Monday 23 October 2017

Farce as FAS puts jobless on courses a second time

Double-up helps training body fudge Live Register figures

Ruairi Quinn: challenge to make courses relevant

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

UNEMPLOYED people are being placed on the same FAS courses they have already completed.

The damning indictment of the state's training system -- uncovered by the Irish Independent -- can be revealed today.

The practice means the number on the Live Register is kept artificially lower.

And it allows training providers such as FAS and vocational schools to quickly fill courses.

Despite the pointlessness of taking a training course twice, the unemployed are still accepting places because they fear their social welfare payments will be cut if they don't.

The irregularities arose after concerns were raised about a number of people repeating the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) course.

And the revelation comes after a senior member of Taoiseach Enda Kenny's official think-tank complained that FAS and VECs in particular have been just filling "bums on seats" in courses that are easy for them to provide -- but deliver few benefits for the unemployed workers taking part.

The revelation will pose a major challenge for Education Minister Ruairi Quinn, who has to come up with relevant courses to get people back to work.

Last night, FAS confirmed that a number of unemployed had completed the full ECDL course more than once.

The 10-week course teaches basic computer skills and is recognised in most countries around the world.

FAS said that this accounted for only 54 (1.3pc) of the 4,410 people who had taken the course since January last year.

But these statistics only apply to one of the many courses being run by FAS and vocational schools -- and raise further questions about the scale of the problem.

Last night FAS was unable to provide figures on repeats of other courses. It has spent €15.8m on providing ECDL courses in the past three years.

Dr John Sweeney, who works with the National Economic and Social Council (NESC) think tank, also said there was evidence of unemployed being offered the ECDL course multiple times. And he said that unemployed felt under pressure to take up training courses even if they were not suitable for them.

"They are showing how co-operative they are and ensuring that their social welfare entitlement isn't going to be questioned," he said.

Jobseekers who do not take up offers of training courses can have their social welfare payments reduced by up to €44 per week -- or cut off entirely.

There have been complaints from groups representing the unemployed about being "shoe-horned" into courses which had no relevance to them.

Mr Sweeney said it was important to carry out a proper examination into training courses to see which ones were genuinely useful for the unemployed.

"People's co-operation with being asked to go into further education and training will obviously increase when what they are being asked to do will really help them," he said.


One computer training provider, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Irish Independent that he had also heard of trainees taking the same ECDL course more than once.

"People should progress and should be able to develop their skills -- they should not be repeating the same training course again," he said.

He said there were "thousands" of specialist computer jobs available, provided the correct training and skills were provided.

Jobseekers are "frustrated" about the lack of suitable training courses being offered, according to National Organisation for the Unemployed co-ordinator John Stewart.

"People found themselves in programmes where those programmes were not particularly useful," he said.

But he added that jobseekers felt pressurised to take up the courses to avoid facing cuts in their social welfare payments.

And National Youth Council assistant director James Doorley said the state services needed to "up their game".

"The vast majority of young people are willing to do training courses, the only problem is that the system has not been fit for purpose," he said. The latest controversy comes after an NESC report this week on the training system questioned whether there was "collusion" in massaging the unemployment figures with training courses which did not help jobseekers.

According to the latest figures from the Central Statistics Office, there are currently 296,000 people unemployed -- but there are another 509,900 potentially available for work.

This includes those in training courses, those staying in education due to lack of jobs, and the self-employed who are not entitled to jobseekers' payments. It also includes those in part-time work who want more. The official unemployment rate of 14.1pc would rise to closer to 23.3pc if this group of people were included.

The Government is now setting up a new body, the National Employment and Entitlements Service, to deliver better advice and career options to jobseekers. The aim is to then send jobseekers to Solas -- the rebranded and redesigned version of FAS.

Irish Independent

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