I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the Bill, which I welcome. It updates the 1967 Act which has served training and development well. The Act was innovative and had greatest effect during the 1970s and 1980s, but time has moved on. Business is now much more sophisticated and has a need for a different type of training. The Tánaiste referred to two training groups, the employed and the unemployed. I will refer first to training for the employed. It has become necessary to have ongoing training of the employed to ensure they are able to respond to changes in the economy and in their businesses and to ensure their skills are updated and responsive to a changing working environment. When looking at training we tend not to look at the entire scope of training and development. There must be ongoing training in all employment sectors.
My experience has been in employment in the private sector. There is a need for constant training of management, supervisors, crafts people and among semi-skilled and unskilled workers. We should consider more than just skills training. Knowledge of the job, the product, the company, the market and the raw materials is also important. Employees of a company or organisation should be knowledgeable not only about the work they do but also about the organisation generally. Knowledge and information are changing commodities and it is incumbent on companies to ensure their employees' knowledge is updated as technologies, markets and efficiencies change. It is important that employees are aware of the changes.
Awareness of the need or reason for something happening is 80% of the way towards securing the acceptance of change by people at the coalface. Lack of knowledge creates fear and insecurity and increases everybody's inherent resistance to change, both as an individual and as part of a group. However, if there is knowledge of why it is necessary, the resistance to change will be reduced and it is more likely to be embraced. Many companies have become inefficient and gone out of business because they did not change or adapt to changing circumstances. Sometimes the management did not have the skills or the will to face the introduction of change and the reaction that inevitably occurs in an organisation when change is introduced. Knowledge is most important for a work force.
Attitudinal training also tends to be neglected. Many years ago we were told that the three commodities in training were knowledge, attitude and skills. It is important to ensure that attitudinal training is undertaken, in the context of people's attitudes to an organisation, and that there is a programme to encourage a positive attitude. This is clearly linked to the knowledge area.
People tend to concentrate on skills. Skills are vital to an organisation be they at management, supervisory, craft or factory floor level. The 1967 Act introduced the AnCO levy grant system. It had a huge effect. I saw that effect because 26 years ago I was appointed training manager in the organisation in which I worked. Companies, especially indigenous companies, had no understanding or acceptance of the need for training. In fact, they saw it as an expense.
The stick rather than the carrot was used in the old levy grant scheme. The stick was a 1% levy on wages. If the companies did certain things, such as appoint a qualified training manager, carry out assessments of training needs and implement programmes to meet those needs, they would get back 90% of the levy. That was the incentive. Many managers at the time were extremely resistant to that approach. They saw it as an interference with their right to manage their companies. I saw the same managers, following the introduction of training, quickly become converts to it because of the success that resulted.
I saw people at factory floor level, who were trained by AnCO as instructors, come back to the business and open the eyes of supervisors and middle management with the skills they obtained. There was a quick conversion to the benefit of training in many areas. There was still some resistance. However, we had moved away from the stick approach and training and development were eventually accepted as benefits.
Organisations are relatively quick to accept training for semi-skilled and unskilled employees because there is an immediate benefit. In other words, if one wants somebody on an assembly line to do A, B and C at a certain rate, there is an understanding that one must train them to do it. There is less understanding, however, of training for people at higher levels such as supervisory and junior management. Often there is less value placed on the man management skills required at that level. It is important that in this more enlightened era than 1967, when the Act was introduced, we do not undervalue the need for skills in man management.
This applies to the public service as well as other areas. I am aware of difficulties in Departments as a result of a lack of man management and motivational skills on the part of the people in charge. They still believe in an autocratic approach whereby instructions are issued and are to be responded to in a pavlovian manner by the work force.
This recently came to my attention at a State body. It has 40 staff but there is low morale and stress, the result of a lack of understanding about the need for proper motivation of employees, information for employees about developments and, above all, the need to listen to their views and learn from them. Often the person at the coalface knows more about the manufacture of the product, the giving of the service or, if they are interfacing with the public on an issue, how the public feels, than the bosses who are a few steps removed.
Middle and senior management have much to learn from the experience of people who are at the coalface whether that is on the factory floor or providing a service in a health board, council, State body or insurance company. Training and development can ensure people understand that. Even though we think this is an enlightened age, it is not the case in many areas.
Back in the old days, crafts held a very high status and were very valued. They are and should still be similarly valued. It appals me when somebody says of someone that they only did an apprenticeship. An apprenticeship in a craft area is a marvellous skill for life. We should examine the training, which I am not criticising. I am only examining it because I do not know what the problem is. The value put on the craft areas has created a shortage in these areas. There is no doubt there is a shortage of plumbers, carpenters, fitters and, to some extent, electricians but perhaps not to a great degree because of the input of the ESB over the years in that area. It has been excellent in ensuring that people have been trained in the electrical crafts. We should ensure that the value to the State, industry and areas of traditional crafts are not underestimated.
The training of the unemployed is the most difficult area of all because it relates to what I mentioned earlier, knowledge, attitude and skills. These three areas are important but are difficult to communicate. FÁS has done very good work in this regard. The social employment schemes are often derided. They were very important in many ways. We have reached the stage now where communities are looking for participants to work. Going back to the start of the social employment schemes when there was very high unemployment, with regard to knowledge, attitude and skills, those schemes had more impact than in any other area about which I am talking. I knew people who did not work for five, six or seven years, who went out and started building walls and found they had skills they never thought they had. Their attitude towards work and the work ethic totally changed. One fellow who was unemployed is employing ten people today. He went on a social employment scheme, was shown how to build walls in a village and now everybody wants him – he is in demand.
I know of several cases like that. That involved a skills change as well as an attitudinal change. It was a great attitudinal change to break the mould of people who were long-term unemployed, who felt they were unemployable and who perhaps were unemployable in their previous state, and to match them with skills. Perhaps there was an absence of knowledge in terms of the social employment schemes but there was not always an absence of skills. People have stated that all the schemes did was take people off the live register, which they did, but they achieved much more than that. I compliment FÁS on the work it has done in that and other areas.
We must be aware of people who become unemployed whose skills become redundant. Once somebody became unemployed, traditionally we felt that they should go on the live register for unemployment benefit, then on to unemployment assistance and, after a period, to FÁS and they were three or four years unemployed at that stage. Where skills become redundant, no matter what age, there is no reason somebody of 55, 60, 65 or 70 cannot become computer literate. There should be a concentration on the whole area of skill changes, on identifying where a skill is lost and becomes redundant and aspects of that skill that might relate to another skill in the same or another area. As skills become redundant in the technological age, one will see much more of this. We must ensure that the positive aspects of those skills are identified and there should be a move towards that.
In the old days we were very much into assessment of training needs. One did not introduce training without a thorough assessment of training needs, otherwise one was training for something which might not be needed or for the sake of training. However, if one could respond to a training need, identify training areas where new skills are needed, there should not be age discrimination. Perhaps it is less so nowadays but there was a time when we had high unemployment and if one was an unemployed male under 40 or an unemployed female under 36, one was unemployed for life. That was the case only 12 or 14 years ago. I hope that has changed but we must see change among the training agencies.
We have a great opportunity in the areas of knowledge, attitude and skills to train refugees and immigrants, those who have got refugees, status and have been accepted as immigrants. There is a marvellous opportunity to train them in motor skills and skills already mentioned which are needed in the community, but we should also concentrate on the area of knowledge. Above all we should train them to understand our culture, our work culture, what it means to live in Ireland and what Irish people feel should happen and how one should respond in the workforce. In that area, there is a great need for training of management and supervisors to ensure they recognise the difference in cultural attitudes in the workplace of people who are coming here from abroad and who are badly needed. There is an aspect of training in that area to be examined, and the challenge is for the Department to do so.
The training of Travellers was raised. Some training is available for Travellers but much more needs to be done in this regard. Training is available in a centre run by Limerick County Council in Rathkeale, County Limerick, where I come from. There is a training centre for Travellers and Traveller women train there and learn skills and some of them work in the local factory. We have not tackled the area of training of Travellers because we have not identified the Traveller community's training needs. We decide what a Traveller should be trained in but have we asked the Travellers' opinion? Have we sat down with Travellers and told them individually that we will introduce training programmes and asked them what they think should be involved? I know that in certain circumstances the most important certificate a Traveller can get is a driver's licence because it is a way for him or her to make a living.
I welcome the Bill. I spent many years involved in this area. I pay tribute to one other organisation, the Irish Management Institute, which in the 1970s and 1980s did a great deal in the whole training area, particularly the training of management. The contribution of the Irish Management Institute from the time it was founded has never been recognised. My knowledge of it in the 1970s was that it did marvellous work in the training of management and supervisors. I pay tribute to the Irish Management Institute for the work it did over that period.