Young people are snapping up apprenticeships, availing of the chance to “earn and learn” across a range of skills areas not usually associated with the in-house training model.
A quick sift through the indices on Apprenticeships.ie and Careersportal.ie shows more than 60 types of career for which apprenticeships are currently available in Ireland.
These range from butcher, commis chef and carpenter to insurance practitioner, CGI technical artist and hairdresser.
Cork-based firm ODM Accountants is a firm believer in the Accounting Technician Apprenticeship, a funded, work-based learning programme in which locally-placed apprentices earn at least €19,000 a year.
ODM has employed three apprentices on the scheme and is considering adding to that number for this year’s scheme in September. Leaving Cert students and mature learners can apply for the programme through Accounting Technicians Ireland.
The apprenticeship provides a real alternative for Leaving Certificate students who prefer practical training to a full-time college programme, or for students who may have embarked on a college course and found it didn’t suit them.
“College is not for everyone,” said John O’Sullivan, partner, ODM. “This scheme is seen as a better option by some students and by their families.
"It allows them to get the same qualifications as someone attending a degree course, without having to cover the costs involved in going to college.
“Given all that college can cost families, and given the scarcity of student accommodation and rising rental costs, this is a better option all around.
"As I said to the three apprentices that we have taken on, if this route had been available 15 years ago, I’d definitely have done it myself.”
Mr O’Sullivan says the three apprentices fit in well among ODM’s staff of 13. Two of the apprentices are school leavers, whilst one is a former admin worker who decided to further his career.
Apprentices work in the office four days a week and study in a local college one day a week during the two-year programme, which begins in September.
Successful graduates of the apprenticeship programme may then progress on to full accountancy with Chartered Accountants Ireland or one of the other professional accountancy bodies.
“I saw an advert for the scheme in a Sunday paper and decided to investigate it further,” said ODM partner, John O’Sullivan.
“We are very happy with our apprentices, they are all getting on so well. We have two school leavers and a staff member who was working in administration.
“It is a two-year course and they come away from it with similar exemptions to the professional exams of those who may have studied for three or four years.
The big advantage is not just the saving of costs, you’re also getting a valuable ‘real world’ experience while completing your education.
Mr O’Sullivan says that there are other business in the West Cork region offering places to apprentices.
In many cases, the places are not in trades and other manual industries which many people would associate with this model of work-based learning.
In terms of the national picture, companies like Bus Éireann, Dublin Bus, ESB, the Air Corps, Ryanair, Dublin Aerospace, GSK, Stryker, MSD, Pfizer and Eli Lilly have all taken on apprentices.
The appetite is certainly out there for this model.
The National Youth Council notes that there are currently around 16,000 young people on apprenticeship programmes in Ireland.
Young people have shown huge interest in attending each scheme, with most positions being rapidly snapped up.
In the NYCI’s pre-Budget 2020 submission, it calls on the Government to invest around €15m in education, training and apprenticeships to halve long-term youth unemployment by the end of 2020.
It says there are currently 6,000 young people who are classed as long term unemployed.
The largest numbers of young unemployed people are living in Dublin and Cork. NYCI welcomes the expansion and growth in apprenticeships in the last number of years.
The number of apprentices in training in 2019 was 16,000, up from 10,445 in 2016, but more would certainly help reduce youth unemployment.
John O’Sullivan says the state-funded approach to apprenticeships has definite benefits for participating companies as well as for the students.
He notes that the apprenticeship provides hands-on experience which allows a firm to mould apprentices into their practices.
“Some college leavers may have all the right qualifications but find it hard to put them into practice. That’s the difference here.
"We are a medium-sized firm, so apprentices are not pigeon-holed into one field. They get a broader experience from a varied client base.
They could be completing a vat return for a publican on one day and completing an income tax return for a farmer the next.
ODM apprentice Paul Hurley is from west Cork. He is finding the course a very valuable tool in furthering his career with ODM, where he has worked for the last four years.
“I was working in administration here when I heard about the course,” said Paul.
“I approached my bosses, who were hugely supportive of me enrolling in the apprenticeship.
“College mentors are also very helpful and really take an interest in everyone on a one-to-one basis. Now that I have moved to accountancy-based work within the practice, I am convinced this is the career for me.
“The course is very broad and varied. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who has an interest in accountancy.
"If you have the ethic to do well, this is the course for you.”
For more details of the apprenticeships, see: accountingtechnicianapprenticeship.ie