VEC sector must be expanded to halt emigration

THE vocational education sector must be expanded to help stem the flow of emigration and prepare the country for economic upturn, a conference has been told.

The number of places in post-Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses remains restricted at 31,700, despite some colleges having four applicants for every available place. But the Irish Vocational Education Association (IVEA) has called for increased investment in these and other training schemes run by Vocational Education Committees (VECs), including the transfer of some apprenticeship courses from Fás.

The VECs manage 240 second-level schools, dozens of further education colleges, and run programmes for adult education, early school leavers, prison education services and other facilities.

“Increasing our capacity to meet the significant increase in demand for PLC places would have some resourcing implications, but it would be a targeted and totally justifiable spend,” said Michael Moriarty, general secretary of the IVEA, the VECs’ representative organisation.

He told the association’s annual congress this could include taking over some duties of Fás in relation to training apprentices.

“We have to do something and stop sitting on our hands and exporting a generation. The Government already has some initiatives, like a labour market reactivation fund, but we need to redouble our resources in the area of skills and training,” he said. “The VECs have a network of further education colleges, schools and training centres and we can make them available very easily. The country needs to get people skilled now in the areas where the jobs will be in three or four years’ time.”

He told delegates VECs must respond to the needs of those who use their further and adult education services, by offering more innovation and flexibility in delivering courses online and at weekends.

Responding to the news that Education Minister Mary Coughlan, who will address the IVEA congress today, is to go ahead with plans to reduce the number of VECs from 33 to possibly as low as 22, Mr Moriarty said councillors and other nominees who sit on their boards are an important voice for the community, and losing that voice could reduce the ability of VECs to respond to local education and training needs.

The Irish Examiner revealed yesterday that the Tánaiste will bring final proposals on amalgamating the VECs, as proposed by last year’s An Bord Snip Nua report, to the Cabinet early next month.


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