I thank Deputy McNamara for his question. I know he has raised it previously.
The backdrop to the current waiting lists for essential practical training for apprentices is reflected in the extended shutdown of on-site learning activity from March 2020. The closure of education and training facilities in response to the Covid-19 pandemic precluded access to off-the-job training. The very welcome growth in registrations has compounded these pressures. However, the education and training system is responding energetically to reduce waiting times. My Department has been advised by SOLAS that there are 8,208 apprentices waiting to access off-the-job training, of whom 7,228 are waiting for phase 2 and 980 for phases 4 and 6. It can be expected that at any one time, some apprentices will be waiting for a planned intake. The numbers currently waiting are high, however, and reflect the unprecedented circumstances from March 2020. My Department has also been advised that as of 17 May, the number of apprentices waiting for all phases of off-the-job training included: 3,616 in electrical; 1,162 in plumbing; 844 in carpentry; and 98 in bricklaying and stone-laying.
Implementation of a major response plan to address the waiting lists is well advanced. In order to introduce additional capacity, capital funding of €20 million was provided in 2020 to extend and upgrade facilities. Additional funding of €17 million has been provided to SOLAS and the Higher Education Authority, HEA, to underpin the plan to reduce backlogs. Some €6 million of this is being invested in employing additional instructors, with over 100 additional posts approved.
In light of progress in dealing with the pandemic by means of public health management, classes returned to their full intake of 14 to 16 apprentices last September. More than 8,400 apprentices - in excess of 70% of those delayed by Covid-19 - have now progressed. This includes more than 700 final-year apprentices who have been fast-tracked to complete their qualification. Craft apprentices waiting for phases 4 and 6 are expected to be cleared later this year, with the majority of phase 2 waiting lists targeted to be cleared by the end of the year.
SOLAS and the HEA are continuing to work with education and training providers, with the support of my Department, to identify further solutions that will address the waiting lists and that are fully consistent with the management of the quality, standard and safety of apprenticeship provision.