Training firm under Garda investigation

A STATE-APPROVED private training company, which has administered hundreds of education courses for the public and private sector, is under Garda investigation for allegedly falsifying certification.

Empower Training, based in Kilkenny but running courses across the country, has received more than €1 million from state agencies FÁS and Skillnets.

However, an investigation by Skillnets found training courses that did not take place despite trainee profile sheets and signed attendance sheets being on file.

Waterford Institute of Technology certificates were also found on file as evidence of training which was later deemed not genuine and the certificates were not signed by authorised officials.

The inquiry also found Empower was paid €319,520 for 24 training courses but eight of those had not been delivered.

The firm received FÁS contracts worth €658,498 from 2003 to 2010 but has no current contracts with the state agency. It also emerged Empower Training remained accredited by the statutory Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC) despite being investigated by Skillnets.

The Department of Education said Empower Training may be stripped of FETAC approval tomorrow.

A spokeswoman said: “In accordance with due process, the provider has been given until September 30 to confirm with evidence that it is in full compliance with all requirements and to furnish a report to FETAC. If this report fails to address fully all issues, FETAC will suspend the provider’s registration and remove it from the list of approved providers.”

A Skillnets spokeswoman said the organisation had kept “all key stakeholders informed, including the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation, since the outset of the investigation”.

Founded in 2002, Empower Training achieved FETAC Quality Assurance Registration in 2006 and offers programmes in IT, health and childcare among other areas. According to FETAC reports from 2009, the trainer deals with up to 800 learners at its Kilkenny base and runs courses in several other locations.

Fine Gael education spokesman Fergus O’Dowd said the case highlighted a wider “system failure” in state education certification, where private firms had been allowed to take over the “setting, supervising and correction” of courses. He said this “malaise” was regrettable and necessitated an overhaul of the system if our international reputation on education was not to be further damaged.

Empower managing director Stephen Doran said: “I have no comment to make.”


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