Employment Strategy 2020: Discussion with Fasttrack to Information Technology Group

I welcome the delegation from Fasttrack to Information Technology, Mr. Tom Rourke and Ms Anna Pringle, board members, Mr Peter Davitt, CEO, and Mr. George Ryan, programme manager.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that members 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. 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 the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to 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 nor make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

I ask Mr. Davitt to brief us on the current and future proposals for 20,000 into employment by 2020 strategy.

Mr. Peter Davitt

We are very pleased to be here to give the members an overview of FIT, Fasttrack to Information Technology and some of the issues we believe merit attention or support in the current economic climate. We recognise that the economy is in a very difficult situation, but at the same time from our perspective there is good news and opportunity that we need to collectively exploit that can make a real difference to our economy in the coming years.

We propose to give members a general overview of Fasttrack to Information Technology, FIT, and some of the issues that we feel need attention. I know some members will be aware of FIT from the past. My colleagues from industry will give real insights from the expectations and demands for skills, where there are employment opportunities within sectors. We have circulated a three part presentation, an executive summary, a detailed report and Powerpoint slides, and I will bring members through it very quickly.

Fasttrack to Information Technology is an industry led initiative that is 12 years in operation. We are a registered charity and not-for-profit organisation. We work in close collaboration with Government Departments, education and training providers, local development organisations and a host of community-based organisations. This initiative is very much industry led. Most of the major technology companies in Ireland, Microsoft, DELL, Symantec, IBM, AOL, Oracle and NTR, among others, are involved and have been involved in the initiative since the outset. What is different about FIT is our focus on the more marginalised and more long-term disadvantaged jobseekers. We are enabling them to engage and acquire skills to compete effectively in the labour market. The message we want to get across today is that while there should be a focus on the needs of people with third level qualifications, such as degrees and PhDs and so, there is also a fundamental need in the economy for smart people with smart skills, with technical competences that are needed by a variety of different companies. In the past 18 months to two years approximately 80% of my time was spent speaking to people in companies about what they are doing, their needs and what is seen as an opportunity. If companies are busy the people in them can only give a certain amount of time but if we are discussing needs and how they can be supported those people have much time and energy to give. In most cases I have to pull away from companies. An observation which arises on numerous occasions is that nobody has asked the people in such companies about their skills needs before.

Many of these companies have real employment opportunities. I visited a company recently in Cork where the people were clear on their need for particular skills. The company has "escalation" technicians, which are the highest level of technician in the organisation, but of the 20 there only one has a degree. The others have come through different paths but have the technical competencies for certain areas.

We see ourselves as a primary skills initiative led by technology companies in Ireland. Since our initiation in 1999 we have trained in excess of 11,000 people, with approximately 8,500 people in jobs. A successful FIT can be attributed to a number of key elements, including an in-depth knowledge of needs and motivation of marginalised job seekers. I do not come from the information technology sector but have worked with the unemployed for the past 30 years. I worked in Ballymun for 18 years and we piloted some initiatives which got some mileage. We ran them in Dublin as a whole within FIT and these initiatives have now expanded across the country. Many of us within FIT have much knowledge on how to engage, motivate and encourage those who are most disadvantaged to access skills and opportunities.

We have some of the strongest knowledge and understanding of skill needs within the economy as we speak to people in companies on a regular basis. We do not take in just IT companies as it has permeated all industry sectors; we deal with companies in logistics, finance and services, as they all have certain needs from a technology perspective. The year before last we developed a curriculum in wind turbine maintenance, which provides significant opportunity in Ireland. The first course will be piloted early next year. We should run ten or 20 courses of that nature, as there are jobs in renewable energy not only in Ireland but in the UK for significant numbers of people.

We have a very keen knowledge of skill needs in detail. There is much reporting and research which gives a general direction - such as pharmaceuticals, information technology or finance - but we provide a much more detailed investigation in that regard. We have a strong ability and relationship in the co-ordination of access to education and training provision. We would work with a number of VECs across the country and with the organisation which has been known as FÁS. We are not training providers and do not wish to duplicate existing training provisions; instead we want to focus those resources on the more marginalised and give to them a curriculum that will enable people leapfrog the skills barrier into jobs.

Unlike other initiatives, FIT stays with individual participants for up to three years. It is not just about people getting on a FIT course and we mentor and support people so they can go beyond training into a job and career. The sad reality is that with the current economic position, there is much long-term unemployment. That is no longer a good measure of disadvantage as long-term unemployment affects so many families. There are now legal secretaries and architects who are long-term unemployed.

The troika and a number of other commentators have in recent months expressed concern about the real possibility of a lost generation unless there is meaningful intervention now. We can see real opportunities to address that issue. There are 437,000 people on the live register now and in September the number of long-term unemployed was in excess of 183,000. Within that number, the Central Statistics Office would describe 99,600 as being the type of disadvantaged persons on which we would focus. This is a very real issue. I and others were around in the last unemployment crisis during the 1980s, so we have some knowledge and insight in responding to the current problems.

At the start of this year the board of FIT carried out an extensive investigation of what we were doing and the priorities and objectives for the future. We set a meaningful target of training 20,000 people for employment by 2020 and are committed to it. As a result of escalation, that target may need to be raised. In collaboration with education and training providers, the Government and community organisations, there is a target to train 100,000 people in the period 2012 - 2015. That is required to bring about an effective response. This will be cost-neutral as we are not looking for additional funding but rather reprioritisation of existing resources for a coherent strategy. We lack a sufficient number of coherent strategies.

Our target is to place 25,000 people into employment during that period. We have investigated where we see those job opportunities, and they take in a combination of skills shortages. Members will have seen reports about foreign direct investment companies indicating immediate shortfalls of approximately 2,500 to 3,000 jobs. Replacement figures must also be addressed every year, with the prospect of economic growth resuming in 2013. We must make people ready now for these changes, developments and opportunities which are on the horizon. We are in economic strife now but as in the past and many times over, this too will change, economies will rebound and growth will resume. We must use this time to be more effective, giving people the right skills for the correct jobs. I contest that we are not doing this sufficiently now. If there are substantial numbers of graduates who cannot get jobs while there are skills shortages in the economy, there is a mismatch. We focus our investigation on this.

We are fully committed to this proposal and believe that building on experience over the past 12 years, we have the know-how, pedagogy and confidence to bring this to fruition and realise the type of results we outline. In general, the overall progression of placement figures for FIT for the past 12 years has been 74% of people into jobs. Taking into account that we are focusing on people who need more skills and training, that is quite a success. Within the FIT portfolio there are 30 curriculums across the board from general IT to advanced levels of game development, cloud computing and so on.

One does not have to be a third level graduate to secure employment in these areas although there are certain skills and competencies that must be gained to be effective. There is a range of skills and opportunities which people, if given the right supports and assessments, can endeavour to progress within.

We can move to questions unless the representative has more to add.

Mr. Peter Davitt

In the document we have made three recommendations and we want the committee to recognise and build on the experience of the FIT initiative to facilitate a further education and training system for Ireland. We are looking for broad support for a scaling-up initiative. We are not concerned about whether it is called FIT as long as an intervention of this nature is brought into play.

There is a point of concern with current restructuring of local education and training boards and SOLAS and so on. There should be a strong link between industry and public training provision, and that has not existed up to now. We ask the committee to support and endorse our views in that respect.

I thank the representatives for the presentation and we appreciate the good work being done. This country has invested much in training. I doubt whether we have got the best value for the investment. Much of it is aimless to say the least. I suppose it has some value in the sense that it gives people skills and the discipline of getting up in the morning and doing something but there has traditionally been a big mismatch between the resources spent in training and the needs of the economy.

Mr. Davitt has acquainted himself well with the needs of the economy in terms of skills and what jobs will be required in the future but I am a little confused on one point. He should please excuse my ignorance but he indicated that the FIT programme is in place since 1999 and that it has trained 11,000 people, which is good, but he is now proposing to train 100,000 in the next four years and to place 25,000 in employment without any extra resources.

Mr. Peter Davitt

The whole initiative needs to be funded. We are not saying we will do it within existing resources. We have outlined a detailed plan of how it would be costed and the cost-benefit of same. What we are saying is that Fastrack to Information Technology, FIT, started off initially as a small pilot scheme in Dublin for two or three years. We are talking about a few hundred people. Then we were asked to go national. Up to 2006 or 2007 we were training approximately 600 people a year but the numbers have grown to the current level. We always wanted to do more but we have been constrained by access to provision. In the current change in circumstances and the restructuring of educational training provision there is an opportunity to do something that is much more substantial. We believe the type of model we have developed is scalable very quickly. We have offices in Dublin and Cork and we can have other regional out-centres set up very quickly. The concept has been proven. We could have trained twice as many people this year. During the summer months we communicated with 100,000 people. We had more than 15,000 come forward for the courses but we could only accept 3,500, not because we could not facilitate them but because we could not get access to provision.

What Mr. Davitt is saying, essentially, is that within the overall national provision for education and training, that it would be possible if there was reprioritisation.

Mr. Peter Davitt

Yes. It is not an additional cost. It is reprioritisation and a refocusing of existing funding that is available for training into programmes of this nature in a collaborative process with existing provision, be it FÁS-SOLAS, or VEC-LETB.

Did Mr. Davitt say he had a detailed plan for this?

Mr. Peter Davitt

We have put together a detailed plan in terms of our perspective.

I am sure the committee would love to see it. I would certainly like to see it.

I was just looking at the goals of the FIT programme. Someone once said to me that we probably have the most over-trained people in the country at present. I do not agree with that, but it was said in the context that when one is unemployed one is compelled to go on a FÁS, or SOLAS training course, as it is now known. The delegates are aware of the situation in the past.

People fall easily into despondency when they find that they are trained yet they still cannot find a job. I meet people who are trained as teachers or in other professions who are still put on courses to retrain. How does one get around that? All the statistics suggest that the vast majority of people who go through FÁS courses do not get a job subsequently. We are way behind even the likes of Scotland which has a very high unemployment rate in the sense that all of the people who have been trained by the agencies do not get jobs. That leads to despondency among people who find they get on to a training scheme but there is no place to go when they finish it. What are the delegates' thoughts on that? Will someone elaborate on access to provision?

The document referred to further education. Do the delegates accept that it can be difficult to return to further education because of the cost factor, especially to train for higher level skills for which one must pay at some stage? One may be able to pick up some skills without paying but there is a cost factor involved for such courses as high level IT skills. A high percentage of people who want to do such courses cannot afford to do them. They are the very people we want to get involved in such education. How do the delegates feel about that? How do they get past that barrier? One meets people who want to achieve higher level IT skills but find they are unable to get up the ladder because of the cost factor.

Mr. George Ryan

I would like to comment on the people we are targeting. As Mr. Davitt mentioned, the number of groups under the heading "long-term unemployed" has grown significantly. One can have highly educated people in that group. We are targeting a group of approximately 100,000. Approximately 62,000 people who are unemployed have lower than second level education. There is also a group of 27,000 that do not have any formal education. There is a large number of people who are lower down the ladder. Our initiative and industry leadership has led us to focus on that more disadvantaged group. That is what we do. Those people do not have degrees. They are not already teachers, engineers or involved in technology. They are people with lower educational qualifications. We have a system of assessing their ability to take on ICT skills. We will offer people technology-based courses if through aptitude tests or other means it appears that they are suitable for such courses. We have put thousands of people through the system.

In the overall scheme of educational training in this country as a whole FIT is a small initiative but we believe we have proven that people - 10,000 over ten years - with lower educational levels can get initial entry-level technology skills. Companies are crying out for such people. We are looking at some of the big employers with thousands of employees at the moment such as Paypal. Most of the staff do not have higher level skills. They are people with a knowledge of basic IT and technology who are dealing with customers, processes and systems. We have people going into those companies. We have an appropriate solution for that group of people which is different to those requiring higher and further education and there are employers willing to utilise that resource.

Is Mr. Ryan saying that a company interviewing some of the 100,000 long-term unemployed with moderate or low education skills as opposed to the at least another 150,000 unemployed people with IT skills would opt for those with lower education skills because they would have gone through the course rather than those with more education skills? The latter group who are also unemployed do not need to be trained.

Mr. George Ryan

Many permits are being given to people to come into the country to take up IT skills in certain specific sectors which, unfortunately, the graduates do not have. That situation is continuing even this year. There is a mismatch between the skills people have and those employers seek. At the lower level, employers are interested in getting people at entry-level in many customer service positions. They do not need degrees and they are not necessarily looking at graduates for those positions. It is a real need with which we are familiar. Every day we come across those requirements. It is not mutually exclusive to give people at a lower educational level some skills.

God knows how much education and degrees some people have. I know the struggle we all have in terms of seeing young people with fantastic qualifications trying to get appropriate work. I am a parent with children who have higher level skills. The groups are not mutually exclusive. We should not really compare the two in terms of whether we should support one or the other. We have proven that this approach works. We would like to allow more people to benefit from it but we hope that all our graduates, including our children, do get appropriate jobs as the economy recovers.

Ms Anna Pringle

From an industry point of view, one of the differentiators for Fasttrack to Information Technology, FIT, is that it works with industry from the beginning to the end of the process. The courses are designed based on identified skills needs. Then FIT works with industry to place people on courses and to follow up later. It is not just a smorgasbord of skills. Our courses are targeted to identified industry needs. The example Mr. Peter Davitt gave of a wind turbine maintenance course is a good example of identifying a need and an area where there will be jobs. Companies are missing those skill sets.

Mr. Peter Davitt

This is a fundamental question. We are not suggesting there is an easy answer nor are we undermining the experience or qualifications of third level graduates.

Let me give two examples. One is a work example. About three weeks ago, I was visiting a new gaming company which has just established in Galway. The reports in the newspapers were all about great opportunities in games development. It is a great opportunity for Galway and for Ireland. However, when talking to the company I asked what they were looking for. They said they were looking for people with a passion for gaming, a knowledge of IT and good customer service skills.

I can also give a personal example. I have twin sons and one of them started third level education last year. My two boys could be called computer nerds. They break up computers, put them together again and do all sorts of things. I am fearful of a phone call from NASA any day soon. My son came to me in May and said he wanted to leave his course. I was fuming and said he should finish it. He said the course was interesting but too general. The course was supposed to be games focused but was, in fact, a general foundation course in computers. He was doing a four-year general foundation course leading to a degree. He knew what he wanted to do and he said the course would not give him the skills to do it. He changed to a more specialist technical post-leaving certificate course. He is thriving on it.

This made me reflect on my own life. I am a supporter of lifelong learning, but that does not start and finish with doing a degree. I started as a bricklayer, did my apprenticeship and worked for a year and a half. I was then looking at unemployment and became involved in setting up an initiative in Ballymun. I decided I needed to do some training and did a diploma in human resources. I became involved in a few other initiatives, felt I needed to do more and did a degree in business and finance. Two or three years ago I did a masters degree. As my job and circumstances changed I felt the need to expand and reposition my skills, knowledge and understanding. There is more than one pathway of progression. We are not undermining the need for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, STEM, but there is also a need for people with very technical skills.

The students on one of our courses visited a company which made some of their employees available to talk to the FIT students. Not one of the 20 people from the company had a degree. They included electricians, lone parents and general operatives. They had gone and done courses which gave them skills that were in demand by the company. That is the crucial thing.

The group has strong credibility in certain areas of Dublin, such as Ballyfermot and Ballymun. I was involved in an action group for employment in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Mr. Davitt may know Ciaran Reid and people like that.

Mr. Peter Davitt

Yes.

FIT was one of the first groups to get involved in this area. As a result of that, coming out of the recession of the late 1980s and early 1990s many people were able to take up employment in the new economies that evolved in the 1990s. The group members have proved that what they say actually works. I know it is difficult to get that across but anyone who has had contact with FIT is aware of it. They do not have to prove their credibility time and again.

This committee must be aware that the current development in the economy will happen at the high end, and that is where all the stimulus and funding are going. The interest and impetus of FIT are best placed to deal with the risk of a blighted generation and blighted communities. This committee must not just sit idly by. We must look at new and exciting labour activation measures where the risk of communities being blighted is greatest. We must create innovative activation measures with the special input FIT has. This is a key responsibility for us. If we wait until the high end economy trickles down into working class communities, the personal and social damage will be irreversible. From my experience of what FIT has done in the past, it has a significant role in this period and into the future. I am delighted to see the witnesses here.

I was impressed by Mr. Peter Davitt's story about being a bricklayer. A couple of years ago, Mr. Paul Mooney, who was president of the National College of Ireland, came to see me. He had worked as a butcher for me 20 years previously. He left school at 13, got an apprenticeship as a butcher and then, in his 20s, decided he wanted to do something else and switched totally.

FIT is a well kept secret. I was not aware of the work it does. Until I read the documentation last night I knew nothing of the huge amount of work it does.

Recently, there has been an effort to lift Drogheda out of its difficulties. Two programmes have been tried. One is a mentor programme. I went with the man who is in charge of it to five large companies to ask if they would act as mentors to smaller start-up companies. Every one of the five companies said they would. We also introduced a buddy system for people who were starting work. We asked people who were either employed or had finished employment, and they happily took part. I say this because it appears to me there is a great deal of goodwill out there. There are people in Ireland who want to help.

I was impressed to read that FIT is a registered charity. I was also impressed by the industry-led initiative and the 20 companies involved in it. At least, 20 companies are listed in the FIT documentation. They may not be the only ones involved. It appears to me that FIT is unlikely to be able to get easy access to funds because the State is in its current situation. Can FIT use that goodwill towards people who are unemployed and tap into it?

I told the committee at a previous meeting about my visit to Kerry and how impressed I was by Mr. Jerry Kennelly, who started a very successful company and is still very much involved in business. He has devoted a huge amount of time to helping transition year students develop IT skills. He encourages entrepreneurship but he sees it coming from the IT area. Of course, Mr. Jerry Kennelly has a whole team working with him. I was impressed by the amount of goodwill there is and the number of people who want to help. Is there a way for FIT, perhaps as a charity, to tap into that to a greater extent?

Mr. Peter Davitt

One thing comes to mind. Over recent years we initiated our own internship programme. I know about JobBridge and the previous internship programme. We had more than 600 people on internships over the summer months. Companies of all shapes and sizes got involved in that and provided opportunities for individuals.

The word "solidarity" was lost for a number of years, but I believe solidarity is growing again. There is solidarity both between people in work and not in work. We have a network of more than 500 companies which are involved on an active level and many are providing inputs in our courses. What is different with a FIT course is that although it may be run by FÁS or a VEC, it is our curriculum and we quality control it. We do the recruitment and selection and we manage the course with the provider and provide a range of company inputs. Many of the companies involved in FIT provide support through mock interviews and company visits. We provide the link. From past experience, I know that one thing we must prevent as a society, and this goes back to the point made by the Deputy, is the breakdown between the world of work and the world of unemployment and a return to entrenched areas of disadvantage. We cannot allow that to happen again, be it in Cork, Dublin or Donegal. We must ensure we maintain the links between those in work and the rest of society. We have seen very good involvement and engagement by companies, but there is much more to be done. We need creativity on all sides to create initiatives that bring to the fore what people can do and the energy of the different sectors of the community. Despite the current economic climate, we see on average a placement every day from our client group, who are viewed as being more on the margins.

We have done significant research into where we believe the jobs exist and what type of course to run. A point was made that some of this is already being provided. With the restructuring of SOLAS and the local education training boards, LETBs, etc., we need to do an audit of what is provided by the different institutes, be they third level, institutes of technology or further education and training, FET. We must look at what these different entities provide, how relevant they are to the world of work and how they may be tweaked, changed or enhanced to be more responsive to the needs of industry.

I thank the delegation for coming before the committee. The presentation was quite short so anyone who has not read the written presentation must read it. I had the privilege of meeting these people soon after getting elected and was mesmerised by the work they are doing. I was also surprised that I had not heard much beforehand about what they were doing. What FIT is doing works and it is the best option we have currently. It is evidence-based work that is continuing and that has achieved success, with a 74% replacement rate into employment.

My question concerns the comment made by Mr. Davitt that FIT's proposal is cost neutral. What would the consequence be to SOLAS, the VECs and so on if funding was reallocated to take the direction proposed by FIT?

Mr. Peter Davitt

With regard to how the models work to date, we do not want to replicate existing training provision. We are not training providers. We want to stay lean and mean. We want to be responsive to industry and interact with communities, but watch where the ball is going in terms of skill needs. How our system operates currently is that we negotiate with VECs to ring-fence some of their existing budget for these types of courses, and likewise with FÁS. All we are asking is that there be greater ring-fencing for these courses. There will be some administration costs in terms of that, but they will be nominal. We estimate administration will be about 5% of the overall costs. We want some of the existing funding to be ring-fenced for these types of courses. FÁS and the VECs will still run the courses and train their people to run them, but we will quality control that process and provide the links with industry.

It is really important that FIT is monitoring the quality control. That is one of the reasons it has had such a great success rate. What FIT does is very important. It goes to industry and asks what it needs rather than thinking it knows what industry needs and mismatching skills. That has been the greatest sin in the past, as pointed out by Deputy Willie O'Dea. Lots of money has been spent on up-skilling the people, but there has been a mismatch between industry and that up-skilling. FIT has been dealing with this issue and since the beginning has been identifying the needs and matching skills to them, thereby gaining successful employment for people. I thank FIT for that.

I had the pleasure of meeting some of the delegation previously and, like Deputy Lyons, was very impressed by the work FIT does. I was impressed first of all by the research FIT carries out with industry to ensure it is looking for the skills that are necessary and in demand in the market. I was also impressed by the fact that FIT recognises that those areas that are considered entrenched areas of disadvantage also offer opportunities. Often people are entrenched in the view that these areas do not offer opportunities, but they do. These areas must be harnessed.

Many of the points I intended making have already been made other than that FIT provides a working and operating template. I would like to see the Government using that template to upskill people throughout the State. What else can we do to help FIT with its role in upscaling the template?

Mr. Peter Davitt

I thank Deputy Tóibín for his comments. We are conscious that it is a key matter to keep a close eye on the restructuring that is taking place in terms of needs, LETBs, SOLAS, etc. In some respect, we believe it is right to restructure. We had a well-structured third level provision and a well-structured primary sector provision, but had a somewhat diverse VET and FET. Now, having a structured FET is the right way to go. However, we are slightly concerned about where we stand with regard to our role and input and with regard to the contribution to that process of entities like ours and industry. We do not want an exercise of moving furniture around the room and the room remaining much the same afterwards. The restructuring is a real opportunity to bring to play at this time a new, more focused and dynamic system of provision that is responsive to the needs of industry and jobseekers. We need greater dialogue on this and we are not engaged directly in that. People like us and the members of this committee need to have a fuller role in that restructuring process.

Just to clarify, being here today will give FIT access to part of that negotiation. The select committee will deal with the heads of the Bill for the training boards and for SOLAS. We will accept a written submission from FIT on the issues and will engage on them. There is no problem in that regard and we will be delighted to have FIT as part of that discussion.

I commend FIT on its work, which is very promising. Like other members, I had not heard much about FIT previously. I am aware FIT is concentrated on Dublin, but I would be willing to promote the organisation and invite its members to Galway. I know it was involved with a company which made a recent job announcement which I attended a number of weeks ago and which was also attended by the Taoiseach. I do not have any questions, but would like to make a comment. It is great to note that FIT is so important owing to the relevance of its courses. While FÁS has done great work, some of its courses were out of date. It was presenting courses and people were not getting much from them. FIT meets the needs of industry.

People tended to hop from course to course and once they finished one course, they looked to see what they could do next. Concentrated efforts such as FIT makes to link people to jobs is the way to go. I would like to support FIT in its call to restructure and reprioritise some of the funding to help FIT and the long-term unemployed in the various regions.

Mr. Peter Davitt

From 1999 to 2002, FIT focused on Dublin, but we now operate throughout Ireland. We have courses running in Dublin, Waterford, Galway, Limerick, Cork and the midlands. We have scaled up the initiative and think we can do more. The infrastructure is there. Sometimes the best ideas are the simplest. We are not changing the infrastructure per se, but just refocusing and redirecting it. There are very good trainers and tutors within the VEC and FÁS systems. In fairness, unless one's finger is on the pulse and one has the resources, every course goes out of date. We have a curriculum sub-group that meets every six weeks and it reviews all our courses. We put some courses aside because they are no longer relevant, but other courses we retained. Every year, there must be some degree of change and development. We are in a position to do that because we talk to the companies regularly.

Certain systems worked with Office 2003, but other systems require Office 2010. There is a big difference in knowledge required in those two areas. Courses change all the time. I use Office as an example, but new technologies like cloud computing will require training. New technologies come on line almost every week and we must keep a close eye on these.

It is important to point out that all of the courses FIT has developed are mapped towards national certification. We are not a slave to industry or its needs, but we are ensuring we are responsive to its demands. Anyone who starts a FIT course also starts on the road towards further national certification and can climb the jobs and lifelong education and training ladders.

Mr. Tom Rourke

In addition to the technical content of the courses, we should not lose sight of the supports provided by FIT to get people who do not have a strong history of employment over barriers and into employment. This is a significant element. FIT is tight on ensuring people have the aptitude, but it also provides supports to bring people into employment.

Deputy Halligan asked about how people progressed and acquired skills. The surest route for people with aptitude to access higher level training in IT is to be in a job in IT. It is an egalitarian industry, although this is not exclusive to the IT sector. Were one to try to apply this model in other sectors, however, a series of social barriers, be they explicit or implicit, would determine how someone progressed in a profession.

People in gaming companies have a passion for gaming. In the companies for which I have worked, for example, executives on sales teams might look traditional in terms of the suits they wear, but there is considerable diversity in backgrounds in all of our businesses. With all of our companies, if people have the aptitude and skills required, they will progress. Where they have come from and what they have needed to overcome to reach us will not hold them back. FIT provides for the acquisition of skills, supports, mentoring and hand-holding to get them into employment, as their most secure route to development is to have a job in an IT company. We are not shy about exploiting their aptitude. While the technical content is tailored, it is bound to the supports to get people into employment.

I thank the delegates for their presentation. This is my first time to be introduced to them and their work. I congratulate them on what they are doing. As I am from County Cork, I have not heard of the work they do, but FIT is active there.

Mr. Davitt's responses were informative and may have answered my questions. I am interested in FIT's engagement with VECs, SOLAS and FÁS. Does it have a good relationship with these bodies? I was a member of a VEC and, consequently, served on the board of the Cork College of Commerce, a post-leaving certificate college. It was a refreshing role, as the college was innovative and the courses were changing every six months or so in response to the needs of industry. If one is not matching industry's needs, one will go nowhere and do would-be adult learners a disservice. In terms of FIT's engagement with these bodies, is there an open door?

Mr. Peter Davitt

We work with approximately 12 VECs and have a strong working relationship with FÁS across the country. We try to develop the initiative by presenting its value in order that others might see merit in collaborating with us. We cannot forcibly-----

As Mr. Davitt stated, it is about dialogue.

Mr. Peter Davitt

We are also working with the college of commerce, with which we have a good relationship. Our relationship with the VECs with which we work is also positive. FÁS has been a key supporter since the outset and we have had a strong relationship with it in recent years. In terms of skills training, we are doing a great deal of work with FÁS on curriculum development for the general population. I am satisfied with the relationship, but there is always more to be done.

Like other members, I had not heard of the guests' organisation until I received the documentation. I am impressed by the range of courses and programmes on offer. FIT's close collaboration with reputable companies gives it credibility.

While FIT is primarily Dublin-based, our guests have indicated that it runs a programme in Galway. I am from east Galway. Are programmes initiated in the regions outside Dublin by companies or communities that have identified a set of needs?

Mr. Peter Davitt

Approximately 40% of courses are offered outside Dublin and spread across the country. They are initiated in a number of ways. Normally, we initiate them. We are always engaged in skill needs analysis and producing company profiles. For example, if we believe certain companies in an area have particular skill needs, we will interact with them and approach local training providers such as FÁS and the VECs to collaborate on the initiation of a course. Normally, they will only engage if we can persuade them that a programme will be viable. We are continuously examining companies, their locations and what vacancies they have. Yesterday, www.irishjobs.ie listed more than 5,000 vacancies in administration, IT and customer services. While there may have been some duplication, this is not getting enough news coverage. We are in difficult straits, but there are opportunities. If we pinch pennies, we will get pounds. There is a significant number of vacancies. Why are we tolerating them? We need a more coherent strategy to fill them. The basis for an infrastructure to achieve this is in place.

Reverting to the Senator's question, there is normally a skill needs analysis, local dialogue and consultation.

I thank the delegates. The information supplied to us is impressive. I congratulate FIT on its work.

Recently, the European Union announced its approval of the allocation of €39 million to assist construction workers made redundant in a specific year. I apologise, as my information on this subject is a little sketchy, but the period in question may have been 2008 and the first six months of 2009. Will FIT be able to tap into this funding or has it come to its attention to date?

Mr. Peter Davitt

The general heading is the global fund.

Mr. Peter Davitt

There have been a number of global fund interventions in Ireland, for example, at the airport in Limerick. We do not have ready access to the fund, but it is ideal for an initiative of this nature.

The Deputy referred to construction workers. In the past year or 18 months the general view has been that construction workers - I was a bricklayer - can do nothing else or cannot be trained to do anything else. A significant number of them are participating in our courses. For example, a 50 year old man - close to my age - attended one of our courses in Dungarvan. After losing his job five or six years ago, he did some taxi work but could not making a living out of it. He did our course and is now working with a financial company in Waterford. He never believed he would work again, let alone be in the job he is in now. Everyone is retrainable. It is about aptitude and attitude. We need a more creative view of the position in which construction workers find themselves. They are project managers at heart. Anyone who has worked on a building site must be able to manage a living environment.

I had this discussion with a man recently. Someone was being dismissive of future opportunities for construction workers. It was the worst case of tunnel vision I had ever encountered. We need to have a more optimistic outlook.

Mr. Davitt has stated FIT has not been able to access the fund. I propose that the committee write to the relevant Minister to consider FIT's eligibility to apply for funding. The work it is doing is excellent and it needs every support that can be given to it. We have a massive fund coming into the country to which FIT ought to have access. With the agreement of members, we could make the application.

That is no problem.

We know jobs are available and that there are people in the market with those skills. One of the weaknesses of the current system is that we do not seem to be able to match them. When people sign on, that information is not made available. It should be simple to match the skills of people with opportunities. There is need for a database to match one with the other. The document refers to a lost generation. In some constituencies, there has been a generational loss. Is FIT trying to locate courses in those areas with high unemployment? The difficulty is that there are no companies in those areas. Has FIT examined other jurisdictions that have had success in this respect? The Scottish Executive seems to be making great strides, particularly with regard to youth unemployment. It set and exceeded targets and has transformed internships for young apprentices. Can we learn lessons from other jurisdictions that are not a million miles away from us?

Mr. George Ryan

I agree with the Deputy. It is very important to be aware of what is going on in other countries. Part of the reason we are not better known is that we have kept our heads down for the past ten years and worked with the most disadvantaged communities, where the vast majority of our courses take place. We have also been working with our European colleagues in approximately 30 countries. We sought EU funding to carry out these collaborations and studies. We are a tiny organisation and we are the most active in Ireland in accessing EU funding for lifelong learning studies. We have a project called eFuture, which works with young people in transition year in a disadvantaged area in Ireland, looking at how e-skills and Facebook can engage them better in learning. We are carrying this out with three other countries. We must learn best practice from other countries. We strive to do that and it is built into our policy. Some 25% of our funding for research and development has come from EU programmes.

We need a small amount of money to carry out the FIT programmes. We were fortunate in that we had a value for money review imposed on us this year because we received some public funding. We were delighted that every leaf was turned over and an independent report found that FIT is extremely good value for money. For an additional 5% over the cost of training already in place, marginalised jobseekers achieve employability on equal terms with the general unemployed population. These are not my words but the words of the value for money review. In offering generous support for what we are doing, there is a strong evidence-based value for money basis for saying that this works and is a good return on public investment. A tiny additional amount makes the FIT components improve the general training.

Ms Anna Pringle

Regarding the point about focusing on disadvantaged areas, FIT focuses on a more disadvantaged group of people than the general unemployed. FIT has been identified as best practice internationally by the EU. I became involved in FIT through Microsoft, which has a worldwide corporate social responsibility programme in every country. It identifies the leading practitioners and leading projects. FIT won an award for being one of the most progressive and best programmes for people to emulate. I have not come across other countries with a project as targeted as this.

Mr. Peter Davitt

The crucial point concerns counselling and advice for unemployed people. Under a restructuring programme, people from the employment services in FÁS and from the HSE are moving to the Department of Social Protection. The individuals need to have knowledge. The progression paths for the long-term unemployed and for individuals with the leaving certificate are different. One must have an appreciation of that and a knowledge of where the industry opportunities and skill needs exist. There needs to be upskilling of the people at the front line in order that they can give informed information to clients. FIT programmes tend to be run in urban centres of disadvantage. I do not require companies to be located there because my view is that we are upskilling individuals in the community and they can then commute to where the job is located. I read in the newspaper that, for the first time, Ballymun was indicated as having more advanced reading skills than other communities. That is great to see because my heart is in Ballymun, having worked there for so many years. Ballymun also has the highest number of Microsoft certified professionals in Europe because of training initiatives of this nature. One can change the profile of the community if the correct focus and attention is given.

My understanding is that much of the global fund is unspent. Many construction workers do not know whether their names are on the list. People on courses want to access training and the EU has assigned money to them but they do not know whether the money is available to them. It is important we send a letter from the committee to find out what is available to training organisations such as FIT and to request the Minister to make the individuals on the list aware that money for retraining has been assigned to them.

I am amazed that the country has not tapped into technology to match the skills gaps that exist. We often hear about 5,000 jobs being available. Some form of social media, such as LinkedIn, could be used so that anyone who is unemployed is on the system along with all employers. Very quickly, a search could be done by the unemployed individual or the business to match skills and jobs. This would allow us to find out what training needs to be done in the future to develop skills. Also, e-learning could be delivered on such a platform. If we are a knowledge economy, we should develop this kind of infrastructure as a State and we could possibly sell it abroad if it worked here.

Mr. Peter Davitt

The Deputy's points are excellent. It is cost efficient to get a system that allows us to communicate by texting or tweeting people who expressed an interest in a particular type of job in a certain area. As vacancies arise, they could be sent information and could respond to it. Applications now allow people to send a CV by phone. This creativity and innovation, which is low cost, means we should not have a job vacancy in the country at the moment.

I thank the witnesses for attending today's meeting. The delegation has met many TDs individually. In this committee there is genuine interest and recognition of what it does. We would be willing to work with it and develop some of its recommendations. I am aware it has met the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, who is also interested in what it does so that might feed into the profiling and trying to match people with jobs. We will have much work to do based on the presentation today. We will link up with it and may get it to meet the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, and the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, because the three areas cover what is being done by the delegation. Certainly we will be more involved. I thank the delegates for their presentation. We will have a second presentation in a few minutes but if the representatives wish to add to their comments they may.

Mr. Peter Davitt

I thank the committee for its time and the opportunity to appear before it. I am pleased to hear the ideas and the initiative. There is a coming together of minds.

Yes, absolutely. I appreciate that. We will move on to the second presentation.