I thank the Minister for coming here this morning to reply to this matter. Last year, I addressed him in this House on the matter of apprenticeship schemes. In particular, I proposed that he provide funding to revive and reinvigorate local authority apprenticeship schemes. I was very encouraged at the time by the Minister's favourable response to this proposal. What progress has been made in implementing policy in this regard? With unemployment soaring again on account of the economic impact of lockdown, measures to breathe life back into the ailing economy are needed now more than ever. People need more than just politicians giving trite pep talks on social media. They need learning and employment opportunities. They need supports and purpose in the present moment and they need real cause for hope for their futures.
Investing in real people by offering funded apprenticeship schemes is a tangible means of achieving these objectives. Lest it has escaped anyone's attention, the most recent Central Statistics Office, CSO, data demonstrate the gravity of the economic decline. The CSO website states:
The COVID-19 crisis has continued to have a significant impact on the labour market in Ireland in January 2021. While the standard measure of Monthly Unemployment was 5.8% in January 2021, the COVID-19 Adjusted Measure of Unemployment could indicate a rate as high as 25.0% if all claimants of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) were classified as unemployed.
Breaking the results down by broad age group, the traditional Monthly Unemployment Rate for those aged 15 to 24 years was 15.7% in January 2021, while it was 4.6% for those aged 25 to 74 years.
If all claimants of the PUP were classified as unemployed, the upper bound, or COVID-19 Adjusted Measure of Unemployment indicates a rate of 25.9% for males and 24.1% for females in January 2021. Breaking the results down by broad age group, the new COVID-19 Adjusted Measure of Unemployment is 56.4% for those aged 15 to 24 years and 21.4% for those aged 25 to 74 years.
These are truly sobering statistics for every age group, but they are most notable and worrying for young people. Youth unemployment can have a dreadful long-term effect on the lives of young people and, indeed, on society. As this economic morass has been caused by a Government policy, the Government should introduce urgent policy measures to reverse it.
A Local Government Management Agency paper from 2013 highlights the need for funding support for local governments to provide apprenticeships. It states:
The current economic constraints being experienced by local authorities mean that the requirement that apprentices are paid by the local authority employing the individual is a barrier to many local authorities providing standard apprenticeship placements. Local authorities, as evidenced by their support of the Redundant Apprenticeship Placement Scheme, are supportive in principle of providing work training placement but at present the majority of the local authorities would not be able to pay apprentices whilst they complete their workplace training.
This report also advocated that a broader range of occupations be catered for. It also states:
Consideration should be given to expanding the range of occupations to cover areas such as
- Laboratory and Science Technicians
- Inspection services
- Water Services and wastewater service operations
Broadening the range of skills available can be of real benefit and would modernise and add expertise to local government while also filling the gaps within the private sector labour market. One thing that stands out is the list of water services. Given the need to build 33,000 houses annually to cater for demand, we will surely need more skilled plumbers to expand and maintain our already inadequate water and waste water service infrastructure. I suggest working in association with Irish Water to deliver those much-needed services.
I ask the Minister to provide the House with a comprehensive update on the status of all apprenticeship schemes. How have they been affected over the course of the past year? What progress has been made in broadening the range of skills covered? What action has the Minister taken to revive the apprenticeship schemes delivered by local authorities? Has funding been allocated in the budget to this end?