I am extremely happy with parts of this plan. As regards the initial targets, it is commendable that the Minister should commit 270 actions to paper. It is also commendable that the Taoiseach and the Minister should be answerable to the House on a quarterly basis for progress on foot of these actions.
I wish to refer specifically to the hugely important role education plays in the jobs market. Ireland has always prided itself on its education system and we depend on it for highly skilled workers who attract foreign investment here by multinational companies. There is a major link between the multinational sector and our highly skilled workforce. The action plan contains an important initiative concerning the STEM subjects, science, technology, engineering and maths, which have a strong link to multinational companies.
In my own county of Kildare, there is a positive scholarships initiative between NUI Maynooth, Kildare County Council and local businesses. These scholarships will cater for students taking STEM subjects. Part of the reason our education system is so important is due to foreign direct investment which requires a highly skilled workforce. The announcement by Hewlett Packard of 280 new jobs in Kildare and Galway is very welcome. The fact is that companies like HP are willing to take on extra highly skilled staff. Some people may say that it does not have a benefit for the general economy but there is a trickle-down effect. It has been proven that companies like HP and Intel have a knock-on effect in the local economy with up to six jobs for every one they create. There is therefore a huge benefit stemming from such activity.
The multinationals are seeking students who begin cultivating their skills as early as possible. Efforts should be made to introduce students to the STEM subjects in the primary school system. It is a sad fact that currently primary schools spend as much time on Irish as on mathematics. When one considers it, however, spending time on maths is more likely to generate a job for a student than studying Irish. I spoke to a parent recently who said her daughter, who loves mathematics, is worried that she will fail Irish in her leaving certificate. If that girl fails Irish in the examination she will not be allowed to enter any of our universities. We should consider removing compulsory Irish as a requirement for university entrance, otherwise we will exclude many people who have an interest in pursuing a university course.
I am a member of the Committee on Jobs, Social Protection and Education which has identified the important link between education and foreign direct investment, and is so vitally important for the future. I commend the Government’s sense of accountability for the targets that have been set in the Action Plan for Jobs.