Fianna Fáil has accused the Government of completely ignoring apprenticeship programmes over the past four years, and claims that Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan is trying to win back support for her party by promising to extend the scheme to new sectors.

New figures released to Fianna Fáil through Parliamentary Question reveal that the number of apprenticeships fell by 30% between 2010 and 2014.

The party’s Education spokesperson Charlie McConalogue says these figures are a damning indictment of the scant attention given by this Government to the apprenticeship programme.

“Successive Ministers have been shockingly slow to realise that an apprenticeship system is vital in dealing with Ireland’s acute long-term unemployment problem. However, it appears to have fallen off the Government agenda and has only resurfaced now that a General Election is on the horizon.

“While Higher Education will continue to be the primary pathway for young people to skilled employment, it does not suit everyone and employers value vocational training. However this Government has failed to build on the programmes that have been offered to date and have allowed participation to fall off without introducing any changes to the existing programmes or expanding them until now. The demand from the technology and business sectors has not been fully utilised or valued and its role and contribution is not well understood by this government.

“While the proposal by the Apprenticeship Council to expand apprenticeship categories is welcome, the announcement is a drop in the ocean of what is required to deal with what is fast becoming Ireland’s largest economic problem – the unmoving long-term unemployment rate and most especially the large numbers of young people who are NEETs (not in employment, education or training). Government, education providers and industry must work together to ensure these new apprenticeship areas are fast tracked immediately.

Fianna Fáil Jobs spokesperson Dara Calleary added, “It is vital that the state invests and incentivises apprenticeships as an alternative to the traditional university degree. These structured training qualifications create a robust pathway from education to work. Matching skills with job market demand is an absolute requirement for retaining a highly skilled economy.

“In our 2015 pre-Budget submission, Fianna Fáil outlined a number of recommendations to improve and expand apprenticeships in Ireland. We called for apprenticeships to be offered in a wider range of skills/crafts, which would be informed and shaped by regular and frequent industry reviews.

“We also believe that apprentices should be able to learn a broader range of skills during the off-the-job element of their course. This should cover skills in numeracy, technology and language which are highly valued by employers. The ICT and other ‘high skills’ sectors in business and technology are crying out for candidates with vocational qualification.

“Ireland needs a strategy that appropriately supports apprenticeships through the business cycle. The latest Government announcement has tapped into many of the proposals which we put forward last year, however I have concerns that this is just another case of spin over substance and that those apprenticeships which have been pushed out until next year, and possibly after the General Election, will never see the light of day”.