Dáil Éireann - Volume 483 - 02 December, 1997

Written Answers. - Skills Shortages.

124. Mr. Allen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if she will make a statement on the recent FÁS report that the economy faces major skill shortages that could undermine the current economic boom. [21093/97]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Miss Harney): Report No. 6 of the FÁS-ESRI manpower forecasting studies deals with occupational manpower forecasts to the year 2003. This is the third such report which presents forecasts of employment for broadly defined occupational groups.

The FÁS/ESRI report does not address the supply side of the labour market, nor does it attempt to examine the demand-supply gap or skill shortages.

The principal objective of the occupational manpower forecasting project is to develop a system which can be used to provide information on the changing patterns of occupation and to identify possible variations in skill requirements across broad occupational areas of the economy. This information is of value in determining medium-term manpower and education strategies as well as in planning training provision.

The challenge for the Government and the social partners is to ensure that over the next few years the Irish labour force gains the maximum possible benefit from the expansion of employment predicted in this report. On the basis of the expected pattern of change, the very large increases anticipated for the professions, especially in the technical area, and other categories would point to the need for adaptations and adjustments to education and training provision in this sphere. In this regard, the Government recently announced the creation of a £250 million education technology investment fund, with an initial £100 million to be invested in 1998. One of the key aims of this initiative is to develop new areas of activities in our institutions, especially where emerging skills needs have [1390] already been identified. This underlines the Government's recognition of the key role of high quality graduates and technicians for economic development.

Coinciding with that announcement I also announced the establishment of a new business, education and training partnership to develop national strategies at the highest level to tackle the issue of skills needs, manpower forecasting and education for industry and business.

In relation to other areas where expansion is forecast, I wish to point out that the Government, in its Action Programme for the New Millennium, is committed to supporting industry in order (1) to create more jobs and (2) to protect existing jobs through training and improved company competitiveness. The programme recognises the important link between training and competitiveness. The proposals in the White Paper on human resources development complement these objectives and create an agenda which will substantially contribute towards meeting ongoing skills needs. I am considering at present how best to implement the main proposals of the White Paper.

I am confident that the measures recently agreed by the Government, together with the ongoing programmes being undertaken by FÁS and the Department of Education, will ensure that skills shortages are minimised and that the Irish labour force will obtain the full benefit of the employment expansion anticipated in recent employment forecasts.