THIRD-level universities and colleges are being asked to provide a broad range of courses for the growing number of people that have become unemployed in recent months. In a new government proposal, the Minister for Education, Batt O’Keeffe plans to offer spare places to the thousands of people becoming unemployed each week in the hope of retraining and increasing the skills those affected.
A cabinet subcommittee comprised of Minister O’Keeffe, Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Mary Coughlan and Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Mary Hanafin will report to the Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, on how the universities and the fourteen institutes of technology could play a significant role in retraining the new mass of unemployed workers which, according to the Central Bank, could reach up to 100,000 by the end of this year.
The plan would have considerable resource implications and Mr O’Keeffe had hinted that money from existing programmes may be reallocated to fund the project. It is unclear whether the Government is willing to push any extra funds into this proposal and may have to be diverted from elsewhere in any of the three minister’s budgets.
The Government also expect colleges offering post-Leaving Certificate courses, run mostly by Vocational Education Committees, to play an important role in retraining the unemployed. Mr O’Keeffe however gave no indication if the current cap of 30,000 places in these courses would be lifted.
Other areas that will be examined are how FÁS (Foras Áiseanna Saothair) training centres could play a part in retraining workers. In recent years, the courses have experienced a large number of surplus places due to the decrease in apprenticeships.
The committee have been consulting with state enterprise group, Forfás and job investment group, IDA Ireland to identify the employment areas where the most immediate need for qualified workers will be in the coming years.
The Minister has focused in particular on the technology sector, which in recent years has struggled to fill available places, particularly in computer and engineering courses. In an effort to fill places, institutes will accept students on very low CAO points provided they meet minimum entry requirements.
Over 6,700 people were made redundant over the month of January, 143 per cent higher than the number of redundancies in the same month last year. The main sectors affected are services, construction and manufacturing jobs. It is now expected that the rate of unemployment will rise to more than ten per cent this year.