JobBridge was of its time - now lets see ‘new pol­i­tics’

Bray People - - OPINION -

EVER since its in­cep­tion in 2011, the JobBridge in­tern­ship scheme has been the sub­ject of fierce and on­go­ing crit­i­cism.

This crit­i­cism, some of it jus­ti­fied some less so, typ­i­cally cen­tred on the abuse of the system by some un­scrupu­lous busi­nesses who used JobBridge as a source of cheap labour, or even ‘slave labour’ ac­cord­ing to more vo­cal po­lit­i­cal crit­ics.

Now, five years on, the newly-minted So­cial Pro­tec­tion Min­is­ter Leo Varad­kar – in one of his first ma­jor an­nounce­ments since tak­ing on the new role – has an­nounced he is go­ing to scrap the scheme in­tro­duced by his Labour pre­de­ces­sor Joan Bur­ton.

Min­is­ter Varad­kar said the scheme was cre­ated in a pe­riod of eco­nomic col­lapse, when em­ploy­ers couldn’t af­ford to hire staff and when grad­u­ates could not find work ex­pe­ri­ence.

The idea be­hind JobBridge – help­ing em­ploy­ers fill posts while giv­ing grad­u­ates on the job training and ex­pe­ri­ence – was laud­able but, in prac­tice, the scheme fell woe­fully short.

In fact, just last month in­ter­nal doc­u­ments which emerged from the De­part­ment of So­cial Pro­tec­tion re­vealed that the de­part­ment had been forced to re­scind a ban on 44 busi­nesses who had been barred from par­tic­i­pat­ing in JobBridge for abus­ing, bul­ly­ing, ha­rass­ing and even as­sault­ing in­terns, be­cause the De­part­ment found its own guide­lines were de­fi­cient.

This shock­ing sit­u­a­tion – a huge em­bar­rass­ment for the Gov­ern­ment and its vaunted Ac­tion Plan for Jobs – gave weight to many of the crit­i­cisms that had been lev­elled at the JobBridge scheme.

Anec­do­tally, there have been many sto­ries of firms, big and small, us­ing JobBridge to hire staff on the cheap. The pro­gramme has also been slated – with some jus­ti­fi­ca­tion – as a num­ber jug­gling ex­er­cise mask­ing the true num­bers on Ire­land’s dole queues.

Both al­le­ga­tions have merit but, to be fair, so do as­pects of the JobBridge Pro­gramme.

How­ever many JobBridge par­tic­i­pants will have gained from the ex­pe­ri­ence. Gov­ern­ment fig­ures show that of the roughly 46,500 peo­ple who have taken part in JobBridge, around a third im­me­di­ately found em­ploy­ment on com­plet­ing their in­tern­ships. So what hap­pens now? Ac­cord­ing to Min­is­ter Varad­kar he in­tends shelv­ing JobBridge in Septem­ber, as soon as the re­sults of an ex­ter­nal re­view of the scheme – by eco­nomic con­sul­tants In­de­con - land on his desk.

Given that the min­is­ter has al­ready com­mit­ted to scrap­ping JobBridge, he ob­vi­ously does not ex­pect the In­de­con re­port to have much pos­i­tive to say about JobBridge. Pre­sum­ably he is wait­ing to see what al­ter­na­tives In­de­con pro­pose be­fore he moves for­ward.

There were pos­i­tives to the JobBridge scheme and th­ese as­pects should not be aban­doned. A prop­erly run, suit­ably mon­i­tored and gen­uinely ben­e­fi­cial al­ter­na­tive could have huge ben­e­fits.

There could also be some ben­e­fits – of the po­lit­i­cal va­ri­ety - for Min­is­ter Varad­kar whose side­ways move from Health to So­cial Pro­tec­tion has been widely seen as a de­mo­tion. If he suc­cess­fully man­ages to over­haul JobBridge it could give him a ma­jor po­lit­i­cal boost and help po­si­tion him ahead of his main ri­val Si­mon Coveney who is faced with a tough two front bat­tle in solv­ing the hous­ing cri­sis and deal­ing with the Ir­ish Wa­ter de­ba­cle.

Quite what will emerge in Septem­ber is dif­fi­cult to pre­dict. How­ever, it is dif­fi­cult to see any ma­jor op­po­si­tion to the scrap­ping of JobBridge – pro­vided the al­ter­na­tive is ac­tu­ally fit for pur­pose – so we might fi­nally see some of the ‘New Pol­i­tics’ we’ve all been hear­ing so much about since the election.

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