Bright future for apprenticeship schemes

The NAO offers upskilling in all of today’s key sectors

Dr Mary-Liz Trant, director of the National Apprenticeship Office, pictured with a group of apprentices from Irish Rail

Once seen only as an option for budding tradespeople, the apprenticeship route is fast becoming a popular alternative to purely academic study and a means of upskilling or gaining further qualifications. The National Apprenticeship Office (NAO) currently oversees 73 national apprenticeship programmes, catering for almost 27,500 apprentices in training with employers across the country, offering places in a variety of different sectors from engineering, biopharma and tech to farming and hospitality.

One of the biggest drivers of this rise in popularity in recent years is the variety of 21st-century apprenticeship options, leading to qualifications at certificate, degree, masters and PhD levels in areas such as finance, accountancy, laboratory tech, engineering, heavy vehicle mechanics, logistics, healthcare and more.

National Apprenticeship Office

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Why it’s in the news: The National Apprenticeship Office is driving reform in the national apprenticeship system under the banner of Generation Apprenticeship, building skills and career opportunities to meet the needs of apprentices, employers and industry

Dr Mary-Liz Trant, director of NAO, says that more people than ever before are experiencing the benefits of apprenticeships and employers are becoming increasingly aware of the talent pool available to them through the system.

“2023 had the highest number of annual apprenticeship registrations on record in Ireland, with almost 9,000 apprentices registering for training last year,” she said. “Recent achievements include the expansion of apprenticeships into new industries and professions to meet demand, offering new apprenticeships in Quantity Surveying, Horticulture, Farm Technicians, Farm Managers and Civil Engineers among others, with the NAO driving the ambitions of the Action Plan for Apprenticeships 2021-2025, aiming to reach the national target of 10,000 new apprentices registering per year from 2025.”

According to Dr Trant, this coming year looks set to be a promising one for the national apprenticeship system as an exciting agenda of transformation gathers pace.

“We’re well along the way now on creation of a single system which will combine the best of the traditional craft apprenticeships and the approach used for 48 programmes which have been introduced since 2016,” she said. “A single coherent system will enable equal supports for both apprentices and employers and help drive continued growth and expansion. The enterprise community will be guiding the design and evolution of apprenticeship learning, so that apprenticeships continue to meet industry skills needs.

“Apprenticeships in Ireland were traditionally focused on providing the knowledge and skills needed for people at the start of their careers, but these days, people of all ages, backgrounds and interests are choosing this route.”

While becoming an apprentice is a superb choice for those looking to embark on or enhance their career path, the NAO director says that apprenticeships are also hugely beneficial for employers who are seeking to grow their business and talent pipeline, regardless of their size.

To this end, last year the National Apprenticeship Office launched One More Job, a support initiative for micro and small employers, and Dr Trant says the response to this initiative has been excellent and is helping to provide a user-friendly onboarding process for employers who want to hire apprentices.

“We understand that small and micro companies may have limited HR resources,” she said. “One More Job offers tailored information and support in getting started with apprenticeship training. And a free online programme in workplace mentoring is available, along with information on financial supports, including an employer grant, and additional one-to-one guidance.

“Last year we had a target of getting 500 micro and small employers on board - and by the end of the year almost 900 had got involved and over 1,000 new jobs were created.”

These days, people of all ages, backgrounds and interests choose this route

Over the next 12-15 months a further 17 national apprenticeship programmes are due to be launched, adding to the 73 already in place. And there is a pipeline of a further ten or more programmes at exploratory stage. It is expected that by the end of 2025 up to 100 national apprenticeship programmes will be available in Ireland.

“There are more choices coming along all the time,” said Dr Trant.

“The National Apprenticeship Office is supporting development of new apprenticeships across emerging, thriving and exciting industries like immersive technology, digital marketing, robotics and automation, firefighting, beauty therapy and paramedic industries, alongside cutting-edge new programmes in modern methods of construction and green skills.

“The number of people from diverse backgrounds taking the apprenticeship route also needs to grow. Increasing access to apprenticeship for women, for people with disabilities and for minority groups is a key objective for the National Apprenticeship Office over the coming years.

“A dedicated access and inclusion committee is now in place and working on practical initiatives that include promotion of an access bursary for potential apprentices, a bursary to encourage employers to hire more women apprentices, and several diversity initiatives with employers.

“So whether an employer or a would-be apprentice, we have a wealth of information available on the website and also a dedicated freephone number, 1800 794487, for anyone who needs additional advice or guidance. We encourage people to get in touch if they have any questions.”