Sinn Féin spokesperson on Further and Higher Education, Rose Conway-Walsh TD, has accused the government of hiding the full extent of the crisis in the apprenticeship system, as she reveals that over 67 percent of all apprentices (13,440) are now on a waiting list to access off-site training.
Teachta Conway-Walsh said:
“I have been raising the issue of waiting lists in the apprenticeship system for months. In March this year there were 6,928 apprentices on a waiting list to access the off-the-job training. By May that had increased to 9,071 apprentices.
“When I again raised the issue in the Dáil on the 8th of July, I was shocked to hear that there were ‘over 10,000’ on waiting lists, according to the Minister. However, this was an attempt to mask the scale of the problem.
“Figures released to me by the department show that the Minister knew then that the figure was in fact 13,440. That means that over 67 percent of all apprentices are now waiting to access off-site training that is essential for completing and progress through an apprenticeship.
“I can only surmise, it was an attempt to hide the truly alarming rate of increase in the waiting lists after months of claiming the government were taking steps to address the problem.
“We have been contacted by so many apprentices in despair at the situation. One has been rescheduled multiple times and has just been informed he won’t be able to access training until January 2022. This means his four-year apprenticeship will take over 5 years to complete.
“Another apprentice has been waiting since the pandemic began and has still not be able to access a place.
“Despite repeated assurances that action would be taken, waiting lists continue to spiral out of control. This has serious implications for not only their educations, but also their income. Through no fault of their own, many apprentices will be trapped on apprentice wages for years longer than they should.
“The government claims it is doing all it can to address the issue and has invested €12 million to support additional classes and teaching capacity. However, from department reports we know that savings of 16.7 million were made due to the state paying less in apprentices’ allowances in 2020. This means that the government is not even fully reinvesting the savings that they have made.
“No other cohort of student are treated in this way. At the same time as the government is talking about the safe return of further and higher education to campuses of tens of thousands of people, we have a situation where the apprenticeship system has been left to grind to a halt.
“Despite the amazing efforts of administrators and teaching staff across the country, apprentices are being badly let down when it comes to getting the education and training they need.
“Every one of these apprentices represent tradespeople and other professionals sorely needed now and for the post-pandemic recovery.”