I thank the committee for its invitation to contribute to this very valuable discussion. I am the chair of the Adult Education Guidance Association of Ireland, AEGAI. I work in the Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board as a co-ordinator of guidance. I deliver guidance in the Bray area and I co-ordinate the service throughout Wicklow. Today, I am representing the 37 services that work in the 16 education and training boards. I am here to promote and advocate on our behalf because prior to JobPath coming along, we saw ourselves as the organisation that should have been doing the job that JobPath is now doing.
The adult education guidance services, AEGS, were established in 2000 in response to a White Paper from the Department of Education and Skills entitled Learning for Life. Adult guidance was recognised in the White Paper as the linchpin in the lifelong learning model, enabling adults to make educational, work and life transitions in a fast-moving technology based, globalised society. Guidance counsellors in the adult education guidance services are professionally qualified to postgraduate level in guidance, as set out in the Department of Education and Skills course recognition framework document of 2016. The services provide a full-time, year round, objective, professional, quality-assured guidance and information service. They provide guidance at pre-entry, entry, ongoing, pre-exit and follow–up stages for those engaged in adult education and training. The service is underpinned by a number of principles. These are being learner and client centred, confidentiality, impartiality, equal opportunities, accessibility, transparency and empowerment. These come directly from Learning for Life, from which we were instigated and received our legal framework.
The AEGS model is informed by national and EU guidelines for guidance provision. EU policy in the Lisbon Agenda identifies lifelong guidance as central to a successful dynamic knowledge-based economy, viewing it as an effective conduit between education and sustainable employment while promoting social inclusion. This is also written into the national skills strategy to 2025.
We were very excited when the SOLAS further education and training strategy was launched in 2014. Under section 10 of the strategy, the adult education guidance services were recognised by SOLAS and the Department of Education and Skills as the model for delivery of educational and career guidance to adults in Ireland. The roll-out of the SOLAS further education and training strategy underlines the need for guidance and the centrality of guidance in the Government's job strategy. The further education and training strategy recognises that the planning process must consider and identify how the needs of the learner, employer and community are met and how effective guidance services can ensure a return on taxpayers' investment. I am aware the committee is also examining the issue of quality of service.
As stated in the SOLAS further education and training strategy, the adult education guidance services enable individuals and, therefore, communities to achieve their developmental, personal, social, career and employment aspirations. Guidance facilitates the acquisition of career management skills and benefits employees throughout their working life. The adult education guidance services provide a professional, impartial and confidential service to all those who are over 16 and out of school up to post-retirement age. We work closely with second level colleagues. I will not take a second level student who has a guidance counsellor but if someone of that age has dropped out of school, and unfortunately some do, we recommend them to YouthReach and sometimes we place them in part-time programmes for adults. This is not always suitable but we work with them to ensure we can get them back into education.
Through our referral protocol with the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, which has been in place since 2012, and our links with local State and voluntary agencies, including local community mental health agencies, enterprise partnerships, enterprise boards, regional skills fora, the Money Advice & Budgeting Service, citizens information centres and all social inclusion programmes, we meet more than 52,000 clients on an annual basis, supporting them in education, training and employment. We can evidence this work through our national client database, which shows the outcomes, including the acquisition of new skills, increased certification and progression in career development, all of which enhance the likelihood of long-term unemployed individuals eventually performing more highly-skilled jobs in the workplace. Every year, our statistics are detailed in the National Centre for Guidance Education's adult guidance report. Before the moratorium and austerity measures, we met more than 68,000 people because we had full staffing. We were deeply affected during the moratorium. The problem was that JobPath was ruled out. If we had received investment at that time, the employment statistics would be much better.
According to A Strategic Review of Further Education and Training and the Unemployed by Professor John Sweeney, which was published in 2013, effective guidance services help ensure a return to the taxpayer from the use of public funds. Professor Sweeney analysed our service with regard to it being the one that should have been linked to the further education and training strategy.
The Adult Education Guidance Association of Ireland supports the development of an integrated further education and training guidance service, as envisaged in the SOLAS further education and training strategy, building on the practice in operation in our service.
Currently, because of the lack of a coherent, joined-up approach to guidance there is a fragmentation in the way guidance services are being delivered which is wasteful of taxpayers' money. In our recent submission to the career guidance review carried out by the Department of Education and Skills and Indecon, we recommended an interdepartmental framework for adult guidance. An overarching body should be established representing all stakeholders in guidance, that is, the Departments of Education and Skills, Business, Enterprise and Innovation and Employment and Social Protection, Education and Training Boards Ireland, ETBI, SOLAS, the National Centre for Guidance in Education, NCGE, and other organisations. I refer also to IBEC, which is a fantastic organisation. We have met with its officials. We accepted much of what was in the report it published in September as part of its Smarter World, Smarter Work campaign. I understand the Indecon report, which has not been published, agrees with this. If committee members have any influence at all, I call on them to please get that report published for us. It was carried out in June and was to be out in September. I know that with the schools issue, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, had a lot on his plate when he took up the role. However, we want to see that review because we think it can change the way things are being done with regard to this model.
I wish to compare our service with the JobPath model. That model was based on the model being used by the G4S recruitment company in the UK, which was criticised by the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills, Ofsted. It was poor practice to transfer this model and some of its workforce from the UK to Ireland without making any changes or adaptions for working with the Irish public. We have no difficulty with recruitment agencies as a model of accessing employment, but to use these services, people must be highly skilled and workplace-ready. I hate this phrase, but I am going to use it because it is used by the Department; people with a level 1 rating of probability of exit from the live register, PEX 1, can use a recruitment agency. The committee members or I, if we were made redundant tomorrow and got going immediately - before we knew we had been made redundant, actually - would probably be able to use a recruitment agency and get into a job. However, I have met top bankers with top qualifications seeking work. Before JobPath was rolled out, we met every unemployed man and woman in my community and throughout the country between 2011 and 2015. After three months of trying to get a job, even if an applicant has held a highly paid job in Accenture or any of the large businesses or public agencies I could mention, he or she becomes very low. A person who keeps getting rejections in his or her inbox or postbox goes flat. I have seen it so many times. The recruitment-style model is not a guidance model. It can work for a well-educated person who is ready for work. We use this model for those people. My own son is one of those emigrants to Australia; he is working successfully in recruitment. I have nothing against it. Members have better access than I do to the statistics on the effectiveness of the JobPath programme.
According to personal client testimony, to be referred to Turas Nua is to be placed in a vulnerable position and denied access to further education and training. I use the example of Turas Nua because I work with that company, but the same applies to Seetec. There appears to have been a lack of recognition by Turas Nua and Seetec of the trauma undergone by people at a major crossroads in their lives. This is in addition to a lack of understanding of people's need to manage challenging barriers regarding childcare, transport, disability, illness, bereavement, addiction and mental health issues post-redundancy and financial stress. The forced march pattern of this recruitment model has been unsuccessful, with only 9% of participants securing longer-term employment. Those are the results for just one year. Many of my clients have dropped out at the end of a year.
I will direct the committee to the example I gave. One example of inappropriate Turas Nua work was when a case officer from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection made a referral to my service of a 62-year-old man who had left school at ten years of age and had been out of work for 20 years. He was receiving jobseeker's allowance after exiting another service. He suffered from anxiety and his only outing was to walk to his mother's grave in darkness. His basic skills led me to recommend a part-time literacy, communications, computers and woodworking workshop in our local adult education centre. He agreed to engage with the programme and I put counselling skills and other supports to deal with his anxiety issues in place. Following six weeks of the programme he was called by Turas Nua and removed from this education programme. Two weeks later, he came to me in an agitated state. I can recall it so clearly. He asked me to make a CV, as he had been ordered to return to Turas Nua by the end of the week with evidence of having submitted 15 job applications. In this three-week period, while he was engaging with Turas Nua, three different agency advisers contacted me looking for a copy of his CV. One of them had spelled the person's name wrongly. Some of the people who were hired by this organisation did not have the skills to deal with the type of person they were dealing with, which is difficult.
Our client did a full year with Turas Nua without getting any work. We recently learned that he has been returned to the agency and he will be with them until September 2019. Currently, he is not engaged in any education, training or employment but is required to attend on a monthly basis, when he has a chat with a very nice gentleman. I now have a better relationship with the people in Turas Nua because they are putting clients onto our programmes. However, we have to do double the work. I have to get in touch with Turas Nua, I have to get in touch with the Department and I have to get the file sent. It then takes six to eight weeks. The clients have lost as much as three months with Turas Nua. It is a duplication and a waste of time and bureaucracy.
Our own case study is in the NCGE database. I will not go through it, but members can see that the model we are working by was very successful. Following on from the Turas Nua case study, it is clear that the one-size-fits-all approach taken by the agency does not deal with the individual circumstances and displays no long-term strategy towards career development, confidence-building and educational qualifications, without which there is limited access to sustainable employment. Over a period of time our professional approach leads to better outcomes. In our experience, particularly for those with very basic skills, the minimum term required to gain new skills is one to two years attending further education or training ranked on levels 3 to 5 by Quality and Qualifications Ireland, QQI, or accessing a traineeship or apprenticeship. The new traineeships are great. A longer time would be required if a client wants to gain a degree or a higher level of education. Once in employment people can continue their education through part-time options like Springboard+, evening training courses and on-the-job training, where provided.
One wonders how the JobPath approach and outcomes can be validated. It is difficult to understand how the approach, with its narrow objectives focused only on employment, fits into the national skills strategy. It does not align with the broader need for upskilling and social inclusion and the goals of the Ireland’s National Skills Strategy 2025 for people across Ireland. As stated on page 17 of the strategy, the Government's objectives in support of its vision include the following: "Education and training providers will place a stronger focus on providing skills development opportunities that are relevant to the needs of learners, society and the economy ... The quality of teaching and learning at all stages of education will be continually enhanced and evaluated ... There will be a specific focus on active inclusion to support participation in education and training and the labour market."
Our model includes an integrated information officer, a guidance counsellor, that is, myself, and our CV and interview skills service which is second to none. In the example I gave, the service met a woman who was made redundant, had lost confidence and was out of work back into a job. She is working happily in administration.
We are working closely with employers now. Recently an employer was looking to take on somebody with good administration and communication skills. I called four of our previous clients in the past three months. Based on our CV and interview skills work, three of them had secured positions. This was because I was looking at people who were ready for work. One was in Accenture, a good company, another in an Irish university and a third in a good local company in my community in Bray. We can evidence this in our database.
Since its establishment in 2000, the Adult Education Guidance Association, AEGS, has been the service charged to work with those who were unemployed and marginalised so that they can avail of education and access opportunities to obtain sustainable employment and facilitate social cohesion. This objective was further developed in 2012 by the protocol for referral from Intreo case officers to our service. We have a fantastic relationship with case officers at the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. They cannot say this, but they would do anything to avoid the person they are serving having to go back to Turas Nua or Seetec. They want those people to get an opportunity for education, and we work well with them when they come to us in the initial phase.
We work extremely well with them when they come to us in the initial phase.
Furthermore, we note the recent debate about the service delivery model of JobPath, which has been awarded a budget of €140 million since 2015. Just 9% of participants have progressed into full-time employment. According to the document from which I am reading, some 11,000 participants who previously used Turas Nua are, like my client, returning for a second year of participation. However, I believe that figure may be wrong. Deputy Brady will correct me if it is. In the same four-year period between 2015 and 2018, our services met with and progressed more than 208,000 beneficiaries on an annual budget of just €6.5 million, with a cost to the State of €125 per beneficiary. I assure the committee that our services are not looking for more money for ourselves or anything like that. We want the committee to support an increase in our service. We want our service to be rolled out as the service that replaces the JobPath model. We were chosen to be the replacement in the Government's SOLAS further education and training strategy. It is crucial to mention that we provide a service to all unemployed individuals, including those not entitled to social welfare payments, the low-skilled employed, those on zero-hour contracts, the underemployed, those facing redundancy, early school leavers and those who have left college without securing employment. Unfortunately, many high-skilled people are now underemployed.
The AEGS would also like to raise the demand for progression for clients accessing education and training by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. This can be counterproductive when jobs are changing so rapidly and qualifications are outdated. Any of us in this room could leave work tomorrow or be made redundant. I know that my IT skills would have to be significantly updated. I would be afraid to go for a job, even if I had many other qualifications for it, because of this weakness. I am sure there are people in this room who will need opportunities when they leave this room today. If one needed a level 6 qualification in supervisory management, the Department would not allow one to pursue such a qualification because it requires progress to be made.