Dáil Éireann - Volume 483 - 27 November, 1997

Adjournment Debate. - Training Course Advertisement.

Mr. Browne (Carlow-Kilkenny): In raising this matter I do not want to criticize whoever made this mistake; I wish to highlight the fact that some unemployed people are being prevented from availing of an excellent course. The course was advertised under the logo of the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs, it is entitled “College/Industry Technician Initiative Course” and the advertisement asked: “Do you want a career in technology?” Applicants had to be aged 21 and over and in receipt of unemployment benefit. This course is a major success story and applicants are guaranteed an interview at its end. Those who complete the training are almost guaranteed a job. For some reason the scheme is run through regional colleges and administered by the CAO. The closing date for the scheme was Friday, 14 November but the course was advertised in a paper dated 14 November, although [1175] admittedly it would be available in towns on 12 November. However, even if everyone interested had bought the paper on 12 November, the notice was hopeless.

One parent came to me about the course; he had received a reply from the CAO stating that it may only process those applicants for the course which had arrived in a fully completed state, including payment of the application fee by 5.15 p.m. on the closing date. The letter was nicely-written and sympathetic but the person's application was not accepted; faxes were no good because the fee was not enclosed. Those who applied on time are being called for interview tomorrow.

I do not want to know who made the mistake of placing the advertisement so late. The course is not regulated by statute so I want the Minister to ask the CAO to accept the late applications and allow those people to be called for interview. If we want to encourage unemployed people to improve their position we should not discourage them when they are prepared to do the work. All I want to do is get justice for these late applicants.

Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (Mr. D. Ahern): I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. The joint college-industry initiative is a scheme which offers people opportunities to get technical qualifications through a combination of attendance at college and placement within industry. It is being run under the auspices of the Department of Education and Science and the EU at nine regional colleges and involves a number of well known companies in the computer and other industries as partners.

From my point of view as Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs, the scheme offered a major new opportunity which might be availed of by unemployed people and lone parents wishing to get back to work, in that it provides high quality training in a sector with very good employment opportunities. I saw it as important, therefore, that information about the scheme would be made available as widely as possible to unemployed people so that they might be in a position to apply for inclusion in the scheme. It is the type of scheme constantly being examined by my Department, by which we could entice people back into the workforce and give them the proper education and skills required for them to compete in the jobs market.

Following discussions with the Department of Education and Science it was agreed the scheme would be included within the scope of my Department's third level allowance scheme under which unemployed people effectively retain their unemployment payment when they take up certain education courses. The scheme was advertised in the national press on Sunday, 2 November with a [1176] closing date for applications of Friday, 14 November.

At a meeting on 5 November my Department's jobs facilitators, who are responsible, among other things, for ensuring that unemployed people are made aware of the employment and educational opportunities available, were requested to make every effort to publicise the initiative and a poster for display at the Department's offices was produced to help them to do this. The advertisements to which Deputy Browne refers appeared in the Kilkenny People and the Carlow Nationalist on 12 November and were inserted at the initiative of the local jobs facilitator. They gave details of the initiative with a closing date of 14 November. Although the paper is dated 14 November, it actually appeared on 12 November, as the Deputy acknowledged.

The motive of the jobs facilitator in placing the advertisements was to ensure that as many people as possible in her catchment area got to hear about the initiative and were made aware that financial assistance was available through the third level allowance for those who wanted to attend. She saw the scheme as an important opportunity for young unemployed people and lone parents and thought it should be publicised as widely as possible. She was aware of the closing date of 14 November but still felt that placing the advertisement was the best way of ensuring that people locally were informed. She was also aware that the paper would be published on 12 November. At the same time she made arrangements with the local office of my Department for applications to be processed on the spot where people were in a position to attend. I compliment the jobs facilitator for her initiative.

As a direct result of the advertisement 33 applications from people in Carlow and Kilkenny have been submitted to the Central Admissions Office. Eighteen late applications were received. I am advised it is not possible at this stage for the CAO to extend the closing date for the initiative as this would involve a breach of contract with applicants who have applied on time.

What happened in advertising in Carlow-Kilkenny was a well-intentioned effort by the local jobs facilitator to ensure the initiative was widely publicised at a local level. It followed up on an earlier advertisement in the national press and it is to be regretted if it has unintentionally resulted in disappointment for some people.

My colleague, the Minister for Education and Science, has already announced there is potential for a further intake on new courses of this sort next autumn and those who have been disappointed this time around will have the opportunity to apply again then.

The Dáil adjourned at 5.30 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 2 December 1997.