New State training agency established to replace Fás


A new education and training authority is to replace Fás, which is being disbanded, it was announced today.

The new agency, called Solas, hopes to bring a more integrated approach to the provision of further education and training in Ireland.

Unveiling the new body this morning, Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn admitted there had been far too much duplication in the provision of further education. Minister of State Ciarán Cannon said the new agency would be much more flexible in responding to the skills needs of the economy.

Functions previously carried out by Fás will now be taken over by the the Department of Social Protection and Department of Education.

Under the new arrangements there will be a considerably enhanced roles for the VECs, which will play a key role in upskilling jobseekers.

The Department of Social Protection will take responsibility for programmes such as the community employment schemes, while further education and training areas will go to the Department of Education and Skills.

The introduction of Solas, the new further education and training authority, was described as "a positive development" for further education today by Aontas director Berni Brady.

"For far too long, there has been an unnecessary separation between further education and training," said Ms Brady. "This integration will ensure less duplication and ultimately easier access to a range of education and training opportunities for adults who wish to take up learning opportunities. This is critical as we face the challenge of long term unemployment.'

Solas stands for Seirbhísí Oideachais Leanunaigh Agus Scileanna

Mr 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.

The Minister said 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.

Mr 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."

Participants on current Fás and further education courses will not be affected by the creation of the new agency and will continue their courses under the new authority.

Welcoming the announcement, Michael Dempsey, chairman of Fás, said: "This announcement provides a clear direction for the future of further education and skills training in the context of a difficult and changing labour market. It represents a very significant step forward at this pivotal time for Ireland.

"Solas will afford us the opportunity to provide for the needs of individual learners and jobseekers. On behalf of the board and staff of Fás, we commit to delivering on this Government decision."

Paul O'Toole, director general of Fás, said: "In the recent past, we have worked closely with the board to put in place extensive measures to ensure the highest standards of corporate governance, relevant training, quality assurance systems and improved financial controls. I am confident this robust approach will carry forward to the new organisation."

Commenting on the creation of Solas, Fianna Fáil spokesman on education and skills Brendan Smith welcomed the Government's decision "to carry on the reform process begun by the previous government in 2009".