Frequently Asked Questions
What is ESF?
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 losing touch with the labour market.
How can I avail of a grant from the ESF?
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.
How is ESF linked to the EU Structural Funds & what is their goal?
The ESF is one of five EU Structural 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. Ireland will receive €1.153 billion from the Structural Funds from 2014-2020, of this €542 million will be in the form of ESF assistance. An additional €68m is provided for the Youth Employment Initiative, which will be programmed through the ESF programme.
The remainder of the €3.289 billion (including the €542 million allocated to ESF) in Structural Funding allocated to Ireland is as follows:
- €409.2 million is for European Regional Development Fund co-funded programmes;
- €2.19 billion from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development Fund.
- €147.6 million from the European Maritime & Fisheries Fund, also for the period 2014-2020.
Partnership Agreements between the European Commission and individual EU countries set out the individual countries 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.
How are ESF objectives implemented in Ireland?
ESF objectives are implemented in Ireland through the Programme for Employability, Inclusion and Learning 2014-2020. Since Ireland joined the EU, the ESF has invested over €7 billion in education, training and employment creation in Ireland. 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.
What is the Programme for Employability, Inclusion and Learning (PEIL OP) 2014-2020 ?
The Programme for Employment, Inclusion & Learning 2014-2020 is the successor to the Human Capital Investment Operational Programme (HCI OP) 2007-2013 and is the sole vehicle through which the ESF will be applied in Ireland during the 2014-2020 programming period. This Operational 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 €1.153 billion of which €542 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.
What are the Investment Priorities of the Operational Programme (PEIL OP)?
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:
- Priority 1: Promoting the attainment of sustainable and quality employment through relevant upskilling measures and supporting labour mobility.
- Priority 2: Promoting Social Inclusion and combating discrimination in the labour market.
- Priority 3: Investing in Education, Training and Life Long Learning with a view to upskilling and re-skilling the labour force.
- Priority 4: Youth Employment Initiative.
What is the Youth Employment Initiative?
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 33%, 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 (in addition to the Exchequer and ESF allocation of the same amount) has been provided for Ireland. This allocation with matching funding from the ESF and the Irish Exchequer will principally be targetted at measures identified in Ireland’s Youth Guarantee Implementation Plan, which was agreed with the European Commission in 2014.
The YEI in Ireland is being delivered using ESF support. 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 Axis (Priority 4) was established in the PEIL 2014-2020. The ESF will support under 25's in the following YEI activities: Back to Work Enterprise Allowance (BTWEA) Scheme, JobPlus Incentive Scheme, Tús, JobBridge, Youthreach, Social Inclusion and Activation Programme (SICAP) and Momentum.