Thursday, 12 March 2015

Ceisteanna (6)

Michael Colreavy


6. Deputy Michael Colreavy asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if an apprenticeship initiative will be rolled out across other semi-State companies and State bodies similar to the one launched by ESB recently. [10505/15]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Communications)

One of the consequences of the collapse of our economy was that many infrastructural projects came to a sudden halt and, in tandem with that, there was an end to the engagement of apprentices. The announcement by ESB of its intention to create 300 new apprenticeships is welcome. Will the Government engage with other State and semi-State agencies to determine whether there is an opportunity to take people out of unemployment and train them for skilled jobs under apprenticeship schemes? What scope is there for such schemes? The national broadband roll-out, which we have just discussed, might offer potential in this regard.

The information sought by the Deputy is an operational matter for the individual State companies in the first instance. The Government is fully committed to renewing and significantly expanding the apprenticeship system in Ireland. The recent announcement by the ESB Networks training centre of excellence in Portlaoise of plans to recruit 300 new apprentices in the coming years is a significant development in this regard.

There are several other State bodies under the aegis of the Department actively participating in apprenticeship and graduate schemes. Bord na Móna, for instance, recruits apprentices on an annual basis. I understand it currently has 28 apprentices ranging from first to fourth year serving their apprenticeship in the trade of construction plant fitting, mechanical automation, maintenance fitting and electrical. The company reviews the apprenticeship programme on an ongoing basis and plans to recruit apprentices each year based on the business requirements.

In addition, Gas Networks Ireland is committed to providing opportunities for young adults through apprenticeship and graduate programmes. These personnel will be provided with specific training which will ensure Gas Networks Ireland continues to have the appropriate core technical competencies within its business to deliver its work programmes and ensure the ongoing success of the business.

The Engineers Ireland graduate placement training programme allows young engineers to gain experience in an engineering environment and the host organisation to benefit from their skills and enthusiasm. The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland currently has three graduate energy engineers on this 23-month graduate programme. To date, SEAI has enabled 32 interns to participate across 15 local authorities under the SEAI-led energy intern programme which commenced in 2010. Under this programme, support has been provided to 70 SMEs in identifying energy savings of €1.75 million for their businesses. Electric Ireland has taken this programme and developed it into the Energy FIT programme which was recently launched in GAA clubs countrywide.

I thank the Minister of State for that information. I accept, of course, that companies must make their own decisions in regard to operational matters. However, if I were Minister, I would be surprised and disappointed if State and semi-State companies did not have due regard to Government policy and priorities. If we are serious about taking people off the unemployment lines and getting them into quality jobs, we must seriously ramp up the apprenticeship programme. In fact, I would go further and say that any infrastructural projects in which the State invests must include a social dividend clause which requires the engagement of a specific number of apprentices. Building for the future is about more than building blocks; it is about giving people the skills to build for our future. The people are just as important, if not more important, than the blocks.

The Deputy makes a fair point. In regard to the national broadband roll-out plan, I am getting a lot of information from industry that there is potential in this regard. If the roll-out is to go to every single house in the country, we should be planning and preparing for that. I am glad the officials are already having those conversations. There must be joined-up thinking between the different interdepartmental groups and the various Ministers. It is about upping the ante and co-ordinating our efforts. There is scope to look at bringing in people who are coming out of certain courses and looking to add value to their qualification. Ensuring there is a component of skilled apprenticeships is a social dividend, as the Deputy noted. I thank him for raising this particular issue.

Ní bheidh mé ábalta labhairt as Gaeilge anocht mar níl ach beagán Gaeilge agam. I welcome an Aire Stáit. I understand the issue of apprenticeships is really a matter for the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills, Deputy Damien English, but the Minister of State, Deputy Joe McHugh, also has a role to play. Given that many semi-State companies outsource their work, is it possible that we could seek a social dividend, as Deputy Colreavy has suggested, which would require such companies to take some apprentices on board? That is where much of the work will come from in future.

It is a sensible suggestion. I have spoken to a number of companies that are outsourcing in different spheres. It is a demand and supply issue and they are operating in the real world of business. If they get the contracts to do the work, they need the people who can do that work. My information is that there is a gap there. "Gap" sounds a little negative; I should say there is potential there to bring recruits on board. Not to throw it back to the Deputy, but perhaps he might seek a meeting with the Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, on the back of Deputy Colreavy's suggestion.

I certainly would not mind having this conversation and we can do it sooner rather than later.