How we teach our children: Crafting a future beyond third level

Further exciting times lie ahead as apprenticeships are being expanded into a range of new areas, writes Michael Moriarty.

IN A few weeks’ time, there will be heightened tension among many school leavers as they await their Leaving Certificate results to see if they are successful in their application for a course at a third-level institution.

Many students will indeed succeed in securing a course at a third level institution and set out a new chapter in their young lives. Yet, Higher Education Authority research shows that in 2014, up to 16% of all first-year students quit third level courses.

This trend continues to the present day. Something that must be considered is that third level is not the best option for many at that stage in their young lives.

A 2015 Department of Education and Skills report indicated that the demand for third-level places had increased by 25% in the previous 10 years. Today, with more than 63% of all Irish school leavers transferring to third-level colleges, it could be construed that many of us see entry to third-level as a “badge of honour”, notwithstanding the fact that other options may be far more suitable for many students who have completed their Leaving Certificate.

There has been a miraculous recovery in the Irish economy, which is now heading back to full employment. The National Skills Strategy 2025 and the Programme for Government both clearly set out the need for work-experienced, highly skilled apprentices and trainees if Ireland is to maintain the expansion of its economy and meet the need of growing world demands for goods and services.

Ireland aims to significantly grow work-based learning over the next five years using the apprenticeship and traineeship model of learning and skills development, which both feature work-based learning.

This development is intended to be a co-contributor to our growth as a society and economy.

These two training models offer the opportunity to combine classroom learning with on-the-job training, giving the learner the opportunity to gain an academic grounding in a specific industry, with the chance to put into practice the theory learned in the classroom.

How we teach our children: Crafting a future beyond third level

The Action Plan for Education sets out the need for a strong stream of employers to support apprenticeships and traineeships and provide places for 13,000 young people by 2020, in up to a hundred career areas, as a firm objective.

Ireland has had apprenticeships for decades, which offer on-the-job work experience along with formal educational training, meaning that apprentices earn and learn simultaneously.

Until recently, apprenticeships were limited to craft apprenticeships, mainly in the construction sector, and amounted to only 27 in number.

Even though the spread of apprenticeship available in Ireland has been limited, those in existing apprenticeships are recognised internationally as being of the highest calibre. This has been proven by the high demand for Irish craftspeople in countries such as Canada, Australia, and England. Ireland has participated in all the World Skills Competitions which have taken place every two years since 1957, winning 61 gold medals, 53 silver medals, 79 bronze medals and 152 diploma/medallions, along the way.

Further exciting times lie ahead as apprenticeships are being expanded into a range of new areas such as accounting technician, commis chef, financial services, tourism and sport, sales and marketing, business administration and management.

The list will get longer as more apprenticeship programmes are approved and validated in the next few years.

The education and training boards and institutes of technology are both heavily involved in developing new apprenticeship courses.

Another exciting development is that a number of apprenticeships are being developed to lead to degree-level courses.

Make no mistake, the rapid expansion of new apprenticeships into many sectors of the economy is a seismic revolution which will transform Ireland’s education and training system, by providing dynamic opportunities for young people to develop specific and generic skills with allied employment opportunities.

Instead of being fixated by the dazzle of “going to college” after the Leaving Certificate, many of our young people can, and many should, consider taking a different learning pathway, such as the apprenticeship route, which can now also carry the option of achieving higher education qualifications.

Very recently ETBI and other stakeholders presented to the joint Oireachtas committee on education and skills on the topic of apprenticeships and skills training. A common theme that emerged was the need to promote and highlight the new opportunities for young people to access the growing number of apprenticeships and traineeships.

As a nation, we need to open our minds to these new training opportunities, which have been the norm in other European countries for years. For example, some 70% of Swiss 15 to 19-year-olds are in paid apprenticeships. And look at the success of the Swiss economy over recent decades.

The sooner we realise that there are other viable options for Leaving Certificate students besides an immediate transfer to third level, the better it will be for many students, and for the Irish economy.

We need to heighten awareness about the opportunities that apprenticeships can provide, including work-based learning and probable guaranteed employment, while higher education opportunities can also be part of that particular learning pathway.

Ireland will have an insatiable demand for skilled workers, with both specific and generic transferable skills. Employers are looking for skilled young people, but they also want young people with workplace experience.

The challenge will be to meet that growing demand, and the challenge for young people in the decade ahead is to climb the skills ladder. Hence, the development of new learning pathways for students leaving our schools, and the expansion of the range of apprenticeships, with the opportunities they provide.

For those students with open minds and a sense of adventure, those who have some doubts about going straight on to college, and those who want to develop their skills and maybe earn while doing so, I recommend that they look no further then apprenticeships, traineeships or any of the PLCs in their local ETB.

Michael Moriarty is general secretary of Education and Training Boards Ireland and a member of the National Skills Council

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