Ways in which the Springboard initiative can help
Education and Skills Minister Ruairi Quinn explains what the new programme can do for people who have lost their jobs
This recession has hit people from all walks of life and all educational backgrounds. Of the almost 440,000 people who are now unemployed, some 300,000 have never been out of work before.
Many of these people previously worked in areas like construction, manufacturing and other sectors of the economy hardest hit by the economic downturn. Unfortunately, these sectors are unlikely to recover to a point where they are providing the same number of jobs as they did before.
This is why the Government has decided to provide almost 6,000 free part-time higher education places under Springboard.
As part of our Jobs Initiative, this new programme aims to upskill unemployed people in order to allow them to change career paths and to give them a real chance of re-entering the workforce.
The unemployment rate for people with very low skills and young males in particular is well above the national rate of 14.6pc. However, the largest increase in unemployment has occurred among people with 'good' educational backgrounds.
These are people who passed the Leaving Cert, who did PLC courses, who have Craft or third-level qualifications. Many might have had 20 or 30 years in the workforce, in highly skilled and well-paid occupations. But now they find themselves unemployed for the first time ever.
It is particularly worrying that people with such experience and who would be expected to be able to get back into employment quickly are now beginning to experience long-term unemployment. This is because of the collapse of the construction sector and continued decline in employment in manufacturing, wholesale and retail sectors.
There are signs of jobs growth out there. This is occurring in areas ranging from the food industry, ICT, energy-related activities and services.
Springboard is about helping those who have lost their jobs in more traditional industries. It aims to build on their workforce skills with new qualifications in areas of potential employment growth. Programmes will be available at all higher education levels, from certificate to masters degree level. It will suit people with differing levels of qualifications and backgrounds.
I recognise that to change career paths in order to get back into employment can be daunting. Especially, for people who are suffering from a serious drop in income as a result of unemployment and are struggling to support their families and pay their bills.
In addition, people who may not have set foot in a classroom for decades may be anxious about getting back on the education ladder, particularly if they have not been in higher education before.
Learning does not stop upon leaving school or college. The skills learnt and developed in the world of work are highly valued by employers. They can provide a strong foundation for participation in many of the programmes on offer through Springboard.
Access to Springboard programmes will not solely be based on the results you got in the Leaving Cert or other formal exams. There will be opportunities for people to apply for a number of programmes based on their work history and experience.
Colleges and institutions have committed to providing a wide range of support programmes for Springboard students, in order to make the transition to college as smooth as possible.
Full-time return to education is not possible for many people who have lost their jobs and have family and personal commitments.
Springboard is specifically designed to allow people to study on a part-time basis, so that they can continue to look for and hopefully secure employment while working towards a new qualification.
After all, what we all want to see is people back at work.