Earning and learning in 2024

NAO aims to meet government target of 10,000 apprenticeships a year

Apprenticeships are an essential investment for employers across all sectors to consider, from entry-level to managerial roles and beyond

What was once seen as a career path for budding tradespeople, the apprenticeship programme in Ireland has changed beyond recognition over the past decade, with a growing number of school leavers and people looking for a career change opting to go down this diverse and rewarding route.

According to the National Apprenticeship Office (NAO), last year saw the highest number of annual registrations on record, with almost 9,000 apprentices registering for training in 2023.

This created an overall figure of 27, 470 apprentices in 73 programmes across Ireland.

One of the biggest drivers of this rise in popularity in recent years is the variety of ‘21st century apprenticeship’ options which are now available across the country. There is a broad range of industry areas to choose from, from financial services to engineering, from farming to hospitality, biopharma and tech.

“More people than ever before are experiencing benefits and opportunities that the apprenticeship route offers, from students to career seekers of all ages,” said Dr Mary- Liz Trant, NAO director.

“Employers and industry are increasingly joining the national apprenticeship system where they can find a key pipeline to source and retain skills talent, with a package of tailored financial incentives to support their business goals and development.

“Though last year was designated the official European Year of Skills, the appetite for upskilling, reskilling and finding and sourcing skills talent will not disappear anytime soon. Apprenticeships are designed and developed by industry, to support industry, and to meet the skills needs and economic needs of the country.

“There remains a strong demand for [skilled professionals] across construction from plumbers to bricklayers, scaffolders to engineers, with apprenticeships remaining the key driver of developing work-ready skilled talent to meet the needs of industry, and support the government’s Housing for All and Climate Action plans.”

Indeed, earlier this month, Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris and Minister of State for Further Education and Skills, Niall Collins confirmed a record number of apprentices had registered in 2023, with significant numbers joining new programmes in construction. Meanwhile, programmes in other areas such as firefighting and paramedic skills are currently in development.

“Increasing the number of apprentices and apprenticeships is crucial if we want to meet the targets this government has set under Housing for All and the Climate Action Plan,” said Harris.

“We know we need thousands more workers in some of our key craft sectors and to help achieve our climate goals. The future of this country will be safeguarded by our skilled apprentices so we must put all the tools at the disposal of young people to avail of these opportunities and get trained in areas where there is need for an increase in workers.

“By 2025 we set the target of 10,000 new apprentices every year and we are very close to reaching that target, with close to 9,000 last year. We want to make apprenticeships as accessible and available as possible. That requires us constantly altering what we can offer to people.

“I am really pleased to see a movement towards this way of delivering third-level education [in some key areas such as] paramedics, social work, roofing and cladding, and a Level 8 and Masters in civil engineering.

“The Action Plan for Apprenticeships commits us to reaching 10,000 new registrations every single year. This will ensure we can meet that target and maybe earlier than we planned.”

For employers and industry, apprenticeship is a key pipeline to source and retain skills talent

Dr Trant says recent achievements include the expansion of apprenticeships into new industries to meet demand, offering new apprenticeships in horticulture, farm technician skills and farm management, civil engineering among others. The NAO is driving the ambitions of the Action Plan for Apprenticeships 2021-2025.

“2024 is set to be another busy and progressive year for apprenticeships, with the National Apprenticeship Office making significant strides in the creation of a single, integrated apprenticeship system to ensure that our apprenticeship system continues to evolve to meet the needs of 21st-century Ireland,” she said.

This is crucial, according to Alex Keys, senior manager, quality assurance, Awards Directorate, QQI.

“Rapid changes across many industries, and increased complexity in the way we work and live, present new challenges and [put different]demands on learners,” she said. “There has never been more of a need for apprenticeships in Ireland.

“The evolution of the apprenticeship system in Ireland, and particularly the move towards a single, integrated, sustainable system will promote further opportunities for learners, with over 95 apprenticeship programmes now on offer representing a greater spread of sectors and employers.”

Indeed, Dr Joe Collins, director of further education & training at the ETBI says apprenticeships are an essential investment for employers across all sectors to consider, from entry-level to managerial roles and beyond.

“Offering an array of benefits, from increased employee satisfaction to improved retention rates, apprenticeship programmes are a proven way to help individuals develop their careers while generating results for business and the economy,” he said.

“Apprenticeships are a unique way to ‘grow your own’: they combine on-the-job training in an organisation with off-the-job learning and provide employers with an effective way of growing their skills base.”

Equal opportunity is also key. According to Dr Trant, another important goal is to increase the number of women in apprenticeship.

“While much progress has been made, there is still a lot to do, with currently 2,272 female apprentices out of a 27,470 apprentice population,” she said.

“We look forward to driving further growth through continuing to engage with schools across Ireland to showcase the opportunities that apprenticeships offer to women through the NAO Facts, Faces, Futures campaign and collaborating with employers, educators and industry to build and expand the apprenticeship system across Ireland.”