Responding to the Jobs Crisis: Liam Delaney on Training

Liam Delaney draws on the policy evalutation literature to offer an agenda for the reform of training and education policies (article here).  Among the topics: the nature of required traning; the graduate unemployment problem; the importance of early childhood and lifelong learning; and the scarring effects of unemployment.

15 replies on “Responding to the Jobs Crisis: Liam Delaney on Training”

I know I’m wasting my time banging the same old drum, but I’ll give it a whack anyway. Until the dysfunctional economic sectors are thoroughly reformed and the deadweight costs they impose on consumers and on the wealth – and job – generating sectors are removed, all these labour market initiatives are futile. No sense putting new wine into old wineskins.

The hand-wringing over unemployment by supporters of market mechanisms for organising labour is comic in a wry kind of way. One measure to deal directly with unemployment is never mentioned – a cap on work hours and compulsory job-sharing.

Unthinkable, of course – capitalism needs it’s reserve army of the unemployed, to discipline the rest.

While I fully agree about the need to reform various protected sectors in Ireland and will keep banging the same drum, work on the unemployment problem can’t wait.

We should hope to fix both problems in parallel rather than waiting for reform first.

You may be correct that the training agency doesn’t need to be state run but even if you operate on – for instance – a voucher basis it’d still be good to have government oversight to assure quality of training, validate qualifications, provide some alignment between training provision and the anticipated needs of employers and unemployed.

Of course simply rebranding FAS is not enough to create such govt oversight. More radical change is needed. I won’t hold my breath.

The Irish unemployment rate of 14.1% in September is based on the Quarterly National Household Survey, not the Live Register.

The LR would put the unemployment rate over 20%.

I share Paul’s scepticism about putting a brass knocker on a barn door which the rebranding of Fas would be.

Their courses have been considered a joke for years and unless proven managers in this area are hired from overseas, the courses will come from the same type of training firms and individuals who operated in the ancien regime.

Who would devise the new courses and carry out the evaluation?

What evidence is there that ‘training’ makes a significant difference to reducing unemployment? I am deliberately pitching this question in a slightly vague nonspecific manner.

Liam recommends ‘The rebranded training agency must move towards higher intensity courses, and must aggressively cultivate internship training opportunities within a more diverse range of sectors’. Why do we need a national training agency to do this? The Institutes of Technology were originally established to fulfil a similar mission and still have the requisite expertise and a presence in all regions of the country and this function but it seems to have been forgotten in their drive to be ‘upgraded’ to university status. The government should step in to put an end to mission drift in this vital sector, take funding from Fas and use it to fund the provision of high quality, intensive and industry relevant training by the IT sector.

I had first hand experience in the ’80s of AnCO (anyone remember AnCO) and the YEA (yes, the Youth Employment Agency) – Oh happy days, while the FG-Lab government played ducks and drakes trying to contain a ballooning fiscal deficit and anyone with any sense who wasn’t an ‘insider’ took to the planes and boats (will we experience deja vu?). With a bit of sensible governance (on both sides of the Dail) and fair winds from many quarters the deficit issue was resolved, but it took a long time for unemployment to come down. The sectoral dysfunction that has now reached epic proportions was in evidence then, but the purveyors had not yet achieved the sense of arrogance and entitlement they now exhibit – and, accordingly, the economic damage they caused was much less proportionately, but it still imposed a drag on economic performance.

It is now much worse and more difficult to address as the purveyors have inveigled themselves into every nook and cranny of society and the economy. It reminds me of my fellow West Cork man, PJ Sheehan TD, likening the Cork Co. Cttee of Agriculture to an octopus: “It’s spreading its testicles all over the county.”

Just released by the CSO a few minutes ago:

Seasonally-adjusted number on live register down 6,600 in October.

This comes on top of a fall of 5,400 in September. The first time since early 2007 that it has fallen two months in a row.

This tallies with the figures in the Irish Employment Monitor, published last week by the Premier recruiting agency, for the number of job vacancies advertised in the Irish media: up 40% in September 2010 over September 2009 and the highest since 2008. It also tallies with figures published in recent months for the number of redundancies: falling sharply throughout 2010 and 30% down in September 2010 over September 2009, and with figures published in recent months for the number of PPSNs issued to foreign nationals: rising sharply throughout 2010 and 15% up in September 2010 over September 2009.

Take into consideration September’s and October’s exchequer returns, the latter being published just yesterday. Tax revenue way above target in both those months, and well above 2009 levels, with spending below target, and the budget deficit clearly falling. There is now a very good chance that the budget deficit in 2010 will be significantly below that in 2009.

Add in recent figures showing surging growth in manufacturing output, merchandise exports, services exports, agricultural incomes, tourist numbers etc, and it is clear that the economy strengthened in quite a major way over the summer and early autumn months. I fully expect this to be reflected in the GDP figure for Q3. Only in Ireland could such strengthening lead to a fall in consumer confidence and an increase in gloom among economists about the economic outlook.

Is training for the unemployed a needed response to the current unemployment crisis in Ireland? The answer is it all depends on the type of training (accepting for a moment that “training” is the appropriate concept to capture what we are talking about).

A key point that needs to be recognised in this discussion is that, in practice, most people currently unemployed ceased their formal involvement in the mainstream education system at some time prior to their current unemployment. Whatever skills are imparted through training tend to build on whatever level of prior educational qualifications and skills that they possess and address specific but often narrow skill deficits. In the current system of training for the unemployed this training – whether delivered by FÁS or the VECs or private sector training companies (as for example funded under the Labour Market Activation Fund) – rarely adds significantly to the level of skills and qualification already acquired. For the most part courses are short, they lead to low levels of qualifications within the National Framework of Qualifications, have limited progression options and, in the current labour market context, do not necessarily lead to significant improvements in employment prospects. On these grounds one can argue that training for the unemployed as currently conceived and delivered is at worst a waste of money or at best simply a way of maintaining the employability of the unemployed.

Is an alternative possible? Possibly. This would require a fundamental shift in thinking about the role of training for the unemployed, about its content, and about how it is delivered. Currently, training for the unemployed is delivered with short term economic objectives and cost benefit analyses – should they be undertaken – would in all likelihood point to very limited returns on investment. The only way to address this is to ensure that training for the unemployed is delivered within a framework of long-term strategic investment – that training for the unemployed is underpinned by the aim of ensuring a contribution to likely future patterns of employment growth and providing participants with the skills to access potential areas of employment growth. While discussion of the specifics of such areas of employment growth is complex there is widespread agreement on the role of a combination of core competencies (e.g., analytic and problem solving skills, ICT Skills, communication and team working skills and even creativity) and specific occupational skills as being relevant. Among the implications of this for training for the unemployed is that we need to move away from singular and narrow approaches to training content to providing packages or portfolios of integrated courses that function to address skill deficits among training participants as well as deliberately positioning them to compete in the labour market over the medium to long-term. In turn, delivering this type of training will require discarding forms of institutional or trainer driven provision (you can do this course because this is what we provide) and developing a training system that is guided by likely market demand and informed individual choice and delivered to a high standard in terms of the mix and levels of qualifications acquired.

In short, much current discussion of training for the unemployed is problematic in that it is premised on more of the same of what we did in the past. This will not do and is not justifiable. What is required is a system change in our thinking regarding training for the unemployed. Only this will result in justifiable and worthwhile programmes.

@ Tom
You raise some interesting points.
One of the potential problems here is the discipline of the NFQ. I worked in FAS on 04 or 05 when the commited to delivering all their courses under FETAC. I question the necessity of this, especially in these times.
It is cumbersome, delays roll out, and commits resources to a bureaucratic normalisation rather than focus on the needs to the country and the unemployed…

@Pope Epopt.

There is cap on hours worked through the Organization of Working Time Act.
It is 48 hours per week but several State organizations are exempted. eg garda, prison offices etc.

It is not seriously implemented for most organizations.
At least part of the reason is thta low paid employees depend heavily on overtime to bring their wages to sustinence levels.

Aware of the QNHS/Live Register distinction Michael and a few sentences on this distinction graced an earlier but far too lengthy version of the article. If you read carefully, you will see an attempt, albeit clumsy, to put forward the two numbers at the same time without being technically inaccurate. Not perfect, but no worse than saying that the live register would represent a 20% unemployment rate. We should probably develop a simple short-hand for this issue as it plagues any attempt to write opeds on unemployment. Anyway, a side issue and more to follow on this topic during the weekend.

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