SOLAS will coordinate and fund the full range of training and further education programmes around the country. 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. In launching the new body, the Minister for Education and Skills said “SOLAS will 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 job seekers and other learners for occupations in growth areas like the services, ICT, medical devices, food and biopharma sectors.”
The new body will champion a greater emphasis on generic, transferable skills, including people-related skills, thinking and problem-solving skills and digital literacy skills. It will be underpinned by stronger quality assurance, occupational standards, international benchmarks and content reviews.
Some of the functions previously carried out by FÁS such as the public employment service (PES) and community employment schemes will be assumed by the Department of Social Protection. There will be a much greater role for the Vocational Education Committees (VECs) which will take over the running of many courses provided by FÁS. The VECs, who are themselves to undergo consolidation, already provide a wide range of second chance education and vocational preparation programmes, the chief of which are the Post Leaving Certificate courses.
The Irish Vocational Education Authority, which represents the country’s VECs, welcomed the new body and the strengthened role of the VECs. The Director General of FÁS also welcomed the establishment of SOLAS and said that the new organisation will provide a real opportunity to ensure enhanced, relevant, high quality training for learners.