Alternative paths: Apprenticeships gaining in popularity and diversity

Alternative paths: Apprenticeships gaining in popularity and diversity
Mollie and Megan Northridge, for whom the Access to Apprenticeship pilot programme has been a great success.

School-leavers choosing apprenticeships has doubled in the last three years, up to 16,000 from 8,300 in 2015. With the majority of options still found in the traditional craft sectors, an ever-widening array of options continue to be added in sectors ranging from accounting to insurance to ICT.

The Government is expected to announce capital funding of more than €7.5m for nine institutes of technology and Technological University Dublin to help expanding and modernising apprenticeship options over the coming years.

“Graduates or first-time jobseekers in Ireland are likely to say: ‘I can’t get a job without experience, but I can’t get experience without a job’. The difficulty for many employers is that graduates are coming out of university lacking key workplace skills necessary to hit the ground running,” says Dermot Murray, CEO of the Insurance Institute.

“This is down to the fact that while most college courses teach technical and academic knowledge, students rarely learn the soft skills that are essential to career success.

“For graduates, it’s more than disheartening to come out of college after four years and face the ‘at least two years’ experience’ criteria on every job spec — even for some entry level roles.

"Aside from highly competitive graduate programmes or unpaid internships, many graduates are faced with few options other than to take a job unrelated to their qualification. This is where apprenticeships come in.

Apprenticeships are work-based training programmes that combine academic teaching with valuable on-the-job experiential learning; combining technical and soft skills to create the perfect employee for organisations.

In Ireland, apprenticeship is already a first choice for over 15,000 people of all ages and backgrounds, career changers as well as school leavers completing their chosen award, explains Mary-Liz Trant, executive director for Skills Development at SOLAS.

“Ongoing curriculum reform in craft apprenticeships is diversifying high-quality career options across engineering, electrical, construction and motor industries.”

Apprenticeship is meeting the needs of new and modern types of jobs such as Data Analyst, Aviation Engineer, Software Developer, Chefs and many more. Highly paid roles across Insurance, Logistics, Auctioneering and International Financial Services are just a few of the new careers accessible through apprenticeship today.

Earlier this year, the Apprenticeship Council and ESB launched Generation Apprenticeship Taster Times — an opportunity for members of the public to discover more about apprenticeship programmes.

As part of the Generation Apprenticeship competition established to promote and celebrate the best leadership, creativity and problem-solving skills of Ireland’s apprentices, the sessions were held in 11 different locations around the country, and designed to offer a view of what an apprenticeship is like in practice and what opportunities they offer.

The 2019 finalists and the companies supporting them joined together in outlining the many different types of industries that offer apprenticeships, in addition to the more well-known ones.

“ESB is proud to support the work of the Apprenticeship Council, SOLAS and events such as Generation Apprenticeship, encouraging Ireland’s apprentices in creativity, problem solving and innovation,” says Paul Mulvaney, executive director, customer delivery, ESB Networks.

Career changer and ESB apprentice Laura Hanrahan is completing her off-the-job Electrical training at Shannon: “I was working in retail and had already completed 4 years at college, but I couldn’t get a fulltime job. Taking the apprenticeship route means you learn all about working life, pick up vital skills, and are work-ready from the moment you finish.

“In addition to learning facts and procedures, apprenticeship is also about gaining much sought-after transferable skills, including adaptability, independent thinking, teamwork and problem solving — skills I will be able to use in all areas of life, and take with me to any number of other job roles as my career develops.”

Jennifer Byrne, a cabinetmaker and a lecturer on the DIT Timber Product Technology programme, has taught the wood trades in the Access to Apprenticeships programme for many years. She believes one of the principal difficulties in recruiting young women is that they seldom get to work with their hands in school.

“Girls attending single-sex schools rarely get the chance to study subjects like woodwork and their innate talents might not be discovered unless someone in their family or social network works in the trade.

"It is a pity that we do not see more women coming through apprenticeships, as they tend to pay more attention to detail and raise the standard of the work overall.”

Sisters in apprenticeship

Sisters Megan and Mollie Northridge agree.

“My school used to have Woodwork as a subject, but got rid of it before I started, and when I was in 6th year, the message was College, College, College,” Megan recalls. “I didn’t even know that an apprenticeship was an option for me.”

Mollie added: “If I could have studied subjects like metalwork, I would have stayed in school — spending hours every day in a classroom wasn’t for me.”

The Access to Apprenticeship pilot programme was launched last year and aims to address critical challenges faced by young people aged 16-24 from areas of social disadvantage from accessing an apprenticeship.

Over three months, participants sample a range of craft apprenticeships, complete personal development modules and undertake a two-week work placement with an employer in a trade of their choice. To date, 48 young people have taken part in the programme with over 50% taking on an apprenticeship or further training upon completion.

What most appealed to Megan and Mollie during the 12-week programme was the freedom to explore the different types of apprenticeships on offer in DIT.

“It wasn’t a case of the lecturers saying I’m going to do this and you guys watch, and it was like here’s your plans, go get your tools, and away you go,” Mollie remembers.

It was the same on work placement, I thought I would shadow someone, but immediately I was told weld that over there.

The experience paid off for the girls, Megan will shortly begin a Welding and Plumbing apprenticeship with Jones Engineering on Intel Ireland’s site in Leixlip while Mollie is looking forward to taking on more work experience in carpentry with Dublin City Council.

When asked what they would say to anyone who is currently considering an apprenticeship, Megan remarked: “Honestly, do it – try getting onto this course and even if you don’t get into apprenticeship straight away, DIT give you your SafePass and your manual handling training. You get to meet companies while you’re in the programme, we met 15 different employers and visited their sites to see what they do, it was great.”

School-leavers choosing apprenticeships has doubled in the last three years, up to 16,000 from 8,300 in 2015.

More on this topic

Lessons in living life to the full for UCC's mature studentsLessons in living life to the full for UCC's mature students

Making Cents: Work out your budget for the college year aheadMaking Cents: Work out your budget for the college year ahead

NUIG team’s grant from Michael J Fox FoundationNUIG team’s grant from Michael J Fox Foundation

If you need to change plans, there are alternativesIf you need to change plans, there are alternatives