Saturday 20 January 2018

JobBridge was of its time - now lets see 'new politics'

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.

Wexford People

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