Dearth of apprenticeships in traditional trades is frightening, says Cork IT president

At the Cork Chamber Business Breakfast in association with the ‘Irish Examiner’ at the Kingsley Hotel were (from left) Aidan Forde, senior advertising manager, Irish Examiner and Evening Echo; Orla Flynn, honorary secretary, Cork Chamber; Barry O’Connor, president, Cork Institute of Technology, guest speaker, and Bill O’Connell, president, Cork Chamber. Picture: Denis Minihane

By Pádraig Hoare

The dearth of apprenticeships in traditional trades like plastering and tiling is “frightening”, the president of Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) has warned.

Barry O’Connor, who was speaking at the monthly Cork Chamber business breakfast, said access to apprenticeships for young talent was the “most restrictive in the country”.

He said 50% of all apprenticeships were for electricians, while plastering and tiling take-up was particularly low.

“The figures are actually frightening. The problem is that access to apprenticeship has the most restrictive access route in the country. You can’t get into a trade unless you are taken on by a tradesperson. The blockage isn’t the institutes.

When the downturn came, you had tradespeople who couldn’t even afford to pay themselves a wage, so they weren’t going to take on an apprenticeship. So the route into apprenticeship remains very difficult.

“Working with Solas and the Higher Education Authority, we have put on various programmes for people who may have been halfway through a trade, who then maybe left for Australia because there was no more work. We’ve put on repeat and refresher courses so people can get through and finish off their qualification.”

Mr O’Connor said there was €2m worth of equipment for apprentices to use in CIT, saying the institute could cater for “everyone from apprenticeships to PhDs.”

Some 70% of students in CIT come from the Cork region, with Kerry the next highest reach, Mr O’Connor said.

There is no national institute in the country — they all draw the most locally.

He said Government funding for the science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects was “finally turning the corner”, adding that more girls’ schools needed to offer chemistry, physics, and applied maths.

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