Wednesday 13 December 2017

This is Delphine. She speaks three languages and has a Master's. A FAS adviser told her: 'If you can't get a job, I don't know can'

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

DELPHINE Koelsch speaks three languages, has a Master's degree and a history of working with blue-chip financial services companies.

But she found FAS of little use when she turned up for a meeting with her career adviser there two years ago. She had a 45-minute interview with a FAS employment adviser in which she did most of the talking and received precious little advice.

At the end, the employment adviser told her: "If you can't get a job, I don't know who will."

Ms Koelsch (30), who came here from France nine years ago, said her experience with FAS was completely different to what she had expected.

"I went to see someone who I thought would be an expert. At that moment, I knew I was on my own. It was a very lonely moment."

But she is not on her own in another sense -- there are up to 60,000 well-educated people on the dole who are getting no training help from FAS.

Before the recession hit, FAS career advisers were used to dealing with low-skilled people who were familiar with the social welfare system.

But when Ms Koelsch and other highly skilled people -- such as architects, lawyers, IT professionals and accountants -- began to arrive in FAS from 2008 onwards, the agency was unable to cope.

FAS itself has confirmed that it does not have training available for this group of people, who represent around 20pc of the 296,000 people out of work.

It was specifically instructed at the start of the recession to concentrate on helping low-skilled workers, former construction workers, the long-term unemployed and young people under 25.

Ms Koelsch said she had very little contact with her FAS employment service officer after that initial interview, apart from a few phone calls to see if she had found a job.

"I'm trying to be pro-active for myself but I also want to be pro-active for other people. I think my experience can help, so that it doesn't happen again," she said.


Some argue FAS is being asked to do something it was not expected to do. It provides training up to Level Six for people -- which includes diploma-standard courses, but not degrees or PhDs.

When staff were interviewed by the National Economic and Social Council think tank, they admitted they would "love to be able to offer more" to the highly skilled jobless.

Its policy official Dr John Sweeney said FAS employment service officers had described honestly how they were unable to cope. "They weren't prepared to have people who could be as educated or more qualified as them coming in and saying 'What can you do for me?' and talking about emerging labour market needs, some of which the client knew more about than the staff officers," he said.

FAS said that its employment service officers had certificates in Adult Guidance Counselling from NUI Maynooth at a minimum, and were capable of advising highly skilled people.

Mr Sweeney said he had been impressed with their qualifications -- but called for the task of dealing with highly skilled unemployed workers to be outsourced to private companies instead.

Solas, the new body being set up to replace FAS, will decide whether to take that step.

Last night, Junior Minister for Training and Skills Ciaran Cannon pledged that it would deliver courses that would serve the best interests of all those taking part.

"Solas is not a different version of FAS, it will be a new organisation providing meaningful education and training opportunities for those that need them," he said.

In the meantime, Ms Koelsch is trying to get work as a translator in the financial services industry.

She has set up her own business with the help of a loan from her parents. She is still hopeful of getting enough freelance work to make ends meet -- and hopeful that the system for helping highly skilled people will be improved.

"I haven't grown up in a family where people told me I could depend on someone else. I was always told you have to get out there, and make connections and help yourself. But you also have to be helped," she said.

Irish Independent

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