The European Social Fund (ESF) is the European Union’s financial instrument for investing in people. The ESF channels money into helping Member States meet the goals they have agreed together for educating and training people throughout Europe through the Europe 2020 strategy. Its mission is, to help prevent and fight unemployment, to make Europe’s workforce better equipped to face new challenges, and to prevent people from losing touch with the labour market.
ESF grants are not available directly from the Department of Education & Skills. The ESF supports a range of courses, schemes, and projects across the country but this assistance is channeled through various Departments and Agencies, which are selected following a comprehensive consultation exercise. Funding from the ESF may mean new courses provided, additional places on courses, no fees, or indeed grant assistance for students or trainees. Please check the list of activities supported by the ESF 2014-2020 to find out if you can benefit from the support offered.
The ESF is one of five European Structural and Investment (ESI) Funds in the 2014-2020 programming period. The common goal of all of the Funds is to bridge the gap between the wealthier and less well-off regions of Europe by co-financing development programmes. This will reduce the differences between regions and create a better economic and social balance within and between Member States. In Ireland these funds are used, together with Irish Government and Local Authority funding, to invest €6.2 Billion in the 2014-2020 period.
Partnership Agreements between the European Commission and individual Member States set out the individual country’s plan on how to use the funding. They outline each country’s strategic goals and investment priorities, linking them to the overall aims of the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable, and inclusive growth.
ESF objectives are implemented in Ireland through the Programme for Employability, Inclusion and Learning 2014-2020. By the end of the current round Ireland will have received over €7 billion from the ESF since joining the EU in 1973. In the period 2014-2020, the ESF will seek to address issues relating to the upskilling of workers, supporting increased participation by marginalised groups in the workforce, supporting equality, and preventing discrimination in the workforce.
EIST is Ireland’s ESF+ programme for the 2021 to 2027 period. The Programme involves a total investment of over €1.08 billion; €508 million from the EU and €573 million from the Government of Ireland. The programme has two different rates of co-financing. As ‘more developed’ regions, the Southern and the Eastern & Midlands regions will receive 40% in EU co-financing, while as a ‘transition’ region the North-Western region will receive 60% in EU co-financing.
EIST contains five Priorities which were developed in line with the European Piller of Social Rights, EU and national policy, and a stakeholder consultation process.
Priority 1 – Employment: Support labour market training and activation measures for all job seekers with a particular focus on younger workers, the long-term unemployed and those underrepresented in the labour market, including people with a disability.
Priority 2 – Skills and Lifelong Learning: Support increased access to inclusive education and training at all levels including through the enhanced provision of adult education and targeted support for learners from disadvantaged groups. Promote lifelong learning through support for upskilling and reskilling programmes in key sectors of the economy.
Priority 3 – Social Inclusion: Provide targeted support for individuals at higher risk of social exclusion, to facilitate their active participation in society and improve employability. Support actions designed to further the personal and social development of those at risk of poverty or social exclusion, in particular young people and children.
Priority 4 – Social Innovation: Support social innovation and social experimentation measures including the development and testing of new ideas, approaches and policies designed to address this challenge. It will also support the scaling up of approaches tested on a smaller scale or in a different context. The overall aim is to develop new approaches to the challenges faced by disadvantaged groups and to develop the social innovation ecosystem in Ireland
Priority 5 – Assistance to the Most Deprived: help people take their first steps out of poverty by addressing their most basic needs i.e. food and basic materials for personal use.
The Programme for Employment, Inclusion & Learning 2014-2020 is the only ESF Operational Programme in Ireland during the 2014-2020 programming period. This Programme takes into consideration and complements actions in the human capital area to be taken at EU and national level aimed at making Europe a more attractive place to invest and work, enhancing knowledge and innovation for growth and creating more and better jobs.
The total funding for the PEIL Operational Programme is €1.157 billion of which €544.5 million will be in the form of ESF assistance. An additional €68m is provided for the Youth Employment Initiative in addition to the Exchequer and ESF allocation of the same amount.
In line with the investment priorities set out in the ESF Regulation, the key areas chosen in Ireland revolve around activation of the unemployed, social and labour market inclusion, education and youth employment.
The Operational Programme contains four Priority Axes (five including technical assistance which funds the operational administrative and publicity of the programme) comprising some 20+ specific activities. The priority axes are as follows:
The Youth Employment Initiative (YEI) is tackling the high levels of youth unemployment and the associated risk of a lost generation. The YEI was available to Member States with a level of youth unemployment above 25% in 2012. In 2012, Ireland’s youth unemployment rate reached a peak of 31.9%, making Ireland eligible for funding from the YEI. A total of €6 billion is being provided for the YEI in regions that qualify for support.
A specific YEI allocation of €68.145 million has been provided for Ireland. This allocation with matching funding from the ESF and the Irish Exchequer will principally be targeted at measures identified in Ireland’s Youth Guarantee Implementation Plan, which was agreed with the European Commission in 2014.
The Youth Employment target group is young people under the age of 25 not in employment, education, or training. In order to focus the ESF and YEI funding directly, a separate Priority was established in the PEIL 2014-2020.
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