Fás under pressure to spend €22m

NEARLY 60% of former Dell staff, and hundreds more workers from service supply companies who also lost their jobs when the computer giant relocated to Poland, have reacted positively to an innovative EU support fund aimed at retraining and upskilling.

Such has been the uptake in Limerick and other parts of the mid-west for support from the European Globalisation Fund (EGF), that Fás is in a race against the clock to cash in on more than €22 million allocated by both the EU and the Government.

Around 2,900 people lost their jobs in the Raheen plant and seven other services supply companies as a result of the move. However, 1,700 have since sought advice on how they can seek money from the EU fund to either retrain, participate in further education or set up their own business.

The huge job losses at Dell came into effect from April last year. It was the first time an allocation from the EGF was approved for use in this county following such a major loss of jobs.

This week it was announced former Waterford Crystal workers will also have access to a separate allocation from the EGF.

Significantly, very strict rules apply under which the EGF is operated. There is a June 2011 cut-off as the money can only be drawn down over a two-year fixed period.

David Smith, coordination manager of the EGF said to date his office has received more than 1,700 expressions of interest from eligible workers.

His office staff, based in the Granary in Limerick, are engaged in a follow-up tracking exercise to contact eligible workers who have so far not sought help under the EGF scheme.

Mr Smith said they have initially put in place a major career guidance module so that applicants can be matched with suitable courses and opportunities.

He said: “We must help people get clear guidance, otherwise time could be wasted.”

Already, more than 900 people have embarked on education /training and enterprise development projects to set up their own businesses, with the help of EGF money.

Of that number, for the first quarter of 2010, a total of 532 have enrolled on courses run by Fás.

Such has been the demand so far, night courses at the Fás headquarters in Raheen industrial estate have been doubled. More than 300 are now taking part in courses provided by the County and City Enterprise Boards, the Vocational Education Committees, Limerick Institute of Technology, University of Limerick and private colleges.

County enterprise boards have received 225 applicants for start your own business programmes and an evaluation committee has approved 29 new business projects which met the EFT criteria. A total of more than €500,000 has been earmarked for these budding entrepreneurs – an average of about €17,000 each.

If they expand and need further funding within the two-year period, they can go back for additional funding.

Mr Smith said: “This is an excellent result.”

Fás regional manager, Mary Donnelly said it is on target to use up all the funding it has drawn to date from the EGF.

She said: “We would be hopeful of meeting our full budget for this year and next year as well.

“This year we are looking at drawing down around €3 million. We in Fás put in a bid for around €6m for the two years.”

Meanwhile, the confusion about how the EGF fund is drawn down has now been resolved.

Initially, many people thought they could put in an application and expect a cheque in the post.

A review of their EGF needs and uptake is now under way by Fás.

Due to changes in the management of Fás, the Department of Education and Skills will be the main dispersing body for the fund.

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