FAS at crisis point as over 40pc of apprentices left in dole limbo
THE chief training programme at FAS is at crisis point with more than 40pc of its apprentices out of work, the Irish Independent has learnt.
More than 7,700 apprentices of the troubled state-training agency are on the dole and have no idea when they will qualify.
Despite various government initiatives to get them off social welfare, the number of redundant apprentices has continued to climb.
The revelation comes as FAS battles to restore the reputation of its courses following uproar over charges of malpractice.
The Irish Independent has also learnt that the agency plans to replace its National Register of Trainers following the discovery of malpractice in some courses run by outside companies contracted by FAS.
Up to 1,000 students have faced delays in receiving their certification and many may have to be retrained or re-examined due to course irregularities.
Plans are also being put in place to introduce new contracts and procedures after a review found evidence of exam papers being marked incorrectly and possible manipulation of assessments.
Meanwhile, new figures reveal the number of apprentices left in limbo after becoming unemployed in the middle of their placements has more than doubled since 2008.
Two years ago, there were 3,078 unemployed apprentices. This number soared to 6,383 last year, before rising by more than 20pc to 7,717 this year. Almost 90pc are in construction and related trades.
Some apprentices have been in limbo for longer than two years, placing an estimated annual burden of up to €100m on the public purse in social welfare payments and lost taxes.
The Technical, Engineering and Electrical Union (TEEU) last night predicted the number of unemployed apprentices would rise by another 2,000 next year if the Government did not make an urgent exception to its recruitment ban in the public sector.
There are growing fears that these apprentices may never qualify since Labour education spokesman Ruairi Quinn called for the state agency to be axed in the wake of a series of scandals, saying FAS had lost all credibility.
The TEEU has begun urgent talks with FAS in a bid to get the redundant apprentices, particularly those in the final phases of their training, off the live register by securing them work in the semi-state sector and local authorities.
TEEU general secretary Eamon Devoy said the union had been inundated with queries from apprentices following recent training controversies.
"There is huge concern they will not be able to finish their apprenticeships," he told the Irish Independent. "The number of unemployed apprentices is 7,500 at present, out of 18,500. Four years ago there were 26,000 apprentices and there was virtually no unemployment.
"There is a danger that unemployment could rise again sharply in 2011 if steps are not taken now," he added.
Mr Devoy said the skills worst affected by redundancy and reduced working hours were electrical, carpentry, joinery, plumbing, brick and stone laying and plastering.
"The challenge for the coming year is to increase placements for unemployed apprentices dramatically," he said.
FAS said the rise in redundant apprentices was unprecedented but insisted there was "absolutely no threat" to their future from any restructuring of the agency.
It said there were schemes in place to try and find them work, including measures to allow progress to the next off-the-job training phase.
FAS said a redundant apprentices' placement scheme, launched last April, was expected to enable 500 apprentices to finish on-the-job training, by paying employers a subsidy of €250 per apprentice a week.
Apprentices must have a job in their chosen trade to qualify as training is mainly gained through work experience.
FAS offers 26 apprenticeships including ones for painters, car mechanics and electricians, and there are currently 18,664 apprentices.