The Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairí Quinn T.D., yesterday announced that a new further education and training authority called SOLAS (Seirbhísí Oideachais Leanúnaigh agus Scileanna ) is to be established.
Minister Quinn said, “The new SOLAS mandate will be to ensure the provision of 21st century high-quality further education and training programmes to jobseekers and other learners. These programmes will be integrated, flexible, value-for-money and responsive to the needs of learners and the requirements of a changed and changing economy. SOLAS will implement the significant transformation programme needed to deliver this. The Government is giving the further education and training sector a clear direction for the future.”
The new authority will operate under the aegis of the Department of Education and Skills. SOLAS will co-ordinate and fund the wide range of training and further education programmes around the country.
It will fulfil a role for the further education and training sector similar to that exercised by the Higher Education Authority for higher education institutions. It will draw on its own expertise and that of the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs to help identify skills gaps, point to weaknesses and duplication in existing provision and link courses more closely to both the needs of the individual and the labour market.
FÁS will be disbanded.
SOLAS will ensure that further education and training programmes provide jobseekers and other learners with the new skills needed for the new jobs in Ireland’s 21st century labour market, as outlined in the National Skills Strategy.
Minister Quinn said “This announcement is not in any way to cast aspersions on the good and important work that the FÁS Board, the VEC Committee members and the FÁS and VEC staff have done in recent times. Indeed, SOLAS will provide these staff with a new overarching management structure and strategic direction that they need to allow their work on the ground to have a greater impact.”
“SOLAS will also ensure that there is a shift away from skills provision for traditional occupations like construction which have seen a huge fall in employment, and it will have a greater focus on training and education programmes which prepare jobseekers and other learners for occupations in growth areas like the services, ICT, medical devices, food and biopharma sectors,” said Minister Quinn.
SOLAS will champion a greater emphasis on generic, transferable skills including people-related skills, thinking and problem-solving skills and digital literacy skills. SOLAS will be underpinned by stronger quality assurance, occupational standards, international benchmarks and course content reviews.
An Implementation Group is being established and chaired by the Minister of State with responsibility for Training and Skills, Ciarán Cannon T.D. Membership will include the Department of Education and Skills, FÁS and the Irish Vocational Education Association (IVEA ). It will also consult with other key stakeholders.
The SOLAS Implementation Group will develop an Action Plan to bring about the necessary changes and report progress to the Cabinet Committee on Economic Recovery and Jobs in the autumn.
Minister Cannon said, “I look forward to working with the Board and Director General of FAS which will become Board and Director General for SOLAS, and other stakeholders, including the IVEA, to ensure that the new authority meets the needs of learners and jobseekers. In cooperation with the Department of Social Protection’s new National Employment and Entitlements Service, as part of the National Employment Action Plan, those on the Live Register will, for the first time, be systematically referred to further education programmes”.
In advance of the passing of the relevant legislation by the Oireachtas, FÁS will be renamed SOLAS on an administrative basis as soon as possible. As a first step, SOLAS will take responsibility for all those FÁS staff and premises not being transferred to the Department of Social Protection as part of the restructuring already underway.
Over time, FÁS Training Centre premises and most FÁS regional staff will be transferred to the VECs, so that VECs will ultimately be responsible for the delivery to the public in an integrated way of both further education and training services. This will strengthen the role of the reformed VECs in their local communities.
However, current FÁS headquarters staff in corporate support functions and senior headquarters and a number of senior regional Training Services Division management will remain as the staff of SOLAS.
The Minister acknowledged the role that FÁS staff and the board have played in bringing about changes in the organisation in the past few years – these include a new management structure, tighter financial controls and new contracted training procedures.
To ensure a smooth transition to the new arrangements at this critical time for significant numbers of job seekers and learners, the members of the Board of FÁS, who were recently appointed, have been invited to serve out their terms as members of the SOLAS board.
A vacancy has been created by the resignation of Sean Gallagher and the Government has decided to appoint Mr. Michael Moriarty, General Secretary of the Irish Vocational Education Association (IVEA ) to the Board for the period to January 2015. Mr. Moriarity is being appointed on a personal basis and his knowledge of the further education area will assist the Board in preparing for its expanded remit.
Participants on current FÁS and further education courses will not be affected by the establishment of SOLAS and will continue their courses under the new authority.