As the Deputy will be aware, the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted the employment situations of thousands since its onset in March 2020. While the vast majority of those displaced have already returned to work since the easing of public health restrictions earlier this year, I am acutely conscious that many individuals still in receipt of State income supports will require assistance to return to employment, to reskill and to find new jobs. It is vital we provide these services so as to ensure that the labour market scarring effects on those workers displaced by COVID-19 is minimised.
It was with this core objective in mind that Government published its new employment services strategy, ‘Pathways to Work 2021 – 2025’, in July. This strategy, which represents Government’s overall framework for activation and employment support policy, aims to assist those whose jobs have been lost due to COVID-19 to return to the workforce, along with those who were unemployed prior to the pandemic and those facing higher barriers to employment.
As part of the Pathways to Work strategy, my Department has enhanced the developmental capacity of the services it provides to jobseekers.
For example, the strategy commits to assign 150 Job Coaches to expand the capacity of the Public Employment Service and Intreo Centres. These Job Coaches, 98 of whom are currently in place, will undertake 1-to-1 interviews with jobseekers and advise them on the range of employment options and supports available, taking their specific needs and circumstances into account. Coaches may also refer jobseekers for other interventions such as education / training where appropriate.
In addition to the tailored advice and referrals provided by Coaches, ‘Pathways to Work’ takes a number of steps to offer jobseekers opportunities for upskilling and reskilling in order to facilitate their transition into employment in new sectors (or occupations). This is particularly the case where there is restricted demand for labour in those sectors in which individuals had previously worked.
The developmental supports offered by my Department under Pathways to Work include, but are not limited to:
- A new paid Work Placement Experience Programme (WPEP), which is a 6 month, 30 hour per week voluntary work experience programme, to provide 10,000 unemployed people with the opportunity to build valuable on-the-job experience by the end of 2022. The programme, which encompasses an accredited training and mentoring element, is designed to further enhance the potential of participants for progression and to help them re-engage with the job market.
- Increased funding for the Back to Education scheme which leads to second and third level qualifications, with a target of increasing participation in education programmes to 7,700.
- Funding 50,000 additional places in further and higher education, including via Skills to Compete, Skillnet Ireland, Springboard+ and the Human Capital Initiative.
- Support for 50,000 long-term unemployed people to commence in Further Education and Training provision by 2025.
- An increase in the total number of new apprentice registrations to at least 10,000 per annum by 2025, in line with a commitment in the Action Plan for Apprenticeship 2021-2025.
- An increase in the maximum value of the Training Support Grant available via Intreo from €500 to €1,000 to help over 12,500 jobseekers per annum access relevant and accredited training programmes.
- The provision of an extra 3,000 places on State Employment Schemes, including Community Employment, to support long term unemployed people, and those facing the greatest barriers in the labour market, get back to work.
While the Strategy is still in its early stages of implementation, by delivering on the commitments set out in Pathways to Work, and by further enhancing the developmental capacity of the services provided by my Department and Intreo, it is our ambition to ensure that workers displaced by COVID-19 will have the supports they need to re-enter the workforce.