I propose to take Questions Nos. 85 and 96 together.
Delivery of the Action Plan for Apprenticeship 2021-2025 is progressing, overseen by a Steering Group comprising representatives of SOLAS, the HEA, QQI and my Department. Despite the delays caused by the pandemic, 2021 was a successful year in terms of progressing towards our annual target of 10,000 annual apprenticeship registrations by 2025. A record 8,607 apprentices registered across the 62 programmes on offer, showing the high degree of interest in this career option amongst both employers and potential apprentices.
Key developments so far in delivering the Plan include:
- The establishment of the National Apprenticeship Office (NAO) with the appointment of the Office’s first Director just before Christmas. The 2022 work programme for the NAO is being finalised, aligned with the Action Plan, in consultation with SOLAS, the HEA, my Department and other key partners.
- Budget 2022 provided funding for a €2,000 employer grant for employers of apprentices who do not benefit from direct payment of apprentice training allowances during off-the-job training periods. This means that, for the first time, all employers will receive a level of support towards the cost of training an apprentice. Payment details are being finalised and will issue in due course.
- Engagement on developing the Public Service Apprentice Recruitment Plan continues, with a Working group established across Government Departments and key agencies, to deliver the Plan to Government by the summer.
- From 5th November, apprenticeship is linked on the Central Applications Office (CAO) website. An apprenticeship specific career guidance phone line is supporting this to further enhance awareness of apprenticeships amongst those considering tertiary options.
- Proposed amendments to the Industrial Training Act, 1967, to widen the potential scope of new apprenticeship programmes are included under the General Scheme of Higher Education Authority Bill. The Bill also provides for the statutory recognition of the NAO.
All of this work is running in parallel to addressing the current backlog for off-the-job training for craft apprentices. €20m in capital funding was provided by the Government to enhance capacity and €17m was provided under Budget 2022 to further facilitate the backlog response.