The number of apprentices waiting to progress to off-the job training in different phases is “worrying”, according to a local Dáil deputy.
Deputy McNamara asked the Minister for Education and Skills the number of electrical, plumbing, carpentry-joinery and bricklaying and stone-laying apprentices, respectively, waiting to progress their off-the-job training in phases two, four and six, respectively, across SOLAS.
“There are as many people waiting as there are those who have been cleared through the apprenticeship system,2 said Deputy McNamara.
“If we are going to attract those apprentices, we have to ensure that they can be guaranteed to get through their apprenticeships in the time frame set out at the start and that said time frame does not change from four to seven years in the middle.
“With the increase in the number of apprentices, there are more people who need to have their apprenticeships provided for by the State. I do not know if that did not occur to the Department. I hope it did.
“It still comes down to the fact that we have these waiting lists. While I appreciate that something is being done, it is fair to say that this is not enough.
“There are still people who are four years into a four-year apprenticeship and who are looking at having to do a further two or three years. That is both unfair and inadequate.
“It is not just bad for them personally but it is bad for attracting other people into apprenticeships.
“It is also bad for the housebuilding sector and for the trades they are going to work in because it is a supply-and-demand situation.”
While Minister Simon Harris made statements recently about the necessity for a greater parity of esteem between people going to apprenticeships and those going into the more academic sector,
Deputy McNamara said there are no backlogs in the higher education sector in medicine and dentistry compared to apprenticeships.
He claimed sometimes the performance of the department doesn’t always match up to the ambition of Minister Harris.
Minister of State, Niall Collins outlined the current waiting lists for essential practical training for apprentices is reflected in the extended shutdown of on-site learning activity from March 2020.
The closure of education and training facilities in response to the Covid-19 pandemic precluded access to off-the-job training.
The Department of Education and Skills has confirmed there are 8,208 apprentices waiting to access off-the-job training, of whom 7,228 are waiting for phase two and 980 for phases four and six.
On May 17, the number of apprentices waiting for all phases of off-the-job training included: 3,616 in electrical; 1,162 in plumbing; 844 in carpentry; and 98 in bricklaying and stone-laying.
It can be expected that at any one time, some apprentices will be waiting for a planned intake.
However, Minister Collins admitted the numbers currently waiting are high, reflecting the unprecedented circumstances from March 2020.
Implementation of a major response plan to address the waiting lists is well advanced. In order to introduce additional capacity, capital funding of €20 million was provided in 2020 to extend and upgrade facilities.
Additional funding of €17 million has been provided to SOLAS and the Higher Education Authority, HEA, to underpin the plan to reduce backlogs.
About €6 million of this is being invested in employing additional instructors, with over 100 additional posts approved.
In light of progress in dealing with the pandemic by means of public health management, classes returned to their full intake of 14 to 16 apprentices last September.
More than 8,400 apprentices – in excess of 70% of those delayed by Covid-19 – have now progressed.
This includes more than 700 final-year apprentices who have been fast-tracked to complete their qualification.
Craft apprentices waiting for phases four and six are expected to be cleared later this year, with the majority of phase two waiting lists targeted to be cleared by the end of the year.
Minister Collins said SOLAS and the HEA are continuing to work with education and training providers, with the support of my Department, to identify further solutions that will address the waiting lists and that are fully consistent with the management of the quality, standard and safety of apprenticeship provision.