Spotlight on further education sector

The €370m further education and training sector could face a major change in focus as a review examines how well it is addressing the needs of the unemployed.

The training requirements of those who have been unemployed long-term are coming in for particular scrutiny in the study by the National Economic and Social Council (NESC). It was asked in May to conduct the review by the Department of Education, which said the exercise is part of its commitments to the troika.

The further education and training (FET) sector caters for tens of thousands of students annually. Among the main programmes are adult literacy, Youthreach for early school leavers, community education and post-Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses, mostly run by the 16 education and training boards (ETBs).

But as part of their formation under a new law last month, following mergers of most of the 33 city and county vocational education committees (VECs), the boards will also take on a wider training role. From the end of the year, ETBs will begin taking over training centres run by Fás, as they come under the oversight of the new further education and training authority, Solas.

The NESC review is expected to be completed by next month, and among the key aims is to assess the unmet need and demand for FET from the unemployed.

It is also expected to set out the ongoing skills needs of employers, particularly those relevant to qualifications from basic literacy and numeracy through to level 6 higher certificates, the highest qualification before degree level.

The terms of reference say the review will look at the role of FET in helping to reduce unemployment and activate the long-term unemployed, in the context of workforce development and wider social and educational objectives.

It takes place while a more comprehensive review continues of the apprentice training system, which is also focusing on better links to labour market needs.

Wide consultation is to take place with employer groups, unions and training providers on the apprenticeship review that began in May and is expected to report to Mr Quinn by the end of the year.

But with a shorter timeframe for completion, the level of discussions with stakeholders is not likely to be as extensive on the FET review.

“Given the tight timeframe involved, it is expected that NESC will have engaged in limited consultation in the preparation of the review,” a Department of Education spokesperson said.

The apprenticeship review group chaired by Labour Court chairman Kevin Duffy is looking to see if there are alternative methods of work-based training, in the context of the collapse in employer demand for apprentices, particularly in trades connected with construction.

A five-year strategy of all further education and training is to be prepared for the sector by Solas next year.

The stats

Further education and training in Ireland:

* PLC courses: 32,688 places, €160m public funding

* Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme (VTOS): 5,000 places, €80m.

* Youthreach: 3,692 places, €70m.

* Adult Literacy: 57,000 students, €30m.

* Community Education: 55,000 students, €10m.

* Back to Education Initiative: 32,000 students, €22m.


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