I welcome the Minister and commend her for introducing this Bill. We all agree this legislation is a key element when putting in place a properly planned, funded and certified apprenticeship system. The two main areas on which I will focus are equity and vocational training.
Everyone is anxious to ensure the entry to apprenticeship is based on merit and not nepotism. This should be tackled. In the other House my colleague, Deputy Quill, proposed that persons seeking apprenticeships be officially registered so that employers seeking to take on apprentices would draw exclusively from that register. In this way the lack of transparency and equity that has been a long standing source of grievance could be tackled.
In her speech yesterday the Minister also stated her concern on this issue and said the inequity in the system of recruitment should be tackled. She discussed this with FÁS, IBEC, the CIF and other organisations and came to the conclusion that a compulsory system would be premature at present. She recommended that a code of practice be developed and operated over a trial period of two years. If this is not found to be effective the matter can be re-examined and a compulsory system introduced. Everyone hopes this will not be necessary and that the changes being introduced by the Minister will ensure more equity in the system.
A related issue is the astonishingly low levels of female participation in apprenticeship schemes. FÁS figures show that in 1991 women accounted for only 2.1 per cent of intake into first year off-the-job apprenticeship training. This shows a huge degree of imbalance and one must ask what measures are contained in these proposals to rectify the matter. It is pertinent to request the Minister to set specific targets and see they are met.
Experience in other countries has shown a lack of active discrimination is in itself insufficient to overcome barriers in society against women making nontraditional choices. An active programme of measures to encourage women applicants is necessary to ensure real choice in career decisions. The Report of the Second Commission on the Status of Women has a chapter on training and labour market initiatives which contains a number of recommendations and much information on this area. This report should be examined.
One area explored by the commission was positive action measures. In 1990 FÁS launched such a programme for women which had as its objective the promotion of participation by women in non-traditional and growing sectors of the labour market. It encompassed positive action measures in all areas of FÁS activity and established annual targets to be achieved in key areas. The results of the equality initiatives are compiled by FÁS in an end of year report. The Commission on the Status of Women viewed this approach by FÁS as an effective way to co-ordinate and monitor positive action initiatives. It also recommended that relevant Ministers should direct all State training agencies, educational establishments which provide vocational training and other training bodies which receive public funding to develop and implement a positive action programme for women on a similar basis to FÁS. The achievement of targets in relation to women's participation on all State and EU funded programmes should be monitored. The commission also felt that there should be a biannual review of women's access to participation in programmes to ensure that all barriers are removed and that the programmes are meeting the needs of women with regard to labour market requirements.
The commission also examined the barriers to non traditional careers for women. It felt that factors which inhibit women from choosing certain apprenticeship courses and employers from sponsoring women apprentices reflected the barriers encountered by women in all non traditional employment. It is worth examining the area of apprenticeship as it is a microcosm of attitudes held generally both by and about women in non traditional areas. In addition, it should be borne in mind that the course run by FÁS, which is usually referred to as pre-apprenticeship training, is in fact designed to equip women with the skills necessary to embark on all non traditional training courses.
Other speakers mentioned the designation of apprenticeships and that the Apprenticeship Act provided for recognised apprenticeships and qualification for trades that were designated. Between 1959 and 1966 the occupations that were designated tended to be in male dominated areas, such as electrical work, bricklaying, carpentry, plumbing, etc. The many areas of employment where women worked and effectively served an apprenticeship, such as hairdressing, the textile industry, clothing and the distribution trades, were not designated. This gender bias in designating trades has a major implication for women's access to employment, their mobility and career advancement. It has also had an effect on women's pay. In The Irish Times yesterday, it was interesting to note an article about a recent ESRI study which found that women earn 20 per cent less than men. The article stated:
While the report's findings make a strong case for state intervention from an equal-opportunities perspective, the ESRI cautioned that this was one aspect of the problem. "Policy decisions on equal opportunities cannot be isolated from others areas of policy, but require a broad analysis which takes account of many factors."
One of those factors is the low number of women entering apprenticeships and this should be examined. In her speech yesterday, the Minister of State spoke about paying specific attention to the entry of women into apprenticeships and this is important.
It is interesting to note that Ireland is low by European standards regarding the level of designated trades. There are 450 designated trades in Germany, while there are 400 in Holland. We are well short of those figures. I ask the Minister of State to request FÁS to consider extending the number of designated trades to take account of the range of occupations which are predominantly female. This is important.
Preparatory training for women who are taking up apprenticeship training is a practical way of increasing the take up. I am aware that FÁS is doing this and that their training is designed to equip women with the necessary technical skills to enable them to compete for places in apprenticeships. It is also aimed at reducing the drop out rates. It fulfils the functions of building up confidence among women and of establishing supportive links with other women. The attitude of trainees is also important. Despite the promotion carried out by FÁS, apprenticeships are still not considered desirable career choices by many women. This is a pity. Usually an apprenticeship appears to be a last resort choice for many women trainees. Social prejudice on the part of the family and peer group undoubtedly contributes to this, as does the fact that women on apprenticeship courses tend to be greatly outnumbered by men. They may feel isolated.
A further barrier to women progressing in apprenticeships is the attitude of some employers. Registered apprentices with FÁS must receive sponsorship from an employer or from FÁS in order to proceed with their apprenticeship. There is a reluctance on the part of many employers to take on female apprentices. FÁS has continued to provide sponsorship for first year off the job training. For example, of the 42 women apprentices who began their first year's training in 1991, only 15 were sponsored by companies. This poses a major problem at the end of the first year as company sponsorship should then be found if the apprentice is to continue the apprenticeship. We must encourage companies to sponsor women trainees. There are special bursaries available to employers which contribute significantly to the cost of employing a female apprentice and it is important that these continue.
This area is most important to women and if we are seeking the equal participation of women in the workforce, we must concentrate on it. The discussion document published by FÁS acknowledged the need for special measures to increase participation by women in apprenticeships. I ask the Minister of State if there are any concrete proposals in place to date in this regard. The commission made approximately ten recommendations and they cover the areas that I mentioned. I ask the Minister of State to examine them and try to encourage their implementation.
In relation to training, we all agree with the main thrust of the Bill, which is to introduce certification and internationally recognised standards of assessment in place of the previous emphasis on time served. This will give apprentices a better chance of acquiring worthwhile, valuable and required skills. It will also be of great benefit to their employers and to the economy as a whole.
Some of the insights into training were examined in the Culliton report. I do not think this has been mentioned by many speakers so far. In the chapter on education, enterprise and technology, the report states:
Education and training are a most critical element of policy affecting not just industry but overall economic welfare. In an increasingly integrated and competitive world, skills and knowledge constitute one of the few areas where an economy can command a differential competitive advantage... It is clear to us that present education and training arrangements need to be changed in the direction of greater applicability to present economic and employment conditions and to the nation's development needs...
A survey of skill needs revealed that Ireland does in fact have a real skills gap when measured against the best practice firms in competitive countries. The Culliton report believed that much of the fault for this lies in the inadequacies of our training. Specifically, it believed that vocational training is being crowded out by academic training, leaving a poor platform for industrial training. The report identified the need for a new emphasis on vocational and technical training and said that this was the single action most likely to yield benefits in terms of industrial progress. The report further states:
Nations like Germany and Switzerland have benefited enormously from apprenticeship and vocational training programmes that provide a highly skilled and adaptable workforce. Such programmes can only work if they are seen as effective and if completing them confers prestige.
This is important, particularly for children who talk about what they will do when they leave school. They think about areas that have status or glamour attached. Unfortunately, many trades do not tend to carry that glamour. This needs to be changed and the Culliton report recognised the importance of that.
The report also said that the skills gap needs to be addressed, both by industry and by the educational system. It stated:
The most successful training and education systems, in terms of enhancing competitiveness, are those where companies play an active role in the development of programmes and curricula, with particular attention to practical needs, and which combine on-the-job training with a strong backup from vocational and technical schools... industry should be involved in the design and planning of Statesubsidised training. In order to emphasise industry's stake in the effectiveness of the training, it should also contribute financially to such training.
The Minister of State, in this Bill, is ensuring that they do contribute financially and this is welcome.
The Culliton report also raised the issue that too much of the national training budget seems to be allocated by reference to the criteria for Structural Funds assistance from Brussels. The report felt that this was wrong.
I have concentrated on two areas, but especially the women's issue. The Minister addressed this yesterday but I urge her to be aware of the needs of women and to ensure they are taken care of now that there is to be a new approach to apprenticeships.
I welcome the Bill and I commend the Minister for introducing it. The Bill represents a small but important step in the apprenticeship area.