Sunday, 30 April, 2017

Lessons learned from the first year in office - Government has taken 3 key steps in tackling the skills challenge, says AONTAS

7 Mar 2012 04:17 PM

One year on the government faces a significant skills challenge but has taken important steps in the right direction, said AONTAS Director Berni Brady. Lifelong learning, adult and community education were named in the Programme for Government last year as having a significant role to play in recovery.

Minister for Training and Skills Ciaran Cannon recently participated in an event involving almost thirty adult learners who spoke to him about how the delivery of adult education and training could be enhanced. Some of the barriers identified by participants at the event included the lack of information about the range of programmes available, poor awareness about adult guidance, lack of flexibility in moving from one programme to another and the difficulty in making professional connections with new employers when changing career.

Over the past year the government has taken three key steps which will affect the structure, delivery and experience of training and education in Ireland.

These steps are:

1. Dismantling of FÁS and building of a new Training and Education Authority SOLAS
In June 2011 Minister for Education and Skills Ruairi Quinn announced the dismantling of FÁS and the development of a new agency which for the first time will bring together the further education and training services. 'This constitutes a radical change in that education and training were previously co-ordinated by different agencies and government departments,' said Ms Brady. 'But the challenges faced by SOLAS are enormous. Firstly, the new authority must break away from its previous mistakes and reinvent itself. In our recent submission to SOLAS we highlighted how values such as transparency and accountability need to be built into its new governance structure. An integrated quality service should cater for the wide range of learning needs ranging across skills training for the Labour Market, upskilling, personal development, social, cultural and civic development. SOLAS also faces the immediate challenge of how to provide education and training opportunities for the 14.2% of people who are on the live register.'

'Training and education opportunities directed at people who are unemployed must be relevant to the labour market but must also present them with realistic options based on their existing qualifications and employment history. We call on the new agency to actively consult with people taking up and participating in education and training with a view to delivering a better service all around.'

2. Introduction of the Pathways to Work Programme to assist people to prepare for employment
The development of the National Employment and Entitlements Service (NEES) and the recent launch of the Pathways to Work programme proposes stronger connections between SOLAS and the social protection system. 'A huge number of adults who are in contact with us are on the live register and actively seeking to enhance their skills' continued Ms Brady. 'For many of them, making the transition from one career to another is extremely challenging. Access to adult guidance in this case is vital - to help people make the right choices about what to do next. The new Pathways to Work Programme must make good use of the existing VEC based guidance services to help people get on the right track. Sending people on endless courses which lead nowhere will only leads to frustration for those participating and will ultimately waste valuable resources.'

3. Investment in new training/education programmes to meet emerging employment opportunities
One of the strongest commitments about adult education made in last year's Programme for Government was to expand the number of training and education places available to people across the further and higher education system. In May 2011 the government launched Springboard, which offered part time third level education places to almost 6,000 unemployed adults. Courses offered reskilling and upskilling opportunities in anything from cloud computing to pharmaceuticals. A second call for proposals for Springboard was launched recently. Budget 2012 also promised a €10 million fund for a new round of Labour Market Activation Measures which will target people at the lower end of the skills spectrum.

Feedback from these initiatives has generally been positive. 84% of Springboard participants consulted by the HEA have described their experience to date as positive. While the introduction of these new measures is welcome, there must be a greater level of information available to people about these initiatives - through the media and also through frontline staff in the Department of Social Protection. There must be a greater emphasis on engaging those on the lower end of the skills scale and supporting them to get on and move up the qualifications ladder - as these are the people who are most at risk during a recession' she concluded.

ENDS
For further information contact:

Niamh Farren: Communications Officer 01 406 8220/ 087 911 0569

Note to Editor

1. AONTAS is the National Adult Learning Organisation. AONTAS advocates for the right of every adult in Ireland to quality learning. For more information about AONTAS visit www.aontas.com.
2. AONTAS submission to SOLAS (January 2012) is available from http://www.aontas.com/pubsandlinks/publications/aontas-submission-on-solas-consultation-process/.