Thursday, 21 January 2021

Ceisteanna (288)

Bríd Smith

Ceist:

288. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if he will clarify the situation in relation to SOLAS courses in which there is a requirement for a work placement, for example, for electricians and other apprenticeships; if his attention has been drawn to a significant backlog in placements which means many apprentices are not progressing through their education as they should but are also incurring huge costs and loss of income; his plans to address these backlogs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3427/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Further and Higher Education)

Apprenticeship is primarily a contract of employment which incorporates a minimum of 50% on-the-job training with off-the-job training which is delivered in a number of different ways according to the apprenticeship programme. These range from remote or online learning to one day per week in an education institution or, in the case of craft apprenticeships, in periods of 10-35 week placements in Education and Training Boards (ETBs) or Institutes of Technology/Technological Universities. Many academic and vocational courses in the further and higher education and training sector also incorporate work placements, however these learners are not employees for the full duration of their course.

Waiting time for electrical and certain other craft apprenticeships are linked to physical capacity in ETB Training Centres and Institutes of Technology/Technological Universities. Pre COVID-19 the rapid rate of recovery of craft apprentice registrations due to the recovery of the construction sector was placing the existing off-the-job training facilities under stress.

In March 2020, all face to face off-the-job training for craft apprenticeship programmes was suspended. The closure of the education and training sector to face to face delivery of training between March and September 2020 resulted in the immediate loss of approximately 2,200 training places on phase 4 & 6 craft apprenticeships (April intake) and in the region of 2,000 phase 2 training places over the period of the closure. In addition to the immediate loss of places, the return to face to face training in September was subject to strict Covid-19 measures which has resulted in the reduction of available places.

Other apprenticeships in areas which were amenable to remote delivery moved fully online or were modified to allow for greater flexibility between on-the-job and off-the-job elements of the programmes. Unfortunately, it was not possible to deliver this flexibility in programme provision or assessment in the practical elements of craft apprenticeships (Phases 2, 4 and 6) due to the need to access workshops and equipment together. This, with the simultaneous closure of the construction sector, meant that apprentices progress through their programme was delayed.

The following measures have been taken to ameliorate the ongoing impacts of the Covid-19 measures on craft apprentices and to move to reduce waiting times for off-the-job training for certain craft apprenticeships:

- An alternative assessment approach was delivered for the theory assessments for up to 2,500 craft apprentices who had been close to finishing their phase of training at the time of the shutdown in March. Outstanding practical assessments were prioritised for completion in September 2020, with over 1,000 apprentices completing practical assessments and their phase of training.

- Craft apprentices who had had their off-the-job training interrupted in March 2020 were prioritised for a return to training from 31 August (ETB training centres) and from 10 September (Institutes of Technology and TU Dublin).

- Additional trainer posts have been sanctioned on a temporary basis where ETBs have identified a need for additional staff to deliver off-the-job training within Covid-19 guidelines.

- €12m has been provided in Budget 2021 to support additional places which will mitigate against the effect of smaller apprenticeship class sizes and catch up on lost provision in spring and summer 2020.

- SOLAS and the HEA have issued calls for proposals to all craft apprenticeship training providers to identify additional capacity that could be developed for apprenticeship training.

- The HEA and SOLAS are also engaging further in relation to the curricula to see what parts can be delivered online and are working with the sector to see which elements of craft apprenticeship might be amenable to blended learning.

Following the 6 January 2021 Government advice to minimise movement over the coming weeks, off-the-job training for craft apprentices has moved to primarily online delivery for the month of January. There will be a focus on theory-based elements of the curriculum during this period, and teaching and learning supports will be provided by Education and Training Boards, Institutes of Technology and the Technological Universities.