Saturday 21 April 2018

Maeve Dineen: Apprenticeships key to boosting jobs

Maeve Dineen, Business Editor

THIS time there were no full marks on our report card. The European Commission, tired of subtly telling the Government that they must do more on health and public sector reform, exploded in its latest review of our bailout programme and spelled out exactly where the problems lie.

The leaked draft report by the European Commission contains a lot of common sense suggestions for repairing the nation's finances but there is one element of the draft that is worrying: the Commission's proposals for privatising job creation schemes.

In case you haven't been following the story, this newspaper yesterday obtained a draft report on Ireland's progress in the bailout programme, written by the European Commission. The report shows that the Department of Social Protection wants to hire outside companies to identify training and job initiatives for the long-term unemployed.

The report suggests the plans are at an advanced stage and the Government will be tendering for private companies to provide "labour activation measures" by October at the latest. The companies will only earn money if they create jobs, what the report calls a 'payment-by-results contractor model', so the State cannot lose – in theory at least.

While I would usually be the first to welcome initiatives like this, something tells me that this won't be a runner.

The Commission argues that similar private-sector measures have worked well in other parts of the European Union, but the evidence for this is mixed.

David Cameron's government was forced to admit six weeks ago that just one in 50 people joining his flagship jobs scheme had stayed in work for longer than six months. The evidence suggests that the multi-million pound programme was worse than doing nothing, because the figures show one in 20 of the unemployed would have found work for at least six months with no help at all. In other words, just 2.3pc got a job for six months during the programme, compared with 5pc who didn't access the programme.

The Government should instead be looking closer to home. All the initial evidence suggests that the Job Bridge scheme has been a tremendous success. Initial reports from Government and anecdotal evidence show the internship scheme for the unemployed is working well. Common sense suggests we can build on this.

IN an interview with this newspaper some months ago, Aer Lingus chief executive Christoph Mueller said Irish companies are too inclined to believe that new employees should be trained by colleges or other agencies and then express disappointment when they don't get what they want.

Mr Mueller wants companies to stop whining and start training their own people. And he's right. Aer Lingus has begun a new cadet programme for pilots and technicians while many other great Irish companies, such as Kerry Group and Glanbia plc, have long operated well-respected trainee programmes.

Rather than hiring companies to devise programmes and then teach them with only vague notions of what skills are in demand, the State should help companies hire and train people directly.

Apprenticeships were once a vital part of the education system. Today, they have fallen out of favour, but it is time to revive them for everybody from budding lawyers to car mechanics.

The State would be much better off creating a body responsible for quality control and tweaking tax breaks for these companies than trying to mastermind an entire new training process.

It's ironic, but perhaps not surprising, that that the Coalition is ignoring many of the EU's sensible recommendations but slavishly following this one.

Irish Independent

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