Apprenticeships not just for school leavers

Apprenticeship programmes also appeal to older learners and those who may be returning to the workplace after a leave of absence

Dr Mary-Liz Trant, National Apprenticeship Office: Up to ten new apprenticeships are due to be launched this year, including in farming, horticulture and advanced quantity surveying

Over the past number of years interest in apprenticeships has almost doubled, with over 26,300 apprentices training in Ireland in January 2023 compared to less than 15,000 five years ago.

Such has been the demand that last year the National Apprenticeship Office was jointly established by Solas and the Higher Education Authority to implement the Action Plan for Apprenticeship 2021-2025 and to drive expansion of the apprenticeship system nationally.

Dr Mary-Liz Trant, National Apprenticeship Office, says there is a wide variety of options available to people interested in the apprenticeship route, making it easier than ever for school leavers, career changers and employers to avail of the benefits.

“The majority of apprenticeship programmes are demand-led, and this means that the system can grow in line with industry demand and the willingness of employers to hire apprentices,” she said.

“There are 66 apprenticeship programmes now available across a wide range of 21st-century industries. These include engineering, biopharma, tech, hairdressing, finance, accounting, insurance, construction, hospitality and much more.”

Trant says while the programme which trains electricians continues to be the most popular apprenticeship in Ireland, with over 9,600 in training on this programme alone, craft apprenticeships such as plumbing and carpentry and joinery also attract thousands of apprentices.

“This is largely because the primary route to a qualification in these areas is via the apprenticeship route,” she explained. “Newer apprenticeships are also growing in popularity, in areas which include hairdressing, manufacturing, engineering, accounting and insurance.”

Apprenticeships are not only geared towards school leavers as the programmes also appeal to older learners and those who may be returning to the workplace after a leave of absence.

“The apprenticeship route is increasingly popular among those already in careers, including career changers and those who want to upskill via apprenticeship,” said Trant.

“This is particularly the case for apprenticeships which lead to degree-level awards, masters level awards, and there is even one apprenticeship programme for senior engineers which leads to a PhD award. So, Irish apprentices today could be in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s as well as being school leavers – and those apprentices who are already in careers arrange with their employer to complete their apprenticeship as part of their contract of employment.”

The increased demand for apprenticeships has no doubt been driven by the range of options available and, particularly in the midst of a cost of living crisis, the ability for participants to earn money while they are gaining their qualification.

“The big change has been in the diversity of choice available for those interested in earning while they learn and choosing the apprenticeship route,” confirmed the National Apprenticeship Office director.

“In addition, attitudes towards apprenticeships in Ireland are changing as potential apprentices, their families, parents, partners, teachers, guidance counsellors, and the general public are now starting to understand that apprenticeship is primarily a mode of learning and getting a qualification, and a fantastic way to build a career.

“Also, the overall number of women apprentices is increasing, with almost 2,000 currently in training. This is a vast improvement on the paltry 26 women apprentices in training a short number of years ago. However, 2,000 is still less than 10 per cent of the overall population of 26,300 – so although the trend is going in the right direction, there is a considerable way still to go.

“With this in mind, a new national access and inclusion committee has been set up this month, and this committee is going to help drive progress on access and inclusion within the apprenticeship system. There will be a focus on women, people with disabilities, those experiencing social or economic disadvantage, the LBGTQ community and the refugee and migrant community – so a lot of progress is planned in the next 1-2 years.”

Along with the focus on inclusion, up to 10 new apprenticeships are due to be launched this year, including farming apprenticeships, a horticulture apprenticeship, and a programme in advanced quantity surveying.

Altogether there are over 30 additional apprenticeship proposals at various stages of development – and this means that by 2025 Ireland could have 100 or more national apprenticeship programmes available.

In order to make it even easier for people to find out what apprenticeship route will suit them best, a new freephone helpline was launched this month by Simon Harris, Minister for Further and Higher Education.

“The helpline on 1800 794487 was piloted on the CAO website in 2022 and it was a big success, with over 1,000 calls made by second-level students, parents, teachers, guidance counsellors, employers and other interested people,” said Dr Trant.

“It is a great resource for people who are not sure where to start on their apprenticeship journey or where to get their questions answered and who want to have a chat with someone at the other end of the phone.

“In addition, our website www.apprenticeship.ie is another really good place to start researching apprenticeships. It has detailed information for potential and current apprentices and employers on each apprenticeship which is available, as well as a section for each programme which has frequently asked questions. Also, there are resources for teachers and guidance counsellors as well as parents – and one of the most popular sections has profiles of current and graduate apprentices and apprenticeship employers. We are always looking for more of these as there is nothing better than real stories of success, told by people of all ages, backgrounds, industries and parts of the country.”