schools. We deliver such information through classes in schools. Most schools have a timetabled class in this regard for at least one of the years in the senior cycle. In some schools, students in junior classes may also take a module. It varies from school to school. In some schools, such as my own, there is a timetabled class in both transition year and sixth year. There are also sessions where counsellors meet students one to one. We are guidance counsellors and our work is holistic. We look at personal, educational, and vocational guidance.

The Deputy asked how we can get the message out. We organise events such as career days in schools. One of the very rich developments that has arisen from our wonderful engagement with SOLAS is that we are now interfacing with labour market stakeholders for the first time in ten years. My colleagues tell me there was great engagement with Con Power and the Confederation of Irish Industries in the 1980s. It was before my time but it seems to have gone by the wayside. We are starting from scratch again and it is working very well. What I am hoping will grow out of what I am doing with labour market-related continuing professional development, CPD, is that, when my term is over - I have a two-year term with one year left to run - the scaffolding will be set and that we will have support from policymakers so that this can become an annual event.

We evaluated the eight sessions we had last year and our members are calling for us to run them every year. They would like a full day; we currently have two hours. We have five sessions of CPD a year. I am trying to ensure that at least one session will be set aside for labour market information. Our members would like a full day. We would like parents to have input. We would love these labour market stakeholders to speak to parents for an hour or an hour and a half in the late afternoon when people are on their way back from work, with a focus on stigmatised routes so as to destigmatise apprenticeships, traineeship and the further education and training, FET, courses. I am afraid these courses are in the same bucket. People do not necessarily see their value. We spend a lot of time getting that message across. One third of students in my school take the FET route.

I work in a girls' school, so two students a year may take up apprenticeships. One of my great frustrations is that, when I have all of these very cool links with industry and the apprenticeship providers who come into my school, there may be five speakers from the Construction Industry Federation present and I have to strong-arm girls into the talk, which is embarrassing. In their aptitude testing, I identified 12 or so girls for whom apprenticeships would be perfect but when they went home to their parents and had a conversation about it, they were told they would not be taking up apprenticeships and were not allowed to go to the talk. I am not here to bad-mouth parents, but there is a lot of fear out there. I also saw this in my colleagues after the crash.

Some of the young people who were before the committee previously were in their early 20s, so they have not experienced what we are doing. We started this in December of last year, so the initiative is not even a year old yet. It is in its embryo stage. Those young people may not have experienced that for a number of reasons. We experienced cuts in 2012 and lost a quarter of our hours. Industry was not as involved with us at that time as it had been in the past. I do not know why, but it was not. It is now, which is good.

On the Deputy's suggestion regarding video, this is happening. There is a great deal of good, rich information on careers on the careersportal.ie website. There are videos of people talking about their jobs. That works quite well. What I would love to see more of, and what works well in my school, is past pupils being brought in for a careers day because teenagers like to hear from people of their own age group. They are more interested in their own age group. I am a fossil to them. Anybody over 30 is a fossil, a dinosaur, and irrelevant. Speakers need to be young as teenagers listen more to young people. They connect more and use the same language and vernacular. That works well. I would like that model in every school in Ireland. It is not in place because we do not have the resources.

At the moment, 27% of guidance counsellor activities are carried out by people who are not qualified or by people who are sourced externally. That is a lot of people. In addition, 64% of our members spend time dealing with mental health issues every day and two thirds of members are, for long periods, dealing with issues that should be referred but there is nowhere to refer them. We have many different balls in the air. We are very committed to apprenticeships. Our concern and our challenge is time. We are trying to get all the messages out. The other challenge relates to changing the culture. SOLAS gets this. It takes a good five years to change a culture. It will take a while to bring all of the guidance counsellors and parents on board. The older generation of guidance counsellors were a little bit afraid after the crash in the construction industry. They had experience of sending young people into apprenticeships only for their employers to lose their businesses. These young people then did not get to finish and this frightened the counsellors. We are providing the education. We are educating the guidance counsellors. What we need from policymakers is a structure to keep this going if we are moved out of our roles. It should not depend on personalities and whether there is someone who is interested. It should just be the way it is.

I hope I have addressed how we are engaging with labour market stakeholders. I sent an invitation to all labour market stakeholders and eight came back to me. I am going with the energy and working with the people who are interested in working with me. If others want to come on board, they are welcome. If anybody offering apprenticeships in green sectors is interested into coming into one of our 16 branches and addressing our members, they are more than welcome to do so. That is the way in because they then maintain contact with not only our members who work in schools, but those working in youth and adult services and prison services. Those guidance counsellors will then invite these people back to meet their students and to address them at career events.

There is a lot of work to be done in respect of parents. We can help with that work, but we need a bit more help. We meet every year group in schools and we present to the parents of most year groups in the course of the year. We are somewhat unique in that respect. We need a bit of support from somebody in industry, SOLAS, the ETBs, or somewhere else. The Deputy mentioned young apprentices. Every school in the country has them. Can we tap into the apprentices who attended our schools and ask them to come back and talk to the parents? There is a man in DIT, Mr. Mark Deegan, who has a very interesting PowerPoint presentation that shows how much apprentices earn. If parents were shown how much apprentices earn in their first year - I believe they start at €6 an hour and it goes up to €15 or €30-----

Dr. Mary-Liz Trant

By the fourth year, some of them earn between €400 and €600 a week.

Ms Beatrice Dooley

I walk by building sites on my way to school and I see very nice cars. Four postgraduate qualifications later, I am earning less than I was ten years ago. If I had known all those years ago what I know now, I would have done an apprenticeship. We have expertise in our schools and local areas. We are committed to bringing in local employers and local industry; we just need the time to organise it. I am in a school of 620 and to organise an event at which approximately 40 will speak - each student has the option to attend six talks - takes me three weeks of evening and weekend work. Not everybody will have the time for that, for example some people have young children at home. I do not have children at home, so that is fine. Not everyone has the luxury of time. The time needs to be knitted into the job, if that makes sense. We need a bit of support. We are looking for more time to do our job.

With regard to the co-ordinated national approach, I would say "Yes, please". I am cross-eyed from writing submissions for the past year and a half. In every one I have written, including the review and the pre-budget submission - Deputy Thomas Byrne can recite them - I have sought an interdepartmental approach to this and to everything to do with guidance. We are looking for policy that is not just top-down, but bottom-up. We would love it if people would open their doors to practitioners at second level and in the area of adult guidance to hear what it is like for us on the ground and the challenges that are blocking us from doing our jobs and from delivering fully on the new initiatives we want to undertake.

When Ms Dooley referred to reaching out to parents, it struck me that it is about breaking the cycle. It is also important to work with Intreo so that parents can see the opportunities which they did not have themselves but which are available to their children.

Mr. Andrew Brownlee

I picked up three themes in the questions in the context of green skills, the uptake of apprenticeships and the employer angle. If there is one message I want to get across, it is that parity of esteem is critical not only to apprenticeships but to further education and training, in which there is a really exciting offering in the form of the post-leaving certificate provision and traineeships. We launched a major campaign last week that attracted a lot of traction and interest. Building recognition that there are lots of further education and training options for young people and adult learners is the way to build parity of esteem regarding apprenticeships. This links to the question on green skills. Dr. Trant will talk about what we are doing in terms of developing curricula in apprenticeships to meet green skills. There are a lot of FET courses which focus on green and sustainable skills. The nearly zero-energy buildings, NZEBs, initiative is led by Waterford and Wexford Education and Training Board. We are hoping to mainstream it across the country. It is about developing skills in retrofitting buildings and such things. It is a massive opportunity for FET and apprenticeships can develop a bit of a competitive advantage by way of employers' needs and the wider sustainability agenda.

Dr. Mary-Liz Trant

We have a commitment to update apprenticeships all the time and we are currently looking at how we embed core green and sustainability skills in apprenticeships that are up and running and training key occupations such as electricians, carpenters, joiners and plumbers. We are working with Limerick Institute of Technology, which has carried out analysis in these areas, and with a number of employers who are really driving it, such as Tipperary Energy. Some employers are not as up to date but if they take on apprentices and the programme has green skills as a core part of what is required, it will help move it along.

There has been a conversation about stand-alone retrofitting apprenticeships and we are looking at short courses and traineeships in this area, as well as NZEB skills, to mainstream the programmes. The apprenticeship council is very open to looking at a dedicated apprenticeship in this whole area and any assistance or guidance would be welcome as to how we can build on the core skills in the mainstream apprenticeship programmes. Working with Ms Dooley and guidance counsellors, we have a competition at second level with a sustainability theme and 130 toolboxes are going out at the end of this week with landfill materials. Schools and teams are going to be working with Youthreach and community training centres to build a letter "A" out of landfill materials, which have been given to us by ten big construction companies. The 15 and 16 year olds have really tuned into the climate sustainability message. We see it as a great basis for getting the conversation going about sustainability and green skills in apprenticeships and further and higher education and it enables us to discuss how education and training contribute to this really important agenda.

I saw a reference to FET on Twitter but there is a FET college in my constituency, namely, Dunboyne college, which works closely with SOLAS and Louth and Meath Education and Training Board, LMETB. It is currently leasing 14 premises and bussing kids to Navan. The LMETB was looking for a site but the Department has stopped it, meaning they have cancelled the project to build a new place. Does SOLAS have any input into the capital plan for buildings? It seems to contrast massively with the FET campaign when the FET college in my area has been told they will not have a new building built.

Mr. Andrew Brownlee

Capital is a matter for the Department but we discuss the issues with it. We make clear that there is demand for these types of courses and we explain the circumstances that individual ETBs are facing. There is a limited amount of capital available. The Department discusses its priorities with us but the decision is not ours to make. We finally have some capital allocated in the national development plan for the next five or six years so there is an opportunity to ask what is really important to develop flagship further education and training facilities that can make people think it is a really good option when they leave school.

The problem I have is that the Government will tell us the money is available but then, when we want to go and build it, the Department tells us we cannot do so. That is a political point in which I do not expect Mr. Brownlee to engage.

I asked a question on the IGC's suggestion, with which I agree, that engagement needs to happen earlier than fifth year and in first, second and third year. Do our guests think we should actually be reaching into primary schools? Is there engagement on this with parents or students? How could it be done?

Ms Beatrice Dooley

We would love access to students in primary school. We link with them to some extent already by delivering aptitude tests for sixth-year students. There is scope for this through SOLAS. We could introduce apprenticeships and traineeships in a playful way. One eighth of our learners learn in a kinesthetic way so I see no reason why it would not work. We are very keen to have access to students in junior cycle. We had a precious ten minutes with each first year in my school prior to 2012 but that has now gone. We picked up on a lot of issues, such as mental health issues and career stuff. Students start making decisions on subject choice in first year and they shed subjects at that stage. Every time a person sheds a subject he or she closes the door to certain career choices. It would be wise to give us access to students before they decide what subjects they are keeping or what stream they are going to take, that is, the leaving certificate applied, the leaving certificate programme, etc. Whatever the new senior cycle will look like, I would welcome that.

Mr. Andrew Brownlee

There is potential for a pilot in this area. One advantage we have is that our providers are the ETBs, which have primary provision, post-primary provision and further education. We are pushing SOLAS because it is critically important to find a way to embed more vocational options and pathways within the senior cycle, but not as a separate track. There has been talk of moving to a more modular, unitised approach in general for part of the senior cycle and if we can find a way to drop in vocational model pathways as part of that, which would be available to everyone in all schools, it would be a real step forward. There is a really interesting model in Scotland, where they use the FE colleges and providers to deliver those modules in second-school settings, which could be pertinent to Ireland which has a lot of single-sex schools that do not have as much technical teaching capability.

Perhaps we could use some of our further education and training capability to deliver those options moving forward. That is the proposal we are making to the NCCA feeding into the senior cycle. I really think it is something we need to examine.

That is very interesting. I thank our guests for coming before us, for giving us their valuable time and for their contributions and observations. The committee will issue a report and will make recommendations to the Minister and the Department. If our guests wish to add anything else that they did not have an opportunity to air today, they can send it to us and we will make sure that all committee members will have an opportunity to see it and to bear it in mind when we are making the final report.

Mr. Andrew Brownlee

Could I add one more thing in response?

Very briefly.

Mr. Andrew Brownlee

Reference was made to uptake and the target of 31,000. We are almost at 19,000 and we will be above 20,000 by the end of the year. We will be up to 26,000 or 27,000 by the end of next year. We will be close enough to that. The new apprenticeship programmes are probably about a year or a year and half behind where we thought they would be because they took longer than we expected to get up and running, but they have grown from 300 to 600 and reached more than 1,000 this year. We hope there will be a similar increase next year. We are making progress but employers are the key. We are getting traction. We are doing great work to promote more interest and the key now is to focus on ways to get employers to engage. That is a key message the committee could help us to get out.

Absolutely. Something I have done in Kildare is to link chambers of commerce with career guidance teachers in schools. We are hoping to run a pilot programme in the county. Chambers of commerce can play a significant role. I am sure our guests are contacting them. I again thank our guests. We very much appreciate their contribution.

The joint committee adjourned at 5.35 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 14 November 2019.