National Training Fund Bill, 2000: Second Stage (Resumed).

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

Before the adjournment I stated that there should be a top-up payment for apprentices so that they are brought in line with apprentices in other professions such as the Garda.

Fundamental issues arise in relation to bottlenecks within the system that need to be tackled if we are to put a proper training fund in place. The Minister said that section 7 provides for a wide range of schemes which may be subvented by the fund. That is important but it is also important that proper structures are put in place. We should examine the PRSI element, something which is being considered in relation to this Bill, and give employers a clawback in PRSI if they are willing to put a structured training programme in their place of employment. That would benefit the employer, but also the employee because it is important that the employee buys into the process, whether through literacy programmes, the provision of basic computer skills or whatever. It is also important that there is an independent external evaluation of any such programme because employers claim that a number of the programmes put in place by FÁS, and the other State agencies, do not meet their specific requirements. There should be flexibility for the employers to buy in a package that will be independently evaluated but which would have a social element for employees incorporated into it so that everyone benefits from the system.

It is also important, especially in the context of the budget tomorrow, that we do not put training programmes in place without the proper information technology structures and proper child care facilities. Otherwise, such programmes will be a waste of time. This year, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform failed to use his total budgetary allocation for the provision of child care facilities. It is a huge disappointment that that target has not been met. It is of fundamental importance, in relation to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, that such provision is made in relation to the training programmes that will be developed under the Bill. We need to have a social contract tied into the training programmes, and this comes back to the point the Minister made in relation to changing from bricks to clicks.

The Minister said that we must move up the value chain. I wholeheartedly agree with her on that point but we cannot expect employers, and especially employees, to upgrade their skills unless they can read and write. That is why I focused on the issue of literacy in my contribution because for far too long, that issue has been ignored. The Minister for Education and Science used nice words about the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea, but, sadly, he has failed to make an impact on that area to date. The way forward is to tie in the training with literacy programmes and the development of IT skills. We should examine that in the context of those who are unemployed. It is wrong for people to say that those on the live register are downright lazy because many of those people would take up employment.

It has been said privately, not publicly.

Nobody on the Government side said that.

Many of those people need to improve their interpersonal skills and training should be concentrated in that area. Many of them do not have basic literacy skills, so it does not make any difference how many advertisements are put in the newspapers. These individuals cannot read those advertisements and that is the core element that needs to be concentrated on in relation to the implementation of this fund. I am disappointed that the Minister did not go into further detail on that aspect during her contribution.

I support the Bill. It is an important reform in the area of training. For too long, too many employers have regarded training as a cost rather than an investment. The contribution by the Minister this evening was a very cogent one, to which I would take little exception. I have some reservations about the Bill. I hope that we might be able to cope with that on Committee Stage because there are a number of departures in it that are not warranted by the thrust of the contribution she has made.

The Minister's speech was, in the context of all speeches nowadays from Ministers, about the condition of the economy and all the mantra that we know so well, but she seems entirely unaware of the irony that while there is a need for much more focus on the inadequacy of the training programmes and schemes available in Ireland, especially in terms of upskilling the existing workforce, the concentration is on high profile international roadshows to recruit workers here. There is something surreal about the high profile globetrotting by the Minister, Deputy Harney, and her officials in trying to induce people in South Africa, Beijing or Newfoundland to take up employment in Ireland. It is a surreal sight because at home there is an utterly inadequate focus on the very real need to upgrade the skills of Irish workers in the manufacturing and services sectors. Even worse, while the roadshow rumbles from continent to continent, the system at home is at sixes and sevens in trying to send economic refugees back to their country of origin while the State continues to entice commitments from other non-nationals to come here. Only the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs seems to have recognised the Alice in Wonderland quality and the fundamental unfairness of what she calls this shambolic policy.

When reading about and hearing the Minister in far-flung places, I wonder whether anybody has paused to ask the reason we maintain a roadshow, junketing from Johannesburg to Beijing to Newfoundland to recruit workers to unthinkingly come to Ireland. Every worker who transfers to Ireland will need a house or other accommodation. Prospective migrants are not told that we have a housing crisis and that Government policy has made housing unaffordable for ordinary people, as well as inducing a rising rate of inflation and rising interest rates. Immigrants will probably purchase a car to add further to existing congestion. They are not told that our road system, public transport and railways are in a chaotic and sometimes dangerous condition. To what purpose do we engage in a roadshow circus of this kind while the infrastructure deficit is not being addressed and the housing crisis is not being tackled?

Are we really serving a worthwhile purpose in seeking to dishonestly attract workers from across the world while the Government is overseeing infrastructural chaos, surging inflation and rising industrial unrest? Are we being honest with the people we are enticing here?

It seems we are still caught in the old paradigm. The IDA still goes in search of jobs wherever it can get them. It is appropriate to at least check the merits of a policy designed to support ongoing unsustainable growth rates while the country is trapped in an infrastructural deficit – a housing crisis, surging inflation, rising interest rates and a general conduct of economic policy that is failing to share the prosperity.

Meanwhile there is also a need for a national initiative to upgrade skills which, if unattended to, will lead to the demise of some of our more vulnerable sectors. It is regrettable that the Minister seems determined to abolish the industrial training committees, some of which worked extremely well and are essential to sustaining growth and maintaining competitiveness. It is worth recording that one of Mrs. Thatcher's first actions was to drive trade union representatives off similar committees in the UK. The Labour Party will table amendments on Committee Stage in my name to provide for such industrial training committees in the new dispensation.

I wanted to make that point about the pressure to feed the ongoing growth rates even if, ironically, that means travelling to Durban, Johannesburg, Newfoundland or China when Ministers are in conflict and the system is unable to cope with migrants. There may not always be a skills match, but the subject matter of the Bill is about this skills match and putting in place a better training system. For that reason, I support the Bill. The idea of a levy that is universal and collectable is obviously good. At a time when there is a slowdown in funds from the European Union for this kind of valuable work then it is good that this fund is being ring-fenced and cannot be raided in bad times. This makes much sense.

For obvious reasons, since the 1980s the emphasis has been on the unemployed and unemployment. Servicing the skills needs of the people already in work suffered as a result of that focus. Deputy Naughten said he supported the Minister's invocation that we move up the value chain. Clearly she is correct, but we cannot do this unless the people who are employed are given the opportunities. I am afraid there is still inadequate appreciation of that need in the small and medium size indigenous enterprise sector. Today during the debate on the Supplementary Estimates for the Department I was struck that one of the areas which sent most of the money back to the Department of Finance was the area of science, technology and innovation. That is a great pity, and it must mean that the take-up rate by the companies concerned is very poor for whatever reason. Perhaps during times of boom and bloom they think it is not necessary, but the fact of the matter is that it is more necessary now than ever. The fact that the moneys provided for this purpose cannot be drawn down does not reflect well on those companies.

I wish to put on the record a letter sent to the Taoiseach about the omissions in the Bill. For some reason the Minister advocates the repeal of certain sections of the 1967 Act which will remove the industrial training committees. This is a pity by and large. While they did not work equally, those that did work worked very well. It is a great pity that provision for their continuation in some form or other is not provided for in the Bill. The Minister said the performance of the industrial training committees is too rigid. At this late hour of the night I did not understand some of the other points she made but I will study her densely, cogently argued script before Committee Stage. She said: "The framework of the 1967 Act is based on the concept of designating sectors, establishing statutory industrial training committees to oversee training in these sectors and imposing sectoral levies to fund that training". There is nothing too much wrong with that in terms of designating sectors or establishing the industrial training committees. Presumably the sectoral levies will be absorbed into the national fund. The Minister went on to say:

This framework is increasingly at odds with the developments I have just described. It is too rigid. It ignores intersectoral and value chain linkages which are increasingly important to competitiveness—

There is much in that sentence and one would need time to think about it.

—and it creates an artificial distinction between firm-specific and sector-specific assistance.

Perhaps it does. I am an admirer of Professor Michael Porter and have had occasion to read him, but we should not take it too far. The Minister told me in the House in reply to parliamentary questions that the cornerstone of our economic progress is social partnership. The Minister of State, Deputy Davern, does not operate in that area but he knows the phrase as well and he would not need any prompting—

The Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development is fully involved in that area, including the Fettercairn horse project in the Deputy's area.

Carlow-Kilkenny): I will not encourage that kind of interruption.

That is a timely intervention. It may seem anomalous to see the Minister of State, Deputy Davern, in Fettercairn as it is not the kind of territory to which he is accustomed, but he has done a good job there. It is a worthwhile, innovative, community project of the type which might be fostered by the social economy unit which gave £6.78 million back to the Department of Finance today. The social economy programme seems to have certain possibilities in the most disadvantaged areas but the money was given back because it is not a priority for the Department.

The Deputy may not recognise it, but there are natural abilities in that area.

If the Government lives by social partnership, then it is fair that it should die by it where it chooses to derogate from it. The construction committee has been a very successful industrial training committee. I do not know whether it is being suggested that the procedures are too cumbersome or too slow, but the committee has worked well and some of the thinking that has emanated from it has been valuable in terms of the recent economic boom. That will go with the stroke of a pen and that is a pity. In addition Congress was under the impression, as was IBEC – but for obvious reasons a different argument applies – that it would be involved in an advisory capacity in terms of the disbursement of the fund.

The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Harney, succinctly outlined the twofold purpose of the fund in her contribution which is "raising the skills of those in employment and providing training to those who wish to acquire skills for the purposes of taking up employment". That is a good, short summary of the legislation, but who chooses the schemes that will meet this twofold objective? That is the issue and the objective will be met by the Minister under the legislation. She is discounting any advisory committee comprised of the social partners and that is also a pity.

I wish to read into the record the letter from the general secretary of Congress to the Taoiseach. It will provide some moral authority for my amendments on Committee Stage. I do not know how many Ministers will be in the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development then but I expect the Minister of State, Deputy Davern, will outline to his Government colleagues the wisdom of my amendments.

The Deputy's confidence in me is absolutely enthralling.

The letter states:

Dear Taoiseach,

I am writing to you to convey the strongest concerns of Congress at a number of aspects of the above piece of legislation. While supporting the establishment of a training fund which is universal in coverage and easily capable of collection, Congress takes the view that the legislation is flawed in its failure to provide a consultative mechanism for the social partners and further flawed by the manner in which it seeks to dismantle the consultative mechanisms which are already in place.

The involvement of the Social Partners in the financing and administration of vocational training is seen as a keystone to the effective management of vocational training systems at a European level. The current Commission Working paper on lifelong learning states that social partners should be "systematically integrated into the development and implementation process" of lifelong learning initiatives. Unions will have legitimate views to express both as regards the nature and content of the training to be provided and as to the balance between training for those in work and training for those seeking work.

Consultative Mechanism within the NTF.There has been an underlying consensus, going as least as far back as the foundation of ANCO in 1970, that the financing of Vocational Training should be a matter to be co-determined between the Government and the Social Partners. This legislation effectively terminates that consensus in section 7(1) and replaces it with a Ministerial prerogative “whenever and so often that the Minister considers that is appropriate.” This is clearly unacceptable to Congress and is at variance with the approach to lifelong learning contained in the PPF.

It is vital from the point of view of Congress that a forum exists for expressing those views. The importance of having a consultative mechanism is widely acknowledged both at National and European level. The National Competitiveness Council, in its most recent "Statement on Skills", recognises this fact in recommending that employers and unions be represented on the management structure of the NTF.

Industrial Training CommitteesCongress is gravely concerned that the repeals proposed in the schedule of the Bill would have the effect of abolishing the Industrial Training Committees and Joint Training Committees. These tripartite Committees have performed an extremely useful function since their inception.

We have been in discussion with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment regarding the future role and shape of these Committees. We had expected that the Department would respond to the points made by Congress prior to bringing forward legislative proposals for their abolition.

The structure of the Vocational Training and Education system in Ireland has been underpinned by a high level of consensus between the Government and the Social Partners. This has underlined the recent changes in apprenticeship and the development of a stronger emphasis on education and training for those in work.

Congress would therefore urge that the Government would amend the legislation as follows:

(1) To provide for a tripartite management committee of the National Training Fund;

(2) Not to proceed with the repeal of Sections 24, 25, 27(2) and the Second Schedule of the Industrial Training Act 1967, thus continuing the mandate of the Industrial Training Committees.

The letter is signed by the general secretary, Peter Cassells. It contains reasonable arguments and I do not see how the need to be modern in any way makes redundant the argument for consultative mechanisms set out in Congress's letter. They will only strengthen the Bill. The Government is free if the system is considered to be less efficient than it might be but the notion of consultation at that level is important.

Mr. Cassells makes passing reference to the fact that there has been an improvement in the apprenticeship system in recent times. That was badly needed because the system was badly neglected during the recession. The employers were quite happy to foist the system on FÁS and when the boom arrived the necessary skilled manpower was not available. The area of apprenticeship, on which Deputy Naughten focused, is important, as is the extent of literacy problems, which was a theme running through the Deputy's contribution.

I have never heard unemployment figures broken down in the fashion they were broken down in the Minister's contribution. One needs to reflect on them, but they were broken down into a number of segments. A total of 52,000 people are still short-term unemployed while 28,000 are long-term unemployed. I presume these yardsticks are based on the labour force survey rather than on the live register. In addition to the people who indicated they were unemployed in response to the labour force survey, there is also a significant group, comprising 60,000, who are marginally attached to the workforce. I will have to take some advice on that. A number of people around here are marginally attached to what they do. I am not sure what it means but they still get paid.

They are mainly in the law courts.

Whether one operates on the basis of the labour force survey or the live register there are still many people unemployed. If there is a revamp of training possibilities, more resources will be available in terms of providing labour, especially women in the home or married women generally. Suitable targeted, tailored training would bring some of those women, who have acquired considerable skills and who cannot be matched elsewhere, back into the workforce.

They lack confidence.

That is true in many cases. If one is out of the workforce for a period, especially when technology is rapidly changing, it is normal and understandable to lack confidence.

They are as good as the best.

That is correct. There are opportunities in this regard.

The Minister stated that, in the surveys to which she referred, 40% of companies did not have a specific training budget, suggesting that training was pursued on anad hoc basis. That is very sobering. Notwithstanding the progress made and on which we praised ourselves earlier, 40% of companies not making specific budgetary provision for training is a matter of concern in the times in which we live and in the context of accelerating change. Some 40% of companies is a great deal and much work remains to be done in that regard.

I wonder about the Minister's reference to what she obviously considers a great success in terms of the Industrial Development (Enterprise Ireland) Act, 1998, the legislation which created Enterprise Ireland and which amalgamated agencies. Clearly the Minister believes it to be a considerable landmark and achievement. I am not sure if it is. FÁS has a certain infrastructure for training. Enterprise Ireland in the Irish context seems to be unwieldy. I do not know how well it has gelled together. It is difficult to judge it from outside.

I also note that the normal pattern which would have occurred in other countries, whereby people who provided the services provided by Enterprise Ireland would have spun off into private industry a long time ago, does not seem to have happened in Enterprise Ireland, for whatever reason, to anything like the extent one might have expected. Therefore, there is not the same freedom to recruit young people recently out of the education system who have ideas and some experience at that level and are involved in innovation. An agency such as Enterprise Ireland must be constantly regenerated. One must ask to what extent the leadership, board and managing director of the company have been hidebound by that historical situation.

We have a tremendous predilection in Ireland for rejigging agencies and Departments as if it were the be all and end all. I am not so sure it is a great policy. It takes years for new agencies to settle down and turf wars are fought about this or that or who will be the chief executive and so on. Much of that happened in this case and a compromise was made at the time that An Bord Tráchtála would not be included, which was purely politically motivated. I am not sure that is the best way. There are concerns about the responsiveness of the agency at some levels although there is great praise for it in respect of other areas.

I support the Bill. I hope it will produce a shift in the thinking of employers on the matter of training and especially the importance of upskilling the existing workforce. I note that the establishment of the fund does not mean the funding of new activities in the next year. I suppose we must learn to walk before we can run. However, one gets the impression from the speech that a number of new activities or innovations might be undertaken. It appears funding is not provided for these new activities next year, although I hope there will be an increasing spend in the apprenticeship because that is urgent and important at this stage.

I fully support the notion of a dedicated payroll levy. That can only be good in providing stability. The youth employment levy was sucked back into the general maw of the Exchequer. It was another tax and did not mean anything in terms of youth employment or creating employment in that area.

Will the Minister between now and Committee Stage, which is not that long because we must ensure the Bill is passed in this calendar year, rethink the question of excising the industrial training committees? Strong representations have been made by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions on this and, given the general ethos of partnership, such excisions are undesirable. I do not understand why the permanent government would resist some type of advisory committee to the Minister for the disbursement of the fund. These would be modest amendments which would have an impact in terms of the Bill.

I do not raise the question whether we are caught on the old paradigm because I do not recognise the existing skills shortage and the need for us to keep our contracts with companies located here. We brought them here on the basis that we still had cheaper and better quality labour than they might get elsewhere. It is important we meet these commitments. One cannot but be struck by the incongruity that, on the one hand, we are trying to round up migrants, the majority of whom, admittedly, are probably economic refugees, who are in Ireland to send them back to their countries of origin while, on the other, we are in Beijing encouraging people to come here. I do not understand that.

Neither do I understand it in terms of the Minister's definition of what productivity means in the modern context, that we neglect proper focus on the upgrading of the existing workforce in favour of going abroad to bring people here who will need houses and cars and who will further clutter up the streets of this city. It is reasonable to ask for what purpose this is being done. How important is it to us that we achieve another percentage point in the growth rate or that we feed the voracious appetite of the tiger in a situation where we are caught in the infrastructural deficit? It will take us at least five years to bring housing back into synch. The Bacon reports have had no more impact on this than the person selling papers on the corner of O'Connell Bridge, apart from tightening up the rental market, which is the only impact it has had.

Similarly, one cannot go to the local supermarket, buy 40 kilometres of road, bring it back and put it in place. The infrastructural deficit exists and it will take a considerable amount of time to rectify. Our greatest problem now will be to spend the money because we do not have the skills and expertise. We will have to bring them in. We will have to re-examine that.

I congratulate the Minister on introducing the Bill and I hope it will be passed quickly because it is important we do that.

Is the Deputy sharing time?

I understand Deputy Martin Brady may come along. The Minister used a nice phrase when she spoke of the shift from bricks to clicks in the growth of the knowledge economy. That has been seen throughout the country. One need only look at primary schools in every village. Information technology is available in all of them and students have the opportunity to learn about computers and train to use the Internet, send e-mails, find a web page and find information generally on computers. Much training and retraining is going on in this regard. As the Tánaiste said, it concerns those in employment and others who wish to acquire skills for the purpose of securing employment. This is a particularly important point given the current skills shortage. One omission, however, relates to training people with disabilities and I am surprised it has not been covered in the Bill. Both in this House and in the Seanad there have been debates about the provision of personal assistants for people with physical and sensory disabilities. This matter was raised recently on the Adjournment of the Seanad by Senator John Cregan, and the reply from the Department stated:

In this context, it is necessary for FÁS, as the operational agency for the programme, to prioritise projects according to needs. FÁS currently gives priority to caring and support projects based in the community and voluntary sector, including services for people with disabilities. The restructuring of community employment also involves the proposed mainstreaming of certain essential services currently provided under CE, including services for disabled persons. Mainstreaming in the context of CE is the term used to describe the proposed transfer of funding and the provision of services to the relevant mainline Department with direct responsibility for the area concerned. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment has a good record when it comes to the prioritisation it is giving to carers of those with disabilities, so I thought there would be some reference to this matter in the legislation.

As outlined in the explanatory memorandum, the principal items covered in section 9 are the repeal of the statutory provisions covering the former apprenticeship and sectoral levies which were suspended in 2000 in anticipation of the introduction of the national training fund levy and those providing for the establishment and operation of the statutory industrial training committees, which were integrally linked to the sectoral levies grant schemes.

A sound apprenticeship scheme was operated by the former training authority, AnCO, and sponsorship was provided by companies which trained people for employment. Given the current skills shortage, employers are keen to acquire workers and it may be that training is suffering. We are often told there is no time for training or retraining, but I do not agree that is the case. Training is very important and must continue. More emphasis should be placed on apprenticeships. In the past, many students were able to enter a trade as an apprentice after doing their intermediate certificate examination, but that does not seem to be occurring in the same way now. Perhaps we have put the cart before the horse in terms of training, with a view to getting people employment. We should not repeal statutory provisions covering the former apprenticeship levies until a national training fund levy has been established. The Tánaiste has referred to this matter which is dealt with in the legislation.

As regards the financial implications, it seems everyone is a winner and nobody will lose. The introduction of the national training fund and the associated levy will offset the cost of programmes that otherwise would require State support. This will result in savings to the Exchequer. I understand there are no net additional costs arising for employers from the introduction of the national training fund levy which will be offset by a corresponding 0.7% reduction in employers' PRSI contributions. Savings will arise for certain companies due to the abolition of the existing sectoral levies, and that is an important point to establish.

There is also provision in the legislation for payment by the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs of a sum of £420 million from the social insurance fund to the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment for the year 2000, to take account of the fact that the relevant training schemes have been subvented by the Exchequer this year.

Section 4 provides for funds from the former levy grant scheme which are held by FÁS, to be transferred to the national training fund. This money will be used for relevant training initiatives under the fund. The levy grant scheme is being abolished through the repeal of the relevant section of the Industrial Training Act, 1967. Will there be any reduction in funding to FÁS? Such funding should continue and perhaps the Tánaiste, in her reply, could provide details of European funding for FÁS schemes.

Rural Deputies are aware of the importance of the role of FÁS and community employment schemes. In various debates, the Tánaiste has said that, following Government approval in 1999, community employment programmes are being restructured to take account of falling unemployment levels and to better target available places for the long-term unemployed. According to the Tánaiste, a number of people are still classed as short-term and long-term unemployed, and we must make provision for them. She provided statistics showing that there were 52,000 short-term unemployed and 28,000 long-term unemployed persons. The Tánaiste referred in particular to the need to increase the rate of female employment.

As part of the process of restructuring the employment schemes and in consultation with the social partners, a decision was taken to gradually reduce the numbers employed in community employment schemes, from an average of 37,500 in 1999 to 28,000 by the year 2003. The Government's restructuring decision included, among other measures, a new three year limit on participation in community employment schemes, except in the case of island residents. This was meant to discourage repeated participation in the CE programme. Once an exception is made, however, one will be asked to be even more flexible. I hope the Tánaiste will be more flexible as regards these schemes.

The restructuring of the community employment programme is part of an overall shift in strategic policy in favour of greater investment in training places, particularly for persons under 25 years of age and long-term unemployed people. I understand that the Department is giving active consideration in the first instance to the mainstreaming of community employment services to school secretaries, caretakers and classroom assistants, and to personal assistants for those with disabilities. This is an important issue and the Tánaiste and her Department should look across the whole spectrum of possible employment schemes. Certain matters should be examined and changes could be made across the board. Every case concerning social employment schemes is different.

I wish to refer to the role of agriculture in national training schemes. Last week, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development discussed education and training when he replied to the debate on BSE. There is a major role for the farming community in such schemes. For example, Teagasc has said that three out of four farmers in the west are engaged in part-time farming. The question arises, however, as to where farmers will get jobs. I cannot visualise a situation where farmers in my part of east Galway could travel 40 miles to find employment in Galway city, in addition to doing some farming in the morning and in the evening when they return home after another 40 mile journey. It is not physically possible for people to continue as part-time farmers in such circumstances and it is unfair to ask small farmers to do so.

I welcome the White Paper on Rural Development which was launched by the Minister of State, Deputy Davern. He spoke about farmers being able to get employment within a reasonable distance of their homes. They will not be able to continue to drive long distances to get work. The social employment and community employment schemes are very important for those who want to secure off-farm employment.

In the debate last week on education and training the Minister spoke strongly about the information leaflets on BSE available through the Department. I understand the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development has also produced a video on the subject, which is available to veterinary surgeons. Copies have been distributed to local authority veterinary inspectors responsible for monitoring controls at local authority abattoirs.

The industrial training programme for meat industry operatives is being developed by FÁS in conjunction with the Department, the meat industry and other meat regulatory authorities. The programme is progressing well with the beef abattoir pilot programme nearing completion while the training of operatives at meat plants is under way. The programme will be subject to external audit to guarantee its integrity. It is very important that education and training are being provided in the agriculture industry and I would like to see it continue.

Deputy Rabbitte referred to the social economy programme. There appears to be some confusion as to how one qualifies for entry to the programme. The main ingredient is that one must have a business plan. Many such plans are produced in consultation with FÁS and submitted to the Department in order to seek an extension to a three year programme. This is a good development. To avoid community groups having to process reams and reams of paper it should be a requirement only to submit a simple business plan. If it is not possible to provide for this, I repeat my call that responsibility for a number of FÁS schemes be transferred to the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs, which is already responsible for the very popular student summer job scheme.

There is also an opportunity to look at the role of the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs in devising social assistance schemes in order to benefit those over the age of 50 or 55 years who will find it very difficult to obtain employment once they complete a community employment scheme. This is one reason there has been a strong call at local authority level, in the Seanad and in this House to allow persons to remain on a scheme once they reach the age of 50 or 55 years. Those over the age of 45 years should also be allowed to re-enter the scheme sooner. Currently, they have to wait one year.

I welcome the Bill which has been introduced earlier than promised by the Government. The need for training must be emphasised. I am afraid that we will be very keen to attract people to this country to fill the available jobs, but it should not be forgotten that there is a need to provide training to enable the people concerned acquire the skills that they need if they are to progress in their chosen employment. I congratulate the Tánaiste on introducing the Bill.

I thank Deputy Kitt for sharing his time with me. I congratulate the Minister and her officials on bringing forward this measure which gives effect to one of last year's budgetary measures. In some respects, it merely gives status to what is already happening. Any criticisms, therefore, that the Government has been unduly dilatory in giving effect to announced policy are seriously misplaced. This partnership Government is good. It is delivering consistently on the programme agreed in 1997, the elements of which are benefiting every citizen in some measure, but nowhere has the impact of Government policy been more apparent than in the area of employment.

Government economic policy has delivered a massive reduction in the numbers of unemployed, particularly the long-term unemployed. The November live register figure of 136,962 shows a massive month-on-month drop of 117,907 on the June 1997 figure. Those in receipt of full weekly payments now number fewer than 95,000. Not only do the figures reflect the positive effects of the Government's policies, they also reflect, as the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, indicated, the achievements of those who, through self-will and participation in employment support programmes, are availing of greater employment opportunities, resulting in a better standard of living for themselves and their dependants.

The continuous fall in the numbers on the live register – many employment opportunities continue to be available to the unemployed – gives the lie to the old statement that one is better off on the dole. It is untrue. The various training schemes operated directly and indirectly under the auspices of the Minister's Department have contributed much to the increase in the numbers in employment. I refer in particular to the community employment and job initiative schemes which have successfully facilitated the entry of many long-term unemployed persons as well as new entrants to the economy. The success of such endeavours is now evident in the mainstreaming of many activities under various Departments.

The Minister and the Department are to be further congratulated on the manner in which the schemes have successfully redeemed their merits and extended their trial bases to incorporate the marginalised and the socially excluded in training programmes as the ranks of the involuntary unemployed have been systematically thinned out by the success of the Government's policies. The Minister of State, Deputy Eoin Ryan, has played no small part in this. He has acted above and beyond the call of duty in his drugs portfolio and gone out of his way to meet community groups. He has not been found wanting. I congratulate him on his commitment.

That is one for the Minister of State.

Members of the Traveller community are now participating in a number of training schemes and programmes designed to integrate them fully into the white rather than the black economy, with which many of them are familiar.

The pace at which employment is continuing to expand is astonishing. The quality of the jobs being created in many sectors is extremely high. Nonetheless, we should not be blind to the fact that a modern, complex economy has a requirement for a broad and varied mix of skills. Additional retraining has increasingly become a feature of lifetime employment. The national training fund will provide valuable support in meeting such training needs in the years ahead.

One of the features of a modern, fast paced, competitive and dynamic economy is that companies will fail as well as succeed. This will entail job losses, but a strong and expanding economy can provide alternative employment for those unfortunate enough to lose their jobs in such circumstances. I commend the Bill to the House.

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.

I welcome the Bill which is being introduced to establish the national training fund. The Bill's provisions will result in the financing of training for people in employment and in the provision of training for those who wish to acquire skills for the purpose of taking up employment. The Bill also provides for the payment by employers of a 0.7% levy and the making of certain adjustments which will eliminate the burden of the levy. The contribution of this levy to the fund will prove extremely positive.

Section 7, which is one of the most important sections in the Bill, concerns the various schemes which can be put in place. The Department would do well to focus on the type of companies we are trying to address here and to examine the variety of company structures within the economy. The multinationals, which trade internationally, provide in-house training programmes on an ongoing basis. They are willing to employ people from any background, educate them and encourage them to serve the company. Dell offers a programme in which, regardless of people's background, they can avail of a variety of in-house courses at a range of levels and skill themselves up to the point where they can enter the management structure. I heard some of the company's employees being interviewed recently. It was interesting to note that one of the managers, who came from a council background, entered the company as a human resource executive and moved up the ladder to a position where he is now responsible for the company's thousands of employees. If we invest in proper courses and skill-up employees, people will be able to move from tier to tier in these companies.

Companies should be able to avail of funding which would encourage them to stay in Ireland and participate in schemes such as this one. This scheme is evidence of the Government's recognition that such companies require support. Employees will be able to learn skills within their companies and grow with the companies, thereby keeping main players in industry in this country.

We should also focus on the SME sector which is the one most in need of attention. I encounter many SMEs through my work on the county enterprise board. There is a need to focus on training company managers. The economy has changed dramatically over the past five years and this change will accelerate at an even greater level over the coming five years. We must ensure that company managers are up to speed with the dramatic and dynamic changes which are occurring within our economy. We must ensure that the indigenous SME sector is allowed to participate fully in new developments in the economy which, in turn, will serve economies within the EU and beyond.

The manufacturing and services sectors also require special attention because methods of manufacturing are changing in addition to changes in the types of services being delivered and their manner of delivery. Technology is forcing change on everyone. More often than not, those at management level in small businesses simply do not have time to set up a training structure for their staff in order that the companies would be prepared for increasingly competitive environments. A method must be devised to give such people the necessary time-out to set up training structures.

The SMEs are willing to participate in training but have not found the means by which to do that. They recognise the opportunities which exist within Ireland and abroad to sell their products and grow their companies but they require Government support. This fund will go some way towards addressing that.

Unemployed people are the focus of much debate and we must focus on their needs. Many unemployed people have availed of FÁS funding to complete ECDL courses. Having completed courses such as ECDL and advanced ECDL, these people require assistance and encouragement to enter the workforce. The courses organised and funded by FÁS are of great value to the unemployed and the marginalised because they give them a sense of purpose and offer them the hope of breaking out of the cycle of unemployment. We must address the hard core of long-term unemployed people who are not familiar with technology and who do not appreciate how the courses on offer can help them to access sustainable and full-time jobs.

Marginalised people, through funding provided by the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs and FÁS, have availed of myriad courses which will help them to re-enter the workforce. They are now driving developments in information technology and are demanding new courses which will provide them with the type of qualifications being sought by employers. This Bill offers an ideal mechanism through which we can respond to the types of demands being made of the Government to assist unemployed people to re-enter the workforce. Unemployed people are excited by the fact that IT courses are finally breaking the cycle.

FÁS courses have enabled people with disabilities to participate more fully in the workforce either from their homes or in the workplace. We must build on that because a considerable number of disabled people have not availed of the courses on offer, as a result of which they are not in mainstream employment and are not in the position to work from home. Some of the funding being provided for in this Bill should be directed towards this sector. They should be given every opportunity because even with limited funding they have proved that when they avail of education courses they can access full-time employment and impress employers.

The culture of the disabled being in a specific part of the economy and not participating in the mainstream workforce is gone. To complement what has already happened in the sector we need to invest money to get those people who are now valuable to the economy to return to mainstream employment, and there is a wonderful opportunity through the funding provided in this Bill to make that happen.

County enterprise boards, which interact on a daily basis with SMEs, should be the body through which the fund is disbursed. They can adopt an even-handed approach in terms of the various schemes which can be undertaken and the courses which can be put in place. They know who they are dealing with, the companies in the incubation units and those with which they have worked over the past number of years. The enterprise boards are working quite well.

At county level there are county enterprise boards, county councils, the county chairman of SPCs and many other different structures. Over the years, however, not enough acknowledgment has been given to the work undertaken by county enterprise boards which have strengthened the indigenous sector and increased the number of jobs, which otherwise would not exist. Due to the fact that they have been successful they should be allowed to build on that by being the main body through which the fund is disbursed. By using the enterprise boards it will be possible to fund, for example, the Traveller community, as they will be able to investigate their requirements, etc.

A very valuable asset to the economy which is not being tapped to the extent it should are senior citizens. Nationally, the Senior Citizens Parliament has been established with various divisions of the parliament being set up throughout the country – one was set up in Kilkenny this week and the first meeting was attended by almost 100 people. The main criticism they had was that despite the fact they are retired, and the fact that more and more people are being asked to retire at an earlier age, they believe they have much more to give to the economy and they are not being given the opportunity to take an active role in it.

We will find on looking back that that generation of people is the one which made the economy what it is today. The Government has a responsibility to acknowledge that there is a depth of experience in that group and to find a way through the fund to bring them into the main workforce so as to ensure their experience is put to work. If that means using part of the fund to educate these people in information and communications technology, or any other course available, that should be done. They should not be disregarded because they are a very important part of the economy. They are settled and reliable and I am sure that, given the experience they have acquired over the years, they would put it to work if given the opportunity. I encourage the Minister to actively examine this. Most people at the meeting in Kilkenny were interested in playing, perhaps a lighter role, but certainly an active role in the economy, and we should be encouraging them in the way I have outlined.

I am somewhat concerned by the number of women employed in the economy. This is a resource we should be using as many women, while they might be staying at home, have actually availed of various technology and other courses. They are skilled and prepared to return to the workforce. Due to the demand by many employers who cannot get people to work there is now an opportunity for women in the home. More and more employers are advertising jobs with flexible hours. This resource is largely untapped and we must give these people an opportunity to return to the workforce. The Government has invested in the courses and we need to move those who have qualified into employment, and we should ensure this happens through the fund.

Crafts and skills were mentioned. I come from a county which is synonymous worldwide with craft and design. The Kilkenny Design Centre has been the centre of design for a long number of years. Part of the objective of the fund could be to keep the old crafts and skills alive through funding them as they will deliver jobs in the long term. Kilkenny, for all crafts, has accessed the new e-commerce section of the economy through the Internet and is selling product on that basis. This proves that investment in this area, whether in training people in skills or giving them money to qualify in various courses, keeps alive something which is perhaps threatened by technology. Carlow has identified various crafts associated with the river and is now working on this as part of its county development plan. It is trying to set aside funds to keep these crafts alive in the area.

Dúchas has a role to play in this regard and we should look for its co-operation in terms of the fund. Dúchas has stone masons, carpenters, etc., and the Government, perhaps through the Bill, should encourage Dúchas to take on more young people to educate them in the craft of restoration. Encouraging craft and design and building restoration serves the tourism industry and a huge amount can be achieved in this regard. We should teach young people a craft or skill which is threatened as people are not becoming involved in them because there are more jobs with better pay elsewhere, particularly in the technology sector. Many young people would like to be involved in restoration work.

As in every other sector, Dúchas cannot get employees and is finding the numbers are not coming forward for its requirement for teaching skills and crafts. I encourage Dúchas, in partnership with the Department and through this fund, to devise a method whereby they can begin to bring people on board, teach them skills, strengthen that section of the economy, restore more buildings and, thereby, serve the tourism industry to the fullest extent.

I mentioned the new and rapidly developing economy created by the Internet and technology. This is a huge sector, largely untapped, running right across the economy, whether in services industry or transport, manufacturing, crafts or mainstream information and communications technology. The new economy will offer more jobs and more opportunities in the world market. The smallest company, such as the bodhrán maker we see advertised on television, can access that market and deliver new jobs in the new economy. We need to up-skill the operators in that field. If we do that a dynamic economy will be created and a large number of jobs will result from accessing a world market in a very simple fashion. Lastly, we need management courses and courses to deal with stress. All this development in the economy brings its own stresses and pressures.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Crawford.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the Bill. It is imaginative and if it delivers on what I have read in the Minister's speech we will have done a good day's work. I wish to refer to the old AnCO service. I suppose it is dating oneself to say I remember when the centre was developed in Galway. It was a truly remarkable occasion. I recall the late 1960s and early 1970s when the one brick wall was knocked 20 times in a week and rebuilt. The outcome of that could be seen in the workforce in Merview, County Galway, in the 1980s and 1990s by the skills they acquired in steel fabrication, carpentry and so on under the flagship of the then training agency, AnCO. That pattern of training can be set as an example of what we hope will happen for the men and women who will have to be trained for the next 20 or 25 years. I do not know whether all that can be done under the provisions of this Bill but I genuinely believe it will make an honest effort. Everybody has a number of issues to bring to this debate but I wish to refer to four or five.

Of all the ingredients that make up the workplace, training is the most important. At the end of the day if we do not have people with the required skills, whether on the modern factory floor or elsewhere, we are lost. Unless the new cohort of people are highly skilled, whether in the area of computers, building, banking, etc., they will not stay the pace and the whole system will fall asunder. In the euphoria of the Celtic tiger we should look at two areas. It is true to say, as the Minister and every commentator point out, that we have never had anything like the present rate of job creation. It is wonderful to live at this time. Those of us who came through the 1980s and 1990s will recall those dark days.

There has been no appreciable change in the number of job losses from the 1980s and the 1990s but what is remarkable about the economy is that job losses are replaced almost overnight. In some cases one is replaced by two. However, in the event of a major slowdown a number of jobs are at risk. People forget that there are redundancies, that firms close down and that were it not for this wonderful environment there would be huge problems all the time. We have to look at that area as well as early warning systems. If this National Training Fund Bill means anything, I sincerely hope it can intervene in areas where it should be possible to salvage jobs through retraining, redirection and so on.

Between 27,000 and 30,000 enter the Irish workforce each year. That number is likely to drop to 12,000 in seven years' time. If the economy continues to develop and if after five, six or seven years only 10,000 or 12,000 enter the workforce, there will be major problems. Given that the Minister has referred to some of those figures, I assume in global terms that what I say is correct.

Let us look at the 4%, or 146,000, who are unemployed. I have no doubt there is great scope within that cohort for retraining and returning to the labour force. How it is to be done is another story but I shall return to that later. There is a huge amount of American investment in Ireland, which we all welcome. I understand that 27% of all US green field investment in Europe comes to Ireland but how long will it last? It will probably last as long as the US companies believe this is the right place to be and as soon as the position changes they will move elsewhere. I assume the national training concept on which we are now embarking will take note of the requirements of that particular market.

The manufacturing and service sectors are the miracle of the Irish economy in the past ten years. It is all about productivity and competitiveness. We have to watch wages and inflation. We are in the middle of an oil crisis and we hope great things will be announced in tomorrow's budget. The whole area of interest rate hikes and currency changes have a huge part to play in how we manage to keep our people at work.

On the question of the 4% who are officially unemployed, I note there are 52,000 on short-term unemployment and 28,000 on long-term unemployment. I note in a labour force survey that the Minister said 60,000 extra were marginally attached. That is a lovely phrase. I am not 100% sure what it means and I do not know if the Minister knows what it means. How could one be marginally attached? One is either in or out. I assume what she is getting at is that it may be possible under certain circumstances for many of those people who are ripe for retraining to be reorganised. It is all attitudinal. It is a huge step forward for many who come from homes where their parents were unemployed and have seen nothing else for a couple of generations. If this training fund is to mean anything, a huge amount of time and effort will have to be put in. Progress will be slow. There are thousands of potential workers for the labour force if only we could open that particular lock.

This brings me to another important matter in the area I represent in East Galway. There is a raging row in my part of the world about the new rules concerning the social employment schemes. I have a bee in my bonnet about this and, irrespective of which Minister is involved in this area, I will fight it because a huge injustice is being done. The purists say there is no such thing as continuous training.

Several speakers referred to the general development and street structure of our villages and towns and I am sure many others will also refer to that. Who changed the face of rural Ireland? It was not the county councils, as they did not have a penny to carry out any work.

Caltra looks very well.

We know who changed Caltra. The face of rural Ireland was changed by the participants on FÁS schemes. A number of those workers did not know the skills they possessed. When they were trained in so-called semi skilled, manual jobs, they were able to lay footpaths, car parks and flowerbeds and do other work. Such work is not half finished in rural Ireland. The local authorities have withdrawn from that work and they will not return to it, but that is the way of life.

The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment put forward a daft proposal on 1 April. She said that irrespective of the age or knowledge of SES participants, they will be able to continue for three more years on an SES but then they will have to paddle their own canoes. There is a cohort of workers approaching 50 years of age participating on such schemes and most of them are good at what they do but there is little else they can do and they know there is a great deal more work for them to do. It would be different if there was not enough work for them to do. That breed will live on and in seven, eight or ten years' time, they will retire.

The laws and regulations governing the SES should be changed. A group of 300 people who packed a room in a building in Tuam a fortnight ago, put forward the most sensible arrangement regarding that scheme, which I will put to the Minister of State. Under that scheme, people up to the age of 50 should be able to work for three years and withdraw from the scheme for one year and after that they should be allowed to work every year until they retire.

When I was chairman of Mount Bellew town development, we had all sorts of plans, but that is all we had. When we walked out of halls following meetings 20 years ago, we had no way of executing such plans, but we have now. Work to be done under such plans can be passed to the participants of SESs who do a brilliant job. Given that it takes 12 to 15 participants to run a scheme and it might be possible only to assemble enough people to run a scheme in every four or five parishes, village renewal and rural development will be killed by the daft idea that the cohort of workers approaching 50 years of age participating on such schemes could and should do something else. I wish they were able to do that, as do they, but they are not. They consider they have done a magnificent job to have come as far as they have, given that seven or eight years ago they were drawing the dole for which we got no return.

That proposed small change to the SESs makes eminent sense. In terms of that cohort of workers who will be working in five, six to eight years' time, that arrangement will phase out and there will not be a need to introduce rules as those workers would be nearing retirement. Given all the training being provided, those who are 40 and 45 years of age and in receipt of social welfare will be retrained for the so-called better job.

On behalf of every community development association, town development association and everyone who did good work in rural Ireland, that cohort of workers who have nowhere else to go have done a wonderful job in making rural Ireland more attractive. The Minister of State should make the change I proposed. Unless I have misread him, I believe he does not consider there is anything wrong in what I said.

I am listening.

I know that. The sooner the Minister makes that proposed change sought the better it will be for many people throughout Ireland for the next seven or eight years.

I thank Deputy Connaughton for sharing his time with me, given it is evident he is very convinced about what he talked about. I support what he said, particularly concerning participants in FÁS schemes. Those workers have been very important in carrying out improvements to villages in my area, including Rockcorry, Smithborough and Three Mile House. Those workers got certificates and cheques for their good work through the tidy town groups. Without them that work would not have been carried out. Newbliss is another example.

I will highlight one example of their work, that done at the Kavanagh Centre, Inniskeen. I am sure Dr. O'Hanlon would support me on this issue. That premises was developed with the support of FÁS, cross-Border funding, IFI, etc., but without the contribution of the participants on FÁS schemes and other workers, that premises might be closed down. We need to examine how such schemes can be restructured. Recently one of the head people in personnel in that premises told a group of us that the personnel there had discovered that in their parish 15 to 20 people in the 50 to 55 age bracket who are in receipt of social welfare could be utilised in that premises and they would be glad to help out, if allowed to do so under the scheme. I urge the Minister of State to ensure the necessary changes are made to ensure those who have or who can gain skills can contribute to the community rather than continue in receipt of social welfare and feel less beneficial than if allowed under the scheme to help out in their own community.

I refer to the beef and pork industries. The contracts of employment in those industries introduced by individuals in recent years have decimated the availability of young trained boners and trained workers to do quality work. I remember my involvement in Cork Mart, IMP, where everything was literally done to the beast, including the removal of what would be considered nearly waste material now. That was put into cans, cooked and so on. That sort of product is now imported from other countries. We have lost many of those skills because of the system. I urge the Minister the State to ensure funds are made available, if necessary, to set up a structure for those industries where proper training can be given in an area such as Monaghan where the food industry is very important. I am aware that FÁS has tried to provide such training through the industries, but unfortunately when young people get trained to a certain level, rather than completing their training, they are taken on and paid full wages as there is such a demand for them. A proper structure to provide such training is required. People are willing to undertake such training in my immediate area where the food industry is of such importance.

The second largest industry in the area I represent is the furniture industry, which is facing a major problem in recruiting properly trained craft workers. There is an idea that we can move to using machinery in that industry, but if we do, we would produce a lower quality product for a low product market in which we would have to compete with many other countries, which would not be in our best interests. People from my area have to travel to Limerick, Connemara or some other area to get training. There is an urgency to ensure proper training is available for those who wish to take it up in the areas where furniture is produced such as Monaghan, Louth and Meath, but mainly Monaghan. There is an urgent need to look at how these people can be facilitated in local vocational education committees. It should be done close to home as we would then have a much higher level of participation.

There are enormous opportunities now in the building sector. Times were never as good in this area but there is a danger that we will not have properly trained personnel and if that occurs we may have problems with health and safety. That in turn causes accidents, which then raises insurance costs. It is a vicious circle and we must re-examine the training of building workers. Much as we would like the building boom to last forever, it will not and those who are properly trained will have better opportunities in difficult times.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Browne.

The main purpose of this Bill is to establish the national training fund to raise the skills of those in employment and to provide training for those who wish to acquire skills for employment. I welcome this excellent Bill, particularly as it provides for the training of more workers. We need more people in all our industries. We need more carpenters, bricklayers and plumbers; we need more skilled people as we do not have enough of them at present.

I welcome the training offered by FÁS all over the country, particularly in Sligo, where many courses from carpentry to computer skills are offered. Like other speakers, I welcome FÁS's great work, particularly in our villages. Many of those villages were derelict ten to 15 years ago but they are now bright and shiny, with nice stone walls and footpaths. Much of this work should have been done by the county councils but they did not have the funding, so FÁS did it. I welcome that work.

I also welcome the work done by FÁS in old graveyards, many of which would have been almost derelict were it not for the work of local people through FÁS schemes. This might also have been the job of the county councils but again they did not have the funding and FÁS did the work, which I welcome, for people who have gone before us. These near derelict graveyards have now received a new lease of life. There is now even a scheme for cleaning headstones and those coming back from America, Australia and Britain can trace their families through three or four generations as a result.

Many young people are interested in stone masonry and the nearest such course to me is in Gweedore, County Donegal. There is an excellent 12 month masonry course there and when people complete it they can get employment building stone walls. It is a great skill to have and one Irish people have had for generations. One need only look at the stone bridges around the country; they were built by Irish people and thankfully those skills have not gone. There are also other skills being taught by FÁS, such as building horse traps and baskets, and often the organisation employs people who are almost at the end of their working lives to train young people in these skills. That is a step in the right direction.

At one stage I was employed by the VEC to train young Travellers in Sligo. They had excellent skills in tinsmithing, such as the saucepans, ponnies and tin cans that old Travelling people used to make at the side of the road. Those young people brought that skill back and it was excellent to see. They taught me a thing or two.

I am delighted that provision has been made to train young people in carpentry and bricklaying but I have raised the issue of safety on building sites with the Minister of State before and though some work has been done in this area, more remains to be done. There have been too many fatalities as a result of people falling from poor scaffolding. We have cowboy builders who do not care about providing scaffolding so long as they are making money. They sometimes use a ladder rather than scaffolding and one sees builders running up and down to put slates on a roof. If one is building a house, an apartment block or a factory one should have proper scaffolding. There should be somebody to supervise that scaffolding because nobody wants to see people on building sites being hurt or killed. The Minister of State is doing an excellent job in this regard but more work must be done to protect those who are roofing houses and shuttering apartment blocks. We need more safety on our building sites.

(Wexford): I welcome the Bill which is worthwhile and long overdue, but it also gives us the opportunity to debate some of the issues regarding training. When one goes into any hotel in the country one finds some company or other has a training course going on there. That is a major change from the past when very few companies could offer training. Much of the training is done by large, multinational companies as they can afford it; as the Tánaiste said, they allocate a significant amount of funding to training and retraining. However, we must also look at smaller companies which do not have enough funding to match the changes in technology. A lot of business is done by e-mail, fax and telephone and it is important the Tánaiste works with the small business associations to ensure small companies are not left behind in the area of training and retraining. They have to be able to meet the changes in technology, which are occurring on a daily basis. In many cases, computers bought six months ago are now obsolete and it is very costly for some of the smaller companies to compete.

In relation to the community employment scheme, which was mentioned earlier, the decision to ask people to leave the scheme after three years is crazy, particularly in the case of older people. Many people in their mid-50s or early 60s who come to my clinics are fit, skilled and able to participate in an employment scheme but they have no hope of being taken on by an employer. When the three years are up they are told to go back and draw the dole. That is not good enough. I do not necessarily blame the Minister, Deputy Harney, for that because I am baffled as to how 14 Ministers can sit around the Cabinet table and agree to a reduction in the community schemes.

In every county, and the Ministers will be aware of this, there is a significant number of people who are only suitable for social employment or community employment schemes. I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, to bring his influence to bear on the Ministers to make changes in that regard because it is better for people to work in local communities on community employment schemes than to twiddle their thumbs on the fair greens or walk around the town with nothing to do. We can all give examples of that. My local GAA club had a very good person for three years who kept the fields cut and made sure that the gates and the fencing were maintained. He was 57 years of age when his three years were up and he was told he had to go. The club then had to try to employ someone at a far higher rate but, more importantly, that person is now unemployed.

I have a vested interest in the disabled because I have a daughter who is confined to a wheelchair. The Minister made a statement in the Dáil recently about changes in the personal assistants service but the wider issue of the disabled needs to be examined. The Minister of State's brother, Deputy Michael Kitt, said earlier that he did not see any reference to the disabled in the Bill. As it passes through the Oireachtas I hope a section will be inserted to allocate funding for training and retraining of disabled people specifically because many disabled people are highly intelligent and particularly talented in the area of modern technology. Many of them would have used computers in school more often than other people, yet employers, despite the scarcity of workers, do not seem to want to employ them.

Perhaps there is a genuine fear among employers that these people will be out on sick leave too often or whatever but that is not the case. The Government should undertake a public relations exercise with employers to inform them that there are many intelligent disabled people who could fill some of the existing job vacancies if they were given the opportunity. I know the Minister of State took a direct interest in the personal assistants service and I ask him to take a direct interest in training also.

In relation to the shortage of skills in the building trade, it is frightening to hear county managers say at county council meetings that there is a difficulty in getting contractors to build council houses to meet the housing demand. They are now talking about a scarcity of contractors to meet the National Development Plan 2000-2006, as laid down by the Government. There is a need to re-examine the skills and perhaps the time has come to consider establishing a multi-skills and craft school in every county. Schools throughout the country are closed from 4 p.m. so we have the facilities available. There is a need to examine how we can involve FÁS, Teagasc, the vocational education committees and the building industry in making night classes available for partially skilled or unskilled young people for training in bricklaying, carpentry and other areas.

We have the agencies and the building industry which is crying out for workers so there should be a meeting of minds on this issue. Facilities could be provided in the evening in vacant vocational education committees and secondary schools. That should be examined because we will have serious problems during the coming five or six years in meeting the targets of the building industry due to the scarcity of contractors and skilled workers.

The Oireachtas committee on agriculture has been debating whether some of the Teagasc training centres should be closed down or left open. There is a need to examine agriculture and retraining for the future because many farmers are in difficulties. They are finding it difficult to survive without an off-farm income. Someone made the point recently at a committee meeting that many young and not so young farmers have basic skills. They are able to weld, do a bit of engineering and a little carpentry, skills they acquired during their time in farming, and it would require little effort to train them fully in these skills. They could then get a job to supplement their farm income thereby enabling them to make a decent living. That is an issue Teagasc should examine. People do not have to go out to Multyfarnham or Athenry to do that because there are Teagasc centres in every county where these people could be retrained for a new way of life off the farm. It is an issue that needs serious examination.

I sometimes wonder about the number of agencies in operation. We have county councils, urban district councils, Leader, county enterprise boards, town and rural area partnerships, FÁS, VTOS and Youthreach. At times there is a lot of confusion among people about where to go and they often get the run around. Whatever about maintaining all these agencies, we certainly should be able to have a one stop shop instead of having them scattered throughout a particular county. There is a need to bring them under one umbrella so that people could go to a one stop shop in these areas and try to secure employment or training. That is an area the Minister should examine.

One of the major problems in relation to the numbers of unemployed, and I am talking about the experience in my county, is that those people, particularly in the younger age group, left school early. We know that early school leavers find it very difficult to get a job, both in the short and the long-term. They also have many other social problems if they leave school early. Since I first came into this House, there has been a significant number of reports on the problem of early school leavers and how to deal with the problem, yet no Minister for Education has been able to come up with a formula. I have a document prepared by the Wexford area partnership responding to early school leaving in the Wexford area and some of the figures are frightening in regard to the number of people who leave school early in Wexford. That is one of the reasons we have such a high unemployment rate in Wexford. There should be some system in the Department to deal with this problem. Despite the fact that numerous reports have been produced, no one seems to be able to come up with a system to deal with the problem.

I ask the Minister, together with the Minister for Education and Science, to look favourably at counties such as Wexford which have produced documents and could, with limited funding, initiate pilot schemes to encourage students to stay in school longer so that they can secure jobs. Programmes such as the VTOs are aimed at giving people a second chance at education, while Youthreach operates programmes for early school leavers between the ages of 15 and 18 years. These scheme have been successful in the past and I hope they can be extended so that more young people can be retrained, giving them a better opportunity to re-enter the work environment. The people who operate the Youthreach programme in County Wexford have said there is an 80% placement rate under VTOs. Such programmes should be extended.

I welcome the Bill and hope it will be implemented as quickly as possible. I ask the Minister of State to bring to the attention of the Minister the need for a specific section on training, retraining and opportunities for the disabled.

I wish to share my time with Deputies Belton and Reynolds.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the Bill which will provide funding to bring people who are marginally excluded into the work force. While it is a boom time for people who are on the roller coaster, it is a dull and difficult time for those people on the sideline. Work gives people the opportunity to meet other people, make friends and go on social outings. However, a person who is unemployed is isolated and spends most of his time in his flat or apartment, while some unemployed people may have to look after their elderly parents and do not have an opportunity to make friends. We know the number of people on the live register, but there are other people who are unable to work because of family commitments. These are the people towards whom the fund should be directed.

FÁS training schemes are parish-based and provide excellent training for young people. The young people on these schemes are involved in tidying public parks, repairing old buildings, etc. The courses provided by FÁS are also excellent, but there are only a limited number of places available on them. This is a rerun of our earlier debate today. I hope the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, does not forget that we gave him a free hand to implement his proposal without a vote. I have time for the Minister, but his time on the Government benches is running out. We will take over where he left off and I know he will wish us well in that.

I know dozens of young people who have availed of FÁS courses but they are principally based in large towns and cities and it can be costly for young people from rural areas to take up a place on them. Grants could be provided under this fund to enable young people from rural areas to take up places on FÁS courses in, say, Dublin. It should be possible to pay for their accommodation and give them some pocket money. These courses normally run for 12 months and they yield results.

It is impossible to get a plumber, carpenter, bricklayer or plasterer nowadays and there is a need for more places on courses in the trades area. These are simple enough skills which can be learned by both boys and girls. These trades are no longer the preserve of men. I have seen excellent carpentry work done by young girls who may have a more delicate touch than young men. However, everything we say will be a waste of time unless teachers are properly paid and the funding is in place. I know the Minister will bear this point in mind.

I agree with Deputy Browne on the need for a section to deal with disabled people. I read a shocking report in one of today's newspapers. This report entitled "Miserable Plight of Disabled in Rural Areas", states:

The vast majority of people with disability in rural Ireland are without employment or suitable accommodation despite the fact that most want to lead an independent existence, a groundbreaking survey has found. The report "Visualising Inclusion" found that one third of people with disabilities are without secondary education, 80% with disability are available for work, yet only 23% are employed. Low pay, lack of qualifications and the attitude of employers are cited as a barrier to employment.

This is unfair and discriminatory and it is time we got over that hurdle. These people are entitled to equal opportunities. I agree with Deputy Browne that they are willing to work and want to prove themselves in the workforce. They will be at work every day come hail, rain or sunshine. That is their attitude to life and all they need is a little encouragement, training and extra time. This is the least we can do at a time when our economy is booming. We are not looking after these people. I ask the Minister to include a section to deal with disabled people. It is a marvellous time for people on the roller coaster but there is a major difficulty for people who are trying to enter the workforce.

The day when people had a job for life is gone. There are wonderful opportunities available and young people change jobs. However, training must be provided for them. If there are better opportunities elsewhere multinational companies will move on and we will have to provide alternative employment for a large workforce. We must put in place a system which will provide retraining for the people so that they can take up other employment. One of the reasons our economy is booming is that people had the necessary qualifications. We should keep in the back of our mind the possibility of hiccups and ensure we are ready to deal with any problems which arise so that young people will not be left idle and have to once again take to the emigration boats.

I welcome the Bill which updates the present position by making training a priority. According to statistics, most of the start-ups and projects funded by the IDA 30 years ago are gone. As a result many of the people employed in these areas have been left high and dry. Deputy Naughten and I are familiar with the harsh reality of closures in the textile industry in our area. Many employees approached me and other politicians to ask what they could do because they had been working in the industry for the previous ten, 15 or 20 years. They had been subjected to terrible trauma but were prepared to take up FÁS training courses. Luckily the expansion of the economy has created more employment opportunities but, unfortunately, training was not built into the system. Approximately 50% of employers do not provide training courses.

IDA grants were available for such courses in the past but not enough emphasis was placed on training employees. Training should be provided as part of an individual's employment because the economy is changing rapidly. Technology, new products and market demand are changing and it is important that training is provided. The EU provided much of the funding for training in the past but that will be reduced. The Government has anticipated this and is to establish a fund to complement the funding from the EU Social Fund. That is welcome.

Apprenticeships have come to the fore. I was in Athlone recently at a ceremony to mark the graduation of a number of apprentices. It was a great occasion for them and their families because most of them had jobs. Jobs are now available for trained apprentices. FÁS has embarked on recruiting campaigns abroad to entice people to come to Ireland to work but there are people here who could take up the same jobs if they were trained. We have not faced up to that. If an individual loses his job after 20 years he is not retrained. He is frustrated at losing his job but if he had been given the option of training, the company might not have folded and it could have branched out into other areas of production.

I welcome the Bill but I refer to a problem in the apprenticeship training programme. When an apprentice undertakes the study module of his training he is given an allowance of £27 and at that stage some apprentices opt out because they spent the previous year gaining practical experience, being paid £100 a week. The Minister should concentrate on this issue.

I am glad to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I have not read up on the legislation but having perused the explanatory memorandum one question keeps popping into my head, and I hope the Minister of State will answer it when he closes the debate. The establishment of FÁS a number of years ago was a good idea. There was massive unemployment and people were removed from the live register to take up training courses. There is little unemployment today and we are faced with a labour shortage.

How many administrators are in FÁS? When the NTF is set up I assume FÁS administrators will be involved because the training issue is extremely important. When this legislation is enacted, I hope it does not emulate the health board legislation whereby a significant percentage of the money allocated to the fund will be eaten up by administration costs and will not be spent on the front line where it is needed.

Most of those working for FÁS do a good job but the difficulties they were employed to address do not exist anymore. How many people will be employed in the administration of the fund? How much will that cost? I would hate a scenario where 60% of the funding provided would be eaten up by administrations, with 40% spent on the front line. This is a hobby horse of mine and it must be considered by the Government and all parties in the House.

Those who participate in FÁS courses and community employment schemes do excellent work in rural and urban communities. However, a number of my friends are employees in the services industry, which has been the primary creator of employment in Ireland over the past ten years. There is no grant for employing people. A friend of mine in a small town in Leitrim employs 90 people in three retail outlets. He installed a computer system, which cost £90,000, but only received £1,000 for training his staff. He is a large employer who has made a huge commitment, but under the legislation employers must pay a national training levy of 0.7% which will be offset by a cut in employers' PRSI. They are making a payment and not getting a service in return. If the Minister or I, as employers, want to train our employees, we must pay for it. If I install a state-of-the-art computer system in my company I must pay for the training of my employees, which is hugely expensive. I do not understand how the legislation addresses that anomaly but, as I have not read it fully, I hope the Minister will say that I am wrong. I have no difficulty with that but I do not understand how that problem will be resolved.

There are people on lists in all FÁS offices who are available for employment but the majority do not want to work because they work part time in the agriculture industry or they have been unemployed for a long time. A difficulty exists in that regard. An employer may not want to employ a person because he or she knows that person is not what is needed, even if that person has been on training courses. I hope the Bill and the national training fund will help alleviate that.

If people who apply for training schemes do not want to be employed, there is no point in accepting them for the scheme. We must try to alleviate that problem, but that is where the community employment scheme comes into effect. People might be happy to work three days a week on a community employment scheme in graveyards, public parks or whatever doing wonderful work for the community and spend another two or three days on the farm, for instance. There are proposals to change all that, not in this Bill but through the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and that would be a retrograde step.

We must focus on internal training in companies already established, and I assume that is the focus of the Bill. This is hugely important. We must focus too on the service industries where many people are employed and the cost of training them on new computers or whatever is prohibitive. Most employers looking at the bottom line will see they can afford to install a new, state of the art computer system but will query whether they can afford the necessary training for employees to work on it.

The national training fund could play a very positive role where, if an employer installs a state of the art computer system, he or she could be guaranteed a certain percentage to train his or her employees. Everyone would be better off. The employer and employees would be better off and so would the consumer, who is king, because he or she would be served by people who would know what they were doing. How many times, has anyone gone into a retail outlet to have to wait ten or 15 minutes to be dealt with. Why are the people serving them not trained? It is because the employer cannot afford it. I have been in the position where I have been behind a computer serving people and I would have been better off if I had been supplied with a hammer because I did not know what was going on. It is towards alleviating that type of problem that the national training fund should work.

The manufacturing sector is slightly different. The IDA has been pro-active in this area for a long time, as have Forfás and Enterprise Ireland. They provide funding for training which is very necessary in manufacturing. We have been slow to do that on the service side and, if the Bill deals with that issue, it will have done a wonderful day's work.

Since the Minister is involved in the employment sector, my other gripe is that the PRSI paid by employers is still too high. There should not be a cost to employ a person. There should be an incentive to employ them.

I support the Bill. Does the fund represent extra funding or is it a new type of funding? Existing funding is derived from levies, the Exchequer and European funding. Deputy Michael Kitt asked if we will see cutbacks in European funding. The answer is certainly "yes" and it is happening already. I speak from experience. In a previous incarnation I was a FÁS instructor and I used to teach languages. The experience in FÁS, which is a fantastic organisation, is that there have been cutbacks. Deputy Reynolds spoke about the amount of expenditure on administration. Administrative costs have been severely cut back with the result that some of the training centres are almost ghost towns where previously they were bustling.

It is very important, not just if the economy is to remain competitive but if society is to function properly, that the idea of apprenticeships continues. We require plasterers, plumbers and electricians and the boom exposes these labour shortages. We only have to look at our own back door. If the lift breaks down in Leinster House 2000, how long will it take to find someone to fix it? If the heating does not work properly, again difficulties arise. That is a microcosm of problems which exist elsewhere. We have had to wait many months even to construct a cycleway. While nice work is taking place in my constituency along the Dodder, it is taking five months to complete because the skilled artisans cannot be found to do the work. These problems need to be addressed.

We have had an attitude problem for many years towards apprenticeships. I remember when I went to school, if a person was not doing well, he or she was told to go to the "tech.". Such an attitude does not exist elsewhere. It certainly does not exist in Germany, where I lived for some time, where to have one'sBeruf was a matter of pride. We must instil that level of pride in what Germans call the professions and we call apprenticeships.

I will focus on the cutbacks in EU funding which have resulted in cutbacks in language training in some FÁS training centres. Language training is vital. The Minister referred to us being more like Boston than Berlin and that we have an American-type economy. However, we must realise that we are now becoming part of a federal Europe. Many of us might object to that evolution but we see one more step towards it with the Nice Treaty. There is no question that there is capital mobility within the federal Europe, and we will require increasing labour mobility. When the boom ends, which it must do at some stage, people may have to go abroad. That is why it is vital language training continues in FÁS centres.

I am concerned about one aspect. I know from experience that FÁS has done deals with some of the major multinationals regarding training. One example is Hewlett Packard. It was a good idea in that people were specifically trained and got jobs with Hewlett Packard. It was a good deal for the company and FÁS could derive some satisfaction from it. I would like to see the employer footing the entire bill. Multinationals receive too many subsidies in any event and Hewlett Packard and other similar companies should foot the entire bill.

There was a reference to the contradiction of the Minister going abroad trying to recruit while there is the so-called problem of economic refugees. Clearly there are people in the country who will do the jobs if they have the training. It is a feature within some FÁS training centres that a good number of the people there come from other countries. We must encourage as many people as possible within the country, by giving them the green card, if necessary. We should examine what we have already rather than going off to Durban, Beijing or wherever.

I have a number of specific points which the Minister of State could perhaps address when he replies. What will be fundable through this new mechanism? Is it only to fund expenditure within the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment or can it also fund training within other Departments, for example, fishery training, hotel training, training under the Department of Education and Science or training within the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development in organic farming, for example?

It appears the Bill will result in the abolition of industrial training committees established under the Industrial Training Act, 1967. These mechanisms have represented involvement of the social partners in helping to identify sectoral needs. It is important to keep this involvement of the social partners. What substitute, if any, is planned for the industrial training committees?

I hope the fund will be used to address existing deficiencies in training. A recent international adult literacy survey found that Ireland's literacy scores were poor, with 25% scoring at the lowest level. The proportion of employed people who undertook education or training in the year was only 30%. We are a long way from lifelong learning goals. Only half the adult population from 25 to 64 have achieved leaving certificate standard or better. As a result, very often, training authorities such as FÁS are seen as the last resort. Difficulties are experienced by some instructors who have to deal with people who are problematic in some respects. They are pushed into FÁS but that should not be the case.

I would ask the Deputy to conclude so that the Minister will have a few minutes in which to reply.

Perhaps the Minister of State will address some of the points I have made.

I thank all the Deputies who have contributed to this very good debate. I have heard many debates in the House, particularly at this time of the night when there is not much engagement, but I have certainly benefited form this debate. I will try my best to deal with the issues that have been raised, but I would obviously like to conclude tonight so if I omit anything I will ensure it is dealt with on Committee Stage.

Several Deputies referred to the issue of train ing for people with disabilities. In addition to support from the fund for people with disabilities on mainstream FÁS courses, a further £30 million is being provided in 2001 for Exchequer funds for training and employment in this area.

It is a reflection of the importance which is attached to training that the introduction of this Bill has stimulated such an interesting debate. It is also gratifying to note that Members on all sides of the House have welcomed the new focus on training which the Bill provides and the fact that it will be a ring-fenced fund which is removed from the vicissitudes of public spending.

There will be an increase in funding for certain key schemes, such as apprenticeships, which was referred to by Deputies Rabbitte and Michael Kitt. Deputy Naughten spoke extensively about lifelong learning issues. He referred especially to the need to pursue policies which take account of the need of the individual and to balance these with the needs of the enterprise. He also referred to the importance of literacy and the development of basic skills, as, indeed, did Deputy Gormley, as a foundation for employability and further learning. These issues are being addressed by the lifelong learning task force in the context of the White Paper on Adult Education. I was privileged to participate in the launch of a particular scheme this morning which demonstrates that much good work is taking place on this matter in the community. I accept, however, that current literacy and numeracy levels are totally unacceptable. We need to do much work in that area.

FÁS is already working on this matter in collaboration with the National Adult Literacy Agency on the introduction of a pilot literacy module within community employment. It is hoped that growing employment and wage levels will result in increases in the fund in future years, especially for lifelong learning initiatives.

The repeal of the provisions relating to the industrial training committees has given rise to significant comment. It should be stated that moving away from the statutory committees does not have negative implications in terms of the involvement of stakeholders in training. We are concerned to address in the Bill the rigidity of the statutory system imposed by the 1967 Act. When these provisions were introduced, FÁS, or AnCO at it was then known, was effectively the sole provider of vocational and employment training. Now, however, that situation is very different.

The statutory ITC system is simply too rigid and narrowly focused to cater for this changed environment and the very different allocation of roles and responsibilities which now exists. Deputy Rabbitte noted that the performance of the committees is not uniform as sectors which were dominant in the 1960s are no longer dominant today. A statutory system of committees can fossilise training policy and constrain it from responding to the emergence of new sectoral needs and inter-firm initiatives.

In that regard, it must be said that both Enterprise Ireland and FÁS continue to have the legal power to appoint advisory committees as required, while both the board of Skillnets and the expert group on future skills needs are representative of enterprise and training interests.

At the broader level, concerns have been raised about the absence of an overall structure which would allow the stakeholders to input to the decision-making process on the allocation of NTF funds. This issue was raised particularly by Deputy Rabbitte. I appreciate these concerns and specific proposals are being developed to provide an overall advisory committee in this context.

I stress the importance of human resource development to Ireland's future prosperity and the welfare and living standards of our people. The development of a skilled and adaptable workforce is a winning proposition for employers and individuals alike. The national training fund creates a new, more explicit focus on human resource development and provides a ring-fenced source of funding to ensure success.

It is proposed to establish a non-statutory advisory committee whose role will be to ensure we have a co-ordinated overall strategy for employment related training. It will inform the Minister of emerging developments concerning employment related training to ensure that our provision is in line with best international practice. It is envisaged that, as part of its remit, the committee could make proposals to my Department in relation to areas to be funded from the national training fund or offer advice on the direction of existing schemes under the fund. It is intended that the committee should have the strongest possible expertise drawn from the stakeholders in training, enterprise and human resource development.

I thank Members for their contributions. I have not managed to cover some issues in my reply because I was anxious to allow every Deputy to contribute, particularly Deputy Gormley who asked to share my time.

The Minister has another three and a half minutes.

We had an excellent debate on the Estimates today, as a number of Deputies have mentioned. Deputy Naughten contributed centrally to that debate. It has been a good day of debate in preparation for an even better day tomorrow, when Deputies will hear some very good news in the budget.

The Minister hopes.

Take care.

The McCreevy way.

Question put and agreed to.