Senator Sharon Keogan — Need for Local Authority Apprenticeship Schemes
I thank the Minister of State for attending. I know that a woman of her political experience knows the importance of government at the local level and that healthy and high-functioning local authorities that are well-funded, well-staffed and constantly innovating can make huge changes in local areas and the people and families who live in them. My passion for local government is certainly no secret. That is why I have been pushing for apprentices to play a greater role in our local authorities since taking my seat in this House.
In September 2020, we met in this Chamber to discuss key priorities for the Minister's Department. I raised the matter of the under-utilisation of local authorities as a community employment resource. Apprenticeships are an excellent way of learning, earning and getting into permanent paid employment. There is much scope for local authorities to engage with the public through these apprenticeships directly. So many of our industries and education partners are heavily involved in the successful provision of apprenticeships, yet there is no national programme promoting apprenticeship opportunities within local government.
Local government is an ideal workplace in which we can provide a programme for structuring education and training. Where better for young apprentices to learn about politics, law, society and much more? Dozens of our local authorities have engaged and are engaging in the training of apprentices. That is great to see and they are to be commended for it, but should we not have a national approach to this - some sort of local government apprenticeship scheme - so that various aspects of the apprenticeship will be standardised and regulated to ensure that all prospective apprentices in each local authority know where they stand? There is no shortage of people who are interested in such apprenticeships and no shortage of ways in which local government could use them. We could run apprenticeships in the planning department and train architects, electricians, plasterers and bricklayers. What about all the vehicles owned by the councils? We could have in-house mechanics training up apprentices to maintain our own local fleets. We could have carpenters and stonemasons employed by the councils to fix and maintain public amenities and even add to them. I am sure there are many more areas where young men and women could receive wonderful training in a life skill of their choice, all in their own local authority.
How much money would it save us in the long run to have all these people trained up and possibly then employed directly by the councils? Think of all the money we would save on contracts with our own in-house tradespeople putting their time and skills back into their local communities and the councils supporting local workers. We have 31 local authorities. If we could get 20 apprentices into each of them across the different departments, we would have more than 600 young people in employment and every local authority would be invigorated by the injection of young talent.
I know the programme for Government commits to reaching 10,000 newly-registered apprentices each year by 2025. In December 2020, there were 313 apprentices employed across 48 Departments, agencies and State bodies, only 55 of whom were employed by local authorities. I ask the Minister of State to provide an update on how those numbers are progressing and what the Government is doing to create apprenticeship roles in local authorities.