New training and education authority SOLAS must provide new directions for adult learners
27 Feb 2012 10:37 AM
Clear, up to date information, guidance in making course choices, and a flexible system which enhances skills and access to the labour market were just three of the issues raised by a group of thirty adult learners who met with Minister for Training and Skills Ciaran Cannon, along with two other members of the Implementation Group for SOLAS, the new training and education authority which replaces FÁS.
'SOLAS - serving adult learners' was an event organised by AONTAS, the National Adult Learning Organisation which took place at the Davenport Hotel in Dublin. 'Unlike other services, adult learners are quite often not consulted about how the service could be designed to meet their needs,' said Berni Brady, Director of AONTAS. 'Today we brought together thirty adults who are currently, or have just completed some form of education or training to improve their qualifications and prospects of gaining employment. All of them have varying educational backgrounds - from literacy right through to third level. Despite these differences, some common barriers emerge - difficulties in accessing information to get on a course and difficulties in making choices about the right course which will lead to employment. The system needs to be responsive to the needs of adults participating along with the needs of the labour market. '
'The new Pathways to Work programme launched yesterday outlined the need for greater engagement with employers, and this has emerged as a key challenge today' said Ms Brady. Many people at today's event have taken part in a number of training and education courses to improve their skills. When they complete the course, lack of contacts and support on where to bring those skills is an issue', she continued. 'Pushing people onto courses without a planning and guidance is not a good use of resources.'
While it is the case that some people who have been made unemployed are highly skilled, data also indicates that a substantial percentage of the workforce are still at the lower end of the skills scale. A study by the Labour Market Research Unit for the Expert Group on Future Skills needs last year found that just under 20% of the workforce have less than upper level secondary school education. 30% of people who are unemployed have lower secondary level education and amongst this group the percentage of those experiencing long term unemployment continues to rise. 'In short, we believe that it is not enough to provide education that is right for the labour market; it also needs to be right for people who wish to take up those opportunities. We know that people at the lower end of the skills scale are most vulnerable during a recession as they won't have the same options as their highly skilled counterparts' said Ms Brady. 'We also know that it is extremely challenging for adults to re-enter education following long periods of time outside of the formal education system.'
The event focused on three key questions - what adults need to access training and education, what adults need to stay with a course, and what adults need to progress onto further education and employment.
Responding to the discussion, Minister for Training and Skills, Ciaran Cannon said: 'While we know that massive changes need to occur, we are now well on the way to making SOLAS happen. We are tapping into the collective wisdom of both the VEC sector and FÁS - taking the best out of both sectors and creating a new entity. This wisdom, combined with new ideas, will help us respond to the challenges ahead and develop further education and training.'
Paul O'Toole, Director General of FÁS, said: 'We work in a structured environment, we are ultimately there to help people. We need to take people along a path to unlock their potential.'
'Initial plans for the development of SOLAS outline a strong commitment to listening to adult learners' said Ms Brady. 'AONTAS is committed to ensuring that the voice of adults trying to access, move through and move on from further education and training is heard', she concluded.
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Niamh Farren Communications Officer 087 911 0569
Note to Editor
1. Minister for Education and Skills Ruairi Quinn announced the disbandment of FÁS in 2011. In late December 2011 the Department of Education and Skills opened up a consultation process, inviting stakeholders to submit ideas on the development of the new agency SOLAS which replaces FÁS. SOLAS aims to bring together education and training under one structure (where before it was highly fragmented) and offer a more co-ordinated approach which will eliminate duplication and ultimately allow people to access education and training as quickly as possible. A number of stakeholders with an interest in education and training made submissions earlier this year and the Department will hold a meeting shortly which will outline a clearer plan about how SOLAS will work.
2. For more information about AONTAS visit www.aontas.com