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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 10 Mar 1994

Vol. 139 No. 13

Industrial Training (Apprenticeship Levy) Bill, 1993: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I welcome the Minister and commend her for introducing this Bill. We all agree this legislation is a key element when putting in place a properly planned, funded and certified apprenticeship system. The two main areas on which I will focus are equity and vocational training.

Everyone is anxious to ensure the entry to apprenticeship is based on merit and not nepotism. This should be tackled. In the other House my colleague, Deputy Quill, proposed that persons seeking apprenticeships be officially registered so that employers seeking to take on apprentices would draw exclusively from that register. In this way the lack of transparency and equity that has been a long standing source of grievance could be tackled.

In her speech yesterday the Minister also stated her concern on this issue and said the inequity in the system of recruitment should be tackled. She discussed this with FÁS, IBEC, the CIF and other organisations and came to the conclusion that a compulsory system would be premature at present. She recommended that a code of practice be developed and operated over a trial period of two years. If this is not found to be effective the matter can be re-examined and a compulsory system introduced. Everyone hopes this will not be necessary and that the changes being introduced by the Minister will ensure more equity in the system.

A related issue is the astonishingly low levels of female participation in apprenticeship schemes. FÁS figures show that in 1991 women accounted for only 2.1 per cent of intake into first year off-the-job apprenticeship training. This shows a huge degree of imbalance and one must ask what measures are contained in these proposals to rectify the matter. It is pertinent to request the Minister to set specific targets and see they are met.

Experience in other countries has shown a lack of active discrimination is in itself insufficient to overcome barriers in society against women making nontraditional choices. An active programme of measures to encourage women applicants is necessary to ensure real choice in career decisions. The Report of the Second Commission on the Status of Women has a chapter on training and labour market initiatives which contains a number of recommendations and much information on this area. This report should be examined.

One area explored by the commission was positive action measures. In 1990 FÁS launched such a programme for women which had as its objective the promotion of participation by women in non-traditional and growing sectors of the labour market. It encompassed positive action measures in all areas of FÁS activity and established annual targets to be achieved in key areas. The results of the equality initiatives are compiled by FÁS in an end of year report. The Commission on the Status of Women viewed this approach by FÁS as an effective way to co-ordinate and monitor positive action initiatives. It also recommended that relevant Ministers should direct all State training agencies, educational establishments which provide vocational training and other training bodies which receive public funding to develop and implement a positive action programme for women on a similar basis to FÁS. The achievement of targets in relation to women's participation on all State and EU funded programmes should be monitored. The commission also felt that there should be a biannual review of women's access to participation in programmes to ensure that all barriers are removed and that the programmes are meeting the needs of women with regard to labour market requirements.

The commission also examined the barriers to non traditional careers for women. It felt that factors which inhibit women from choosing certain apprenticeship courses and employers from sponsoring women apprentices reflected the barriers encountered by women in all non traditional employment. It is worth examining the area of apprenticeship as it is a microcosm of attitudes held generally both by and about women in non traditional areas. In addition, it should be borne in mind that the course run by FÁS, which is usually referred to as pre-apprenticeship training, is in fact designed to equip women with the skills necessary to embark on all non traditional training courses.

Other speakers mentioned the designation of apprenticeships and that the Apprenticeship Act provided for recognised apprenticeships and qualification for trades that were designated. Between 1959 and 1966 the occupations that were designated tended to be in male dominated areas, such as electrical work, bricklaying, carpentry, plumbing, etc. The many areas of employment where women worked and effectively served an apprenticeship, such as hairdressing, the textile industry, clothing and the distribution trades, were not designated. This gender bias in designating trades has a major implication for women's access to employment, their mobility and career advancement. It has also had an effect on women's pay. In The Irish Times yesterday, it was interesting to note an article about a recent ESRI study which found that women earn 20 per cent less than men. The article stated:

While the report's findings make a strong case for state intervention from an equal-opportunities perspective, the ESRI cautioned that this was one aspect of the problem. "Policy decisions on equal opportunities cannot be isolated from others areas of policy, but require a broad analysis which takes account of many factors."

One of those factors is the low number of women entering apprenticeships and this should be examined. In her speech yesterday, the Minister of State spoke about paying specific attention to the entry of women into apprenticeships and this is important.

It is interesting to note that Ireland is low by European standards regarding the level of designated trades. There are 450 designated trades in Germany, while there are 400 in Holland. We are well short of those figures. I ask the Minister of State to request FÁS to consider extending the number of designated trades to take account of the range of occupations which are predominantly female. This is important.

Preparatory training for women who are taking up apprenticeship training is a practical way of increasing the take up. I am aware that FÁS is doing this and that their training is designed to equip women with the necessary technical skills to enable them to compete for places in apprenticeships. It is also aimed at reducing the drop out rates. It fulfils the functions of building up confidence among women and of establishing supportive links with other women. The attitude of trainees is also important. Despite the promotion carried out by FÁS, apprenticeships are still not considered desirable career choices by many women. This is a pity. Usually an apprenticeship appears to be a last resort choice for many women trainees. Social prejudice on the part of the family and peer group undoubtedly contributes to this, as does the fact that women on apprenticeship courses tend to be greatly outnumbered by men. They may feel isolated.

A further barrier to women progressing in apprenticeships is the attitude of some employers. Registered apprentices with FÁS must receive sponsorship from an employer or from FÁS in order to proceed with their apprenticeship. There is a reluctance on the part of many employers to take on female apprentices. FÁS has continued to provide sponsorship for first year off the job training. For example, of the 42 women apprentices who began their first year's training in 1991, only 15 were sponsored by companies. This poses a major problem at the end of the first year as company sponsorship should then be found if the apprentice is to continue the apprenticeship. We must encourage companies to sponsor women trainees. There are special bursaries available to employers which contribute significantly to the cost of employing a female apprentice and it is important that these continue.

This area is most important to women and if we are seeking the equal participation of women in the workforce, we must concentrate on it. The discussion document published by FÁS acknowledged the need for special measures to increase participation by women in apprenticeships. I ask the Minister of State if there are any concrete proposals in place to date in this regard. The commission made approximately ten recommendations and they cover the areas that I mentioned. I ask the Minister of State to examine them and try to encourage their implementation.

In relation to training, we all agree with the main thrust of the Bill, which is to introduce certification and internationally recognised standards of assessment in place of the previous emphasis on time served. This will give apprentices a better chance of acquiring worthwhile, valuable and required skills. It will also be of great benefit to their employers and to the economy as a whole.

Some of the insights into training were examined in the Culliton report. I do not think this has been mentioned by many speakers so far. In the chapter on education, enterprise and technology, the report states:

Education and training are a most critical element of policy affecting not just industry but overall economic welfare. In an increasingly integrated and competitive world, skills and knowledge constitute one of the few areas where an economy can command a differential competitive advantage... It is clear to us that present education and training arrangements need to be changed in the direction of greater applicability to present economic and employment conditions and to the nation's development needs...

A survey of skill needs revealed that Ireland does in fact have a real skills gap when measured against the best practice firms in competitive countries. The Culliton report believed that much of the fault for this lies in the inadequacies of our training. Specifically, it believed that vocational training is being crowded out by academic training, leaving a poor platform for industrial training. The report identified the need for a new emphasis on vocational and technical training and said that this was the single action most likely to yield benefits in terms of industrial progress. The report further states:

Nations like Germany and Switzerland have benefited enormously from apprenticeship and vocational training programmes that provide a highly skilled and adaptable workforce. Such programmes can only work if they are seen as effective and if completing them confers prestige.

This is important, particularly for children who talk about what they will do when they leave school. They think about areas that have status or glamour attached. Unfortunately, many trades do not tend to carry that glamour. This needs to be changed and the Culliton report recognised the importance of that.

The report also said that the skills gap needs to be addressed, both by industry and by the educational system. It stated:

The most successful training and education systems, in terms of enhancing competitiveness, are those where companies play an active role in the development of programmes and curricula, with particular attention to practical needs, and which combine on-the-job training with a strong backup from vocational and technical schools... industry should be involved in the design and planning of Statesubsidised training. In order to emphasise industry's stake in the effectiveness of the training, it should also contribute financially to such training.

The Minister of State, in this Bill, is ensuring that they do contribute financially and this is welcome.

The Culliton report also raised the issue that too much of the national training budget seems to be allocated by reference to the criteria for Structural Funds assistance from Brussels. The report felt that this was wrong.

I have concentrated on two areas, but especially the women's issue. The Minister addressed this yesterday but I urge her to be aware of the needs of women and to ensure they are taken care of now that there is to be a new approach to apprenticeships.

I welcome the Bill and I commend the Minister for introducing it. The Bill represents a small but important step in the apprenticeship area.

I welcome the Minister to the House and congratulate her for introducing this reforming measure in the apprenticeship scheme. This scheme was introduced in 1986 but it has taken a long time to come to fruition. It was not until 1989 that a committee was established to monitor the development of the scheme. However, ultimately, the Minister, a Minister of action who has been complimented throughout the education system for her ideas, took action to have the scheme implemented and she is to be congratulated for this.

The new approach, where apprentices must attain certain standards and pass various tests to achieve a national craft certification, must be welcomed given closer integration within the EU and technological changes. As we are now beginning to consider ourselves as educated rather than technological people, it is a good idea to have a standardised test at the end of the course rather than the traditional style where an apprentice qualified after serving a couple of years apprenticeship.

Regarding the proposed recruitment procedures, I note that the new system will create an employer driven scheme. Hitherto, the son or daughter of the local personality was taken on by the local employer as an apprentice. However, the Minister has suggested that the new procedure will be based on equity, and hopefully this will be the case, but supply and demand will also be a determining factor, which is something all must be aware of.

The Minister mentioned that she had discussions with various representatives from the ICTU and the CIF and that there was a consensus that the system has been unfair because those who had potential did not always get the chance to become apprentices.

The Minister also mentioned that because the new system will be employer driven, the employer would be responsible for registering apprentices and that the new entry level would be a basic requirement of five grade Ds at junior certificate level. This concerns me because the Bill refers to any five grade Ds at this level. They should include a technological subject, which was required in the old scheme and is not a compulsory requirement in the new scheme.

There are to be seven phases in the scheme — with phases one, three, five and seven being on the job and phases two, four and six off the job. Phase one is to be on the job, but is to be a preparation for work, a general introduction to be implemented by the employer. I have reservations about this. As a teacher, the Minister will be aware that this could leave the apprentice open to exploitation. He may be required to make the tea, to be the runner, the "gofor"— I am being prompted by the Minister that the apprentice could be female; it is difficult when speaking of the apprenticeship scheme to think of "she".

I agree.

There are to be ongoing assessments, on and off the job, and FÁS is to be the regulatory authority. However, there is no mention of the guidance counsellors who could have a big input into this process. The guidance counsellors begin to work with students of 16 years of age when they are about to leave the school system. They facilitate these young people in their transition from school to work or from school to third level yet, there is no mention of them in this legislation. Guidance counsellors have an important role in helping students with this transition, in assisting them to find the right path, advising them on how to link up with FÁS as the regulatory authority and helping to keep the employer happy, as the scheme is employer driven. In view of this, guidance counsellors, such as myself, should have a big role to play in this scheme. We know more than most the aptitude and ability of prospective apprentices to undertake a job and if they have skills which can be related to a given area. I ask the Minister to examine ways in which we could be linked into the scheme.

Phase one deals with the preparation for work. This phase should be part of the vocational education training, and perhaps guidance counsellors could have an input in this area. The Minister mentioned that if prospective apprentices are unable to attain five grade Ds in their junior certificate there can be an assessment and aptitude test. Who would undertake such an aptitude test? Such tests cannot be taken in isolation. The prospective apprentice must also be assessed in terms of personality and subject range. It is by taking a combination of factors that a decision is reached on whether a student would be a suitable candidate for a specific apprenticeship.

In these circumstances, the person to assist in that decision is the guidance counsellor who, by obtaining a consensus among the staff, would be in a position to recommend a boy or girl to undertake an apprenticeship. Employers link up with guidance counsellors rather than FÁS because they trust us to give them information on the "rounded" person.

I acknowledge the significance of the national craft certificate as it opens the doors to third level education. It will give boys or girls who are craft oriented the opportunity to become involved, get on a diploma course and, if they are then good enough, go on to study managerial skills at degree level. Hitherto it has been impossible to do this as the system was loose and employers became involved in the progress of their apprentices only to the extent of their job performance.

The success of the old scheme must be acknowledged and we must compliment the teachers, instructors and employers who have given apprentices good training through the years. In view of this, any scheme that is introduced must have a high educational component to ensure there is development of transferable skills, which are increasingly necessary with technological changes.

The scheme must have a broad range of subjects, including what I term as stand alone subjects — mathematics, English, communications and social skills — which ensure that apprentices are not alone educated and trained in the technological area, whether it be building construction, metal work or wood work, but that they also have a broad range of educational skills.

This is the approach that must be taken if we are to educate our students for the future, now that we have opened ourselves to Europe. I am worried that the stand alone subjects appear to have collapsed into a workshop module. I have problems with the term "workshops". We are all aware that there are good and bad workshops, but I have encountered more bad than good.

Some students operate well in workshops, but the majority are not adequately supervised. In this respect I am a traditionalist. There cannot be a classroom setting in these workshops where there would be a tight rein on students when they have to deal with machinery. I am concerned that this new integrated module approach may not be as successful as one would like it to be. I am playing the devil's advocate, but as a teacher, the Minister will understand what I am saying.

Those points are interesting.

We may be shifting from educational training to more practical oriented training. We need to adopt an integrated approach to link vocational schools with the training and preparation of students who have established themselves on apprenticeships. The philosophy of FÁS lies in the training area, while in vocational schools it lies in the education area. We must integrate both approaches. The Minister indicated that employers, FÁS, and the regional technical colleges have a role to play in this regard. However, I am concerned about the junior rather than the senior aspect.

When we start to recruit, perhaps schools could have an input into this and guidance counsellors could be involved in continuous assessment. This is something at which I would like the Minister to look. Funding is important because it will open doors to employers who, until now, believed they were losing out. We are not taking money out of their pockets. We are creating a skilled workforce and everyone will benefit.

A public relations exercise is necessary to promote this scheme. Two weeks ago I met with parents at my school. I involved the local FÁS office and we spoke to them about various careers options open to 16 year old students. Because my knowledge of the new apprenticeship scheme was not as good as it is now — I did a lot of homework over the past two days — I depended on FÁS to sell the scheme. Although FÁS was not at fault, we failed miserably because we did not fully understand it. That is why a public relations exercise is important. Parents believe that their children have no chance of getting into this designated area. Builders no longer want to apprentice young people. They have their own team and they employ subcontractors. I deal with various industries near my school and they do not want to go down that road because they have their own crowd. That trade is drying up.

The Minister asked representatives of the CIF and other bodies to reconsider recruitment of young people. I deal with transition from school to work in regard to placements. If I did not have a good rapport with employers, I would never be able to get young people work experience, which is first stage recruitment. They get to know employers by going out one day each week from the vocational school on a particular programme. Employers can vet them in terms of their ability to follow instructions, to deal with work mates and to do the job. That is a prerequisite to recruiting students. This opportunity should be available and guidance counsellors should link up with the employers in this area. We should sell this scheme which gives everyone a chance. Although supply and demand are strong, at the end of the day the recommendation of a local personality or teacher will convince the employer.

I welcome the promotion of women in apprenticeships. Equality of opportunity is essential and a public relations exercise is needed in that area. The Minister has introduced a bursary scheme through FÁS which will help. I always promote the equality of opportunity in apprenticeships and we have a role in that regard. I wish the Minister well in introducing this scheme and I hope it will be a success.

I welcome the Minister to the House. I congratulate her on this legislation, for the way she encouraged a wide-ranging debate on this subject in recent months and for the way she broadened the scope of a Bill, which started as a highly technical one. I was surprised to hear Senator Ormonde say this process began in 1986.

I refer to the length of time it has taken us to get to this point. Legislation like this must be the subject of negotiation between employers, organisations representing employees and others. Something as complicated as this cannot be done overnight. We should say this legislation has taken too long, but I congratulate the Minister on getting it to this point. When I ran for election to the Seanad last year, I thought I could offer a sense of urgency in getting legislation through. This is an example of legislation which is needed and I am glad the Minister has undertaken to implement it.

I draw attention to the climate in which we readily accept that matters of this kind will take years to come to fruition. That concerns me. The world is moving too fast for us to have the luxury of approaching things as if we were living in the 19th century. The question of urgency is relevant to the future of the apprenticeship scheme, as well as its past. The task we now face is broadening the scope of the scheme to embrace more activities in the industrial sector and more skilled activities. This did not happen in the past. People are often surprised by the fact that apprenticeships apply to so few areas.

I have been in business for 33 years and I appreciate the changes which have taken place over those years. The scheme has been widened but we need to inject a greater sense of urgency into it. For many industrial sectors, apprenticeships offer benefits as a way of formalising the early training of those who work there.

I hope the broadly based welcome this Bill received will encourage the Minister to set new and ambitious targets in bringing more activities inside the apprenticeship net in the years ahead but it is not only up to the Government, although this is an area in which it can play a leading role as a catalyst. On Committee Stage I will put down an amendment which will include that point and reflect the need to extend the scope of the apprenticeship scheme rather than being reactive to demands from outside.

I turn to a matter of concern to me. I am wearing two hats in this area because I am an employer of a large number of people and the chairman of the NCCA Steering Committee on the proposed leaving certificate applied programme. This new programme could have a bearing on the apprenticeship issue in two ways and it is important that we take them into account. Traditionally, apprenticeship has been seen as an alternative to staying on at school. Typically, young people would go into apprenticeship at 16, the minimum school leaving age, while others would stay on to complete a senior cycle that has the leaving certificate at the end of the road. Apprenticeship has often been a choice for young people whose particular aptitudes were not being recognised and rewarded by the heavily academic bias of the educational system and the traditional leaving certificate.

As the Minister knows well from her previous incarnation, there is a major trend towards younger people staying on at school beyond the age of 16. Everybody wants this, parents and the Government want it, and the vision is that eventually more than 90 per cent of pupils will stay at school to do their leaving certificate. This target compares to about 60 per cent of pupils who complete their leaving certificate at present. The leaving certificate applied programme will be designed to provide an approach to the senior cycle that will mesh in with the aptitudes and abilities of the people who are not well served by the existing approach and academic leaving certificate. I am concerned that we do not create a situation where young people have to make an impossible choice——

A two-tier system.

Not so much a two tier system, but an impossible choice between completing the senior cycle, in whatever form, and leaving school and doing an apprenticeship. This has been a problem up to now. I hope we will see a situation where young people can have the best of both of those worlds. There are two dimensions to this. The first is the situation of the young person who decides to stay on after 16, completes the senior cycle and gets a leaving certificate. We do not want to bar them from apprenticeship, as they are effectively barred now. If one wants to go into hairdressing, this was mentioned earlier by Senator Honan——

About 70 or 80 per cent of those going into apprenticeships have leaving certificates. The junior certificate is a minimum standard.

I am delighted to hear this. My experiences are often limited to certain trades, where the tradition was that one joined at 16 years of age. My experience may be of some of the 20 per cent who do not have leaving certificates. I am delighted that the situation is now behind us of 16 year olds who want to go on, are turned on by the idea of getting a leaving certificate, but are forced to leave school because of that tradition. I would like to see young apprentices have the option, and indeed the encouragement, to complete the leaving certificate as the first part of their off-the-job studies under their apprenticeship. This point was made by Senator Ormonde.

For many, the ideal vehicle to do this would be the new leaving certificate applied programme, when it comes on stream in September 1995. It should be possible for young people who have started that programme at school to take up an apprenticeship and then complete the programme during the first year or two of the apprenticeship. Only after that would they go on to the more specialised studies that impinge directly on the occupational skill they are developing. I would see this as nothing more than the continuation of a trend that has been steadily developing over the years, as the Minister said. The off-the-job training associated with apprenticeship used to be purely technical; then it began to be recognised that there was a need for more general education to be involved in it. In Germany, the country that is regarded as being most advanced in this area, the scope of the off-the-job training for apprentices is very broad. This was drawn to my attention last week.

Why is it increasingly important to provide a strong element of general education during apprenticeship, alongside the specialist technical education? The reason is obvious when one thinks about it. The world is changing so fast that there is a major danger of providing young people with out-of-date skills. I have seen this over the last 33 years. We must provide them with the skills they need in their jobs now. But we also need to prepare them for the future, and we cannot do this by giving them skills that have not even been invented yet. We can do this by making sure they have a good standard of general education and are taught in a way that trains them to be adaptable, flexible and creative — these are the skills we need to develop in our people — in the face of whatever changes occur during their lifetime. A century ago the content of industrial skills was very fixed. One knew exactly what one's skill as a plumber or a bricklayer was.

That was it for the rest of one's life.

It did not change during a person's lifetime. Nowadays we recognise the need to retrain and reskill people throughout their career. We spoke about this in our recent debate on education. It is not enough, particularly for teachers, to learn something in their late teens to last them until they are 60. As a very important foundation for that we have to give young people a general base to enable them to go on in that way. This is why parents over the past generation or so have been right to put more and more emphasis on their children completing the senior cycle, which I hope will be broadened next year.

I finally wish to draw attention to the difficulty of riding two horses at the same time, the apprenticeship horse and the senior cycle horse. There are two Departments involved, Education and Enterprise and Employment. The Minister has worn the hats of Minister in both of them. She will be fully aware of this problem. We have to accept that part of the price of our administrative system is that high walls tend to be built up between different Departments and sometimes important things slip down between them and are not grabbed by anyone. That is why I am glad that this Minister is handling the issue. We should resolve not to let our future apprenticeships and apprentices fall between two walls and the different cracks. We should set out to devise a framework in this legislation which will fully satisfy their needs and aspirations, even if it means taking another look at how we divide the administrative responsibility which exists at present..

I also welcome the Bill and will not delay its passage. I welcome the standard based system. This was overdue. Traditionally, apprenticeship certification was based on time. One obtained a certificate saying one spent, say, four years completing an apprenticeship. It is important to have a standard based system and a systematic approach to ensure the skills acquired in any trade have been achieved, that the training to obtain them has been completed and that there is a standard of evaluating how well the person performed. The certification of skills will have a status throughout industry and the EU, as indicated by the Minister. It is important to have standards rather than time served.

I wish to refer briefly to the issue of equity, which was mentioned by the Minister. This is an important factor and is very welcome. It is important that everybody should have as much access as possible to all professions. Too often we see where people in less advantageous areas do not have access to third level education and apprenticeships.

I would, however, like to sound a word of caution, because employers have the prerogative to select their employees and apprentices. While one supports equity, recruitment is an inexact science. Employers wish to determine who joins their organisation. We should tread warily about introducing compulsory regulations with regard to recruitment because this may restrict recruitment into apprenticeships.

As I said, selection of employees is not an exact science. In the recruitment of apprentices there is usually an aptitude test, which is taken only as an indication. Most employers place a great deal of credence on an interview, which again is a very bad measurement of how well a person can do a job. I always say that one can tell from an interview how well a person can do in an interview but it is only an indication of how well they would do in the job. Employers also place a great deal of importance on obtaining references, which can also be subjective.

The whole area of selection is highly subjective. While we must support equity in every way, we can and must ensure that we do not create barriers for employers taking on apprentices. Traditionally, in the time of the guilds, families had ownership of certain trades. In Limerick in the old days the pork butchers had total access to the various bacon factories there. One's livelihood as a pork butcher was decided at birth. The son of a pork butcher in one of the bacon factories in Limerick had a job for life.

The Senator did not let us know that until now.

The days of Limerick bacon are not totally gone, but the whole area has changed, thankfully.

It did not apply to politics.

It did to an extent. The Minister has a family tradition.

I was actually a butcher myself.

Traditionally many smaller family businesses such as electrical contractors and plumbers employing perhaps two or three people were passed on to a son or, I hope in the future, a daughter. If there are strict equity regulations that tradition could be shut off. While we fully agree with equity, could it be interfering with the continuity of small family type businesses such as electrical contractors, plumbers, fitters and so on? These regulations are worthy and we must look towards equity, but I am just including that caveat.

I have already mentioned the entry of women into apprenticeships, which is growing. However, in companies such as Kentz, where they have had — and, I hope, will have — 300 to 400 apprentice fitters, they are complimented if there are one or two females in that group. We hope that over a period of time there will be more equity and involvement of women in this area.

The Minister mentioned in her speech the progression to other areas and career opportunities after apprenticeship. This is very important. Some of the most successful mechanical engineers in charge of very big manufacturing units with complex machinery began as apprentices. This should be encouraged. People with on the job training as apprentices understand the system and have hands-on knowledge. If they progress to more academic or technical training they can prove to be highly successful managers and so on, of which I have direct experience.

The Minister referred to the changes in the levy grant system. I worked with the levy grant system for many years and I think it is outdated to levy someone to introduce training. However, it had its place in industry and was quite successful in motivating employers and senior managers to accept the necessity of looking at the whole area of training for their staff. I know that it was a strict carrot and stick approach at the time, but I feel that because of economic pressures many industries neglected investment in training compared to ten or 15 years ago when the whole levy grant system was being pushed strongly by the Department, AnCO, the Irish Management Institute and others.

I am also concerned that employers are not as inclined to invest in the whole area of apprenticeship training as they were ten or 15 years ago. I was directly involved in the selection and training of apprentices for many years and was conscious of a change in employers commitment to training apprentices. Fifteen or 20 years ago all the bigger employers took on the maximum possible number of apprentices. Many of them had a policy of terminating their employment at the end of their apprenticeship and taking on new apprentices, so there was a constant turnover of skills.

Industry and services at the time had a commitment to training people for the economy. I am sorry that because of the economic pressures of recent times industry does not seem to have the same commitment to training people for the economy. They train apprentices for themselves sometimes——

But not for the wider economy. The Senator is right.

Fifteen or 20 years ago industries did train apprentices and many industries in Limerick, including the one in which I worked, had a strict policy of taking on a maximum amount of apprentices and of terminating their employment at the end of their apprenticeship and taking on new ones. There was a social and economic commitment to the broader economy to produce skilled people. We should encourage employers to return to that and to see the need for investment in training, although we understand the economic difficulties and pressures of the present situation.

The standard based system is most welcome because it gives a measure of the skills obtained rather than the time served. We fully support equity but with a caveat about being careful in restricting what employers do. They must have a certain amount of discretion in regard to whom they take on. We cannot throw tradition out overnight, but we must work towards equity and the involvement of women. We should concentrate on the promotion of career opportunities after apprenticeship, because those who qualify make excellent managers and can do excellent maintenance and electrical work. Every encouragement should be given to employers to train people for the future economy.

I thank the Members of the Seanad for the very good debate we had yesterday and today. I wish to reiterate a point I always make when in this House. It is source of delight to myself and other Ministers and administrators to hear the depth of contributions from this House. It is always a clear manifestation and denial of those who say the Seanad does not have a use, and I do not just say this because I served two brief eight month periods in this House.

While people here are members of political parties or Independent groups, they leave that to one side when matters of a general nature are debated. This makes for good debate and this debate has been of a high quality and both interesting and productive. Many thoughts occurred to me during the debate. The purpose of good debate is that we listen and learn from each other. Ten Senators spoke: Senator Farrelly, Senator Hillery, Senator Henry, Senator Maloney, Senator Cotter, Senator Lanigan, Senator Honan, Senator Ormonde, Senator Quinn and Senator Neville. They gave strong, punchy speeches and each had something extra to contribute to the general debate.

Senator Farrelly welcomed the debate and the purpose of the Bill. He mentioned the vocational leaving certificate, which was also referred to by Senators Ormonde and Quinn. In my time it was called the vocational leaving certificate; it is now called——

The leaving certificate applied programme.

Different Ministers use different names. The process has begun. Senator Farrelly suggested a wider variety of trades, and this was referred to by others later. He also mentioned the need for targets, which again was mentioned by others. He had a strong idea about county council involvement which both I and the officials in the Department were taken with. In the past county councils had a tranche of apprenticeships who learnt their trade as painters, plasterers or bricklayers through the county councils. Due to a number of reasons this has virtually stopped. We are going to talk to organisations such as the county councils, Aer Rianta, Bord na Móna and the ESB, point out that they have good systems of apprenticeship and that we would like them to take on more people and work with us and FÁS. That remains a policy initiative which I am taking.

Senator Hillery spoke about the Bill in the context of the need for this country to be competitive. He talked about equity and young women and also took up the point on targets. He asked about the aims in each sphere and whether they will be attained, or if they are just aspirations. The Senator also mentioned the employers' code of practice and the added value of improved skills. There is no doubt that employers sometimes take the a shortsighted view. They decide that they do not need apprentices and will not take on the expense. One must consider the long term view and the future of particular industries or sectors, as they do in Germany. Yesterday I spoke of what I learnt from my experiences there and how the long term view is far more relevant.

Senator Henry was strong on targets and she was equally strong about the emphasis on certification. We are going nowhere in this country, Europe or on a worldwide scale if we do not have certification which is recognised and adds to a person's mobility. He or she should be able to point to a piece of paper so the scope of their qualification is authenticated and recognised. Senator Henry also talked about the rights which apprentices should have. Employers have social regulations and responsibilities for apprentices.

Senator Maloney emphasised certification and also the role of local authorities which had been referred to by Senator Farrelly in his opening speech for the Opposition. Senator Farrelly talked about the county council ideal of apprenticeships and the need for that to be reintroduced, which we will be doing. Senator Cotter was very enthusiastic and I thank him and others for their kind remarks. He recognised what had happened along the route of procrastination. We may get an amendment later about the need to keep momentum going.

In the other House I said that when I looked at apprenticeships I was, as the old saying goes, gobsmacked. I spent five years in the Department of Education, where, people told me, one could never tear back the layers of bureaucracy; but by dint of application I did. I found and continue to find that the area of apprenticeships is like Pandora's box. One opens one box after another and finds more mysteries. Perhaps I need mysteries to keep me lively at this time of my life. It is very interesting and I am giving it much attention.

Senator Cotter had an interesting point about making it compulsory for employers to take on apprentices. It is conducive to the development of a good debate that people have such different views. Obviously we cannot make the taking on of apprentices compulsory but I understood what he meant. It echoed what some of us had said at the beginning of the debate. There is no spirit of apprenticeship or commitment to the area. There is no historical background, as we did not have an Industrial Revolution or medieval guilds. Traditional crafts were always strong and go back hundreds of years.

Senator Lanigan talked about his own business in the motor trade and the black economy which needs to be addressed if we are to regulate the industry. Senator Honan spoke of equity. She was a member of the Commission on the Status of Women and therefore had an input into the section of their report on education and training. She spoke of the need for a pre-apprenticeship scheme to prepare groups who have not had previous access to apprenticeships. The Senator also referred to the need for extra designations and the recognition of the traditional nature of existing trades. We must involve women in these existing trades which are mainly in hand industry. However, we must also encourage other sectors to accept women per se rather than forcing them to do so.

The Culliton report pointed to the need for certification, to the skills gap and the need to come up with concrete proposals rather than discuss proposals for extra designation ad infinitum. I agree with the Senator. I am glad Senator Ormonde supported and approved of the standards based apprenticeship scheme. In regard to the recruitment system, she said she did not want the young person to be the “go-for”. We all played “go-for” in our day. There is nothing wrong with “readying-up” or making tea as long as that is not all the apprentice does. I understand the point the Senator is making.

There is a role for guidance counsellors. I will meet the guidance counsellors to discuss this area. They have been relegated to one side of the whole debate and discussion with them would be very useful. The Senator said the new schemes should have a high education input in a broad range of subjects and an integrated approach. She said a PR job is needed to sell the new apprenticeship scheme and spoke strongly about the need for female participation.

Senator Quinn said that the pace in introducing legislation is too slow. The pace has been far too slow but we have quickened it. He has recognised this and I thank him; it has taken a mighty effort to quicken it. It seemed to be one of those issues that people constantly put on the méar fhada and do nothing about and I was not going to have that. I could see myself in four years leaving the job and still there would have been no progress on the standards based apprenticeship scheme. There was huge opposition to me going ahead, not least from a particular Department who wanted to see apprenticeships left as they were. If we grasp the nettle we can improve as we move rather than sit back and wait another year for the new scheme.

I mentioned in the debate on the Structural Funds in the other House last night that the area in which the Commission expressed the greatest approval in writing to us was of apprenticeships and the new system of apprenticeships. I was very pleased with that because it is now my shield when I insist that the new standards based scheme comes in. The Commission wants the new system to be recognised by all trades and they want it implemented quickly. We tackled implementing the new system and the Commission based its praise on the new standards based certification system. Many Senators spoke about the craft certification at the end of the apprenticeship. For me the Commission's praise is a great boost for the work we are doing to set up the new system and I was very pleased with it. We only got that news during the week and for us it is a very strong endorsement of the new apprenticeship scheme but we now must get up to speed on the scheme — that will cover what Senator Quinn was speaking about. The Commission want the new scheme introduced even sooner than we anticipated.

In regard to the applied leaving certificate or the vocational subjects, there are difficulties here. The Senators have recognised the difficulties in riding two horses. First, the minimum requirement to be accepted for the new apprenticeship scheme is a junior certificate with five subjects. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your point of view, practically all students taken on as apprentices now have the leaving certificate because more people are staying on at school. This is good but it has meant that often young people with very good manual skills but who do not have the academic skills to complete the leaving certificate are rejected in favour of those who do have the leaving certificate. It is a two edged sword and must be approached very carefully.

Senator Quinn suggested that there be no high walls between Departments. I assure him that there is no high wall in our Department nor around the Department of Enterprise and Employment; there are high walls in other Departments. The question of having leaving certificate qualifications recognised as part of the first stage of an apprenticeship programme was raised yesterday. This is an interesting idea and one that we could look at. I agree fully with the Senator that the pace of change is too slow.

I wish to speak briefly about the wider designation. That is in our Programme for Government, our Programme for Competitiveness and Work. We are all talking about extra designations. When I talk about extra designations I do not mean everybody will go through a four year course, because we do not want too burdensome a bureaucracy on the new designations. The present apprenticeship system and the one we are introducing are very bureaucratic but in Senator Quinn's area of retail sales, young people could get certification at what is now NVQ level but when we bring in our certification board it will be at our own national certification level. We do not want our own certification to be unnecessarily bureaucratic. We want the system to be simple, authoritative, authenticated and certifiable so that when we talk about extending the apprenticeship scheme into other designated skills we are talking about apprentices learning a business or trade, which is what the word apprenticeship should mean. Here the word apprenticeship seems to have connotations of just the physical trades and I want to widen that scope. I will be introducing proposals on that and perhaps I will have an opportunity to come here and discuss them before we finalise them. I would welcome contributions from Senators in such a debate.

Senator Neville spoke about a standards based scheme. I am very pleased at that because this system is used everywhere and Brussels was keen on it. We all spoke about equity and I was very pleased Members are in agreement with this. Senator Neville was not in favour of standardising recruiting practices and spoke about the apprenticeship tradition in Limerick. We are trying to regularise procedures. I have said it is voluntary and I have set out strict rules. We all hope it works because I recognise that the contract between apprentice and master is a private contract. Progress towards equity is slow but we are working on it. The amendment I accepted from Deputy Quill has now been reconstructed by the draftsman. I will have it here at Committee Stage and we will discuss it then.

Thank you a Leas-Chathaoirligh for your forbearance. I thank the Members for their very interesting contributions and I look forward to coming back here on Committee Stage.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 22 March 1994.