In its Irish labour market review 2003, FÁS emphasised the importance of training the existing workforce to meet Ireland's future skill needs. This importance reflects the fact that the majority of persons at work now will still be in the workforce in 2020, when job and skill requirements are likely to be very different. It also reflects the fact that there will inevitably be a reduction in employment in some manufacturing sectors over the next decade as lower value-added, lower skill production transfers to cheaper locations worldwide. Workers in such sectors will need to change jobs, and re-training and up-skilling are important supports to such change.
The Irish labour market review 2003 examines the particular case of low-skilled employees and it suggests that a new set of initiatives is needed to promote an opportunity for low-skilled, operative-level, employees to acquire a recognised, relevant, qualification.
FÁS is currently developing new training initiatives, employee competitiveness programme, to empower and equip individuals who are employed in the most vulnerable sectors of the economy with the knowledge and skills necessary to operate in a rapidly changing and increasingly competitive economic environment. Pilot programmes have been introduced early in December 2003 and will continue into 2004. The sectors participating are clothing, engineering, textiles and retail and it is planned to include construction operatives in this programme mid-2004. Further training initiatives will be considered for employees in the area of accreditation of prior learning, APL.
FÁS, community services, the Department of Education and Science and Dublin Employment Pact, are co-operating in a pilot programme aimed at young employed workers. This involves a part-time training and education programme organised with the support of the Northside, Clondalkin and Tallaght area partnerships. As a result of positive outcomes as verified by an independent evaluation, the pilot is being extended to include other areas of Dublin.
Under the in-company training measure of the employment and human resources operational programme this Department is funding a number of projects, which promotes the training, and up-skilling of people in employment including those with low skills. The measure supplements existing activity in this area by FÁS and Enterprise Ireland.
While it would be desirable to provide free education and training to workers with low skills or educational attainment the cost of doing so would be prohibitive in the present circumstances. This issue was addressed in the context of the taskforce on lifelong learning but no consensus was reached at that point on how to progress the matter. The European Commission has recently indicated that it proposes to publish a set of proposals, in the form of a draft directive, as distinct from a Commission recommendation, in February 2004 on the data protection of employees. Progress, during our Presidency, on this proposal will very much depend on the timing of its publication. In the light of the need to obtain the views of the European Parliament and the European social partners on the matter, the earliest date for consideration of this topic by Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Ministers will be at the June Council.
As EU Presidency, Ireland will play a proactive role in progressing both of the dossiers to which I have referred during our semester.