A profound structural and cultural overhaul of the education and training sectors is now in train. SOLAS faces a daunting task to deliver on the vision as set out by Minister Quinn. ETBs are currently engaging with the newly-established SOLAS and the Department of Education and Skills to put in place the solid foundation required to provide effective and efficient further education and training systems which can respond to the needs of industry while providing the right skills set to jobseekers and other learners. The capacity of SOLAS to define a clear vision and to match that vision with clearly defined but achievable outcomes will determine whether or not this structural reform will be a success.
ETBs will agree service level agreements with SOLAS to provide programmes for the identified training needs of thousands of jobseekers and other learners, but the capacity to deliver the required training programmes effectively can only happen if the necessary resources are provided for sufficient teachers, tutors, trainers and administrators to achieve the targets set by government.
From the perspective of the learner, the availability of career guidance personnel with the knowledge and skills to identify and match the appropriate learning and training pathways for the jobseeker is a critical resource that must be provided by the state. To skimp on this requirement will undermine the Minister's objective to build a world class FET sector capable of responding to people's real education and training needs.
Providing jobseekers with the right skills set is essential, but only in the context of sufficient and appropriate job opportunities, and herein lies the major task for government.
ETBs are currently heavily engaged in the integration of the staff and functions of the former VECs, and the transfer of the former FÁS training division to the 16 ETBs is to happen in parallel. This twin-pronged integration of different staffs with different cultures and operational processes into the new ETBs poses very significant challenges. Moreover, the development of common IT, payroll and finance systems is currently underway, and the successful achievement of these tasks will shape the foundations for the successful development of the FET sector from the outset.
The end game will be a fully integrated Further Education and Training sector where ETBs are the delivery agencies and SOLAS provides the strategic leadership. In this reformed sector, ETBI, as the representative body for ETBs, will continue to assert its own vision for the future development of further education and training in Ireland. It will actively seek the resources and capacity needed for member ETBs to deliver on the training challenge. It will assert a distinct stakeholder identity defined ultimately by the needs of learners and the associated resourcing needs of member ETBs.
Research shows that the business community wants a training sector that is current and up-to-date in responding to the rapidly evolving needs of industry and commerce. ETBI will continue to engage with the newly-established SOLAS and the Department of Education and Skills to build the necessary structure and capacity of the FET sector if Ireland is to actually realise the oft-quoted objective of Taoiseach Enda Kenny to make Ireland the best little country in which to do business.
Minister Quinn is to be commended on instigating the current structural reform. The success of this initiative will largely be determined by the provision of the staffing and other resources necessary to underpin this process. With that capacity in place, SOLAS, the Department of Education and Skills, with ETBs, can deliver a world-class Further Education and Training (FET) sector through real and effective stakeholder engagement in realising a common vision and strategy.