New apprenticeship scheme seeks to close skills gap in manufacturing

Manufacturing firms argue apprenticeships should not be seen as ‘fall-back’ to university

A consortium of engineering and manufacturing companies has launched a new apprenticeship scheme to fill a skills gap faced by equipment manufacturing firms and boost exports.

A survey of more than 700 employers carried out last year by education authorities found graduates from apprenticeships and post-Leaving-Cert courses are rated as highly as those from universities and third-level colleges.

The advanced certificate in Original Equipment Manufacturing (OEM) is a three-year level-six apprenticeship, and is supported by Enterprise Ireland.

It was developed by the engineering companies in conjunction with education and training boards in Cavan, Monaghan, Limerick and Clare.


Martin McVicar, managing director of forklift manufacturer Combilift and chair of the consortium, said the apprenticeship scheme would drive the Republic from an exclusively knowledge-based economy, to one which has a stronger emphasis on skills.

"We're all exporting companies," he told The Irish Times. "We're very sustainable from an economic point of view. We're not relying on a domestic market.

“It’s an apprenticeship programme for engineering skills for the future. It incorporates electronics, hydraulics, robotics, and software. We believe an apprenticeship is a really fast-track way of learning compared to the traditional academic approach.

“The great advantage of an apprenticeship is that the individual is studying at the college and is also in the workplace so they’re putting what they’re learning into practice. The skill is more embedded.

“We need more serious focus on developing skills. This is crucial as many firms are reporting shortages of qualified skilled employees, which are capable of designing, assembling and trouble-shooting machinery for the future.”

Mr McVicar said there ought to be a greater emphasis placed on encouraging young people to complete apprenticeships.

“There are jobs and strong career opportunities throughout the country and internationally for those who complete this apprenticeship,” he said. “It is time that we promote the apprenticeship route with the same enthusiasm which we do for degrees.

“Young people completing their second-level education are often encouraged to prioritise third-level college degrees to the detriment of other options.

“Despite an increase in the number of applicants for apprenticeships there is a perception among parents and careers advisors across Ireland that it is a fall-back option. The idea that apprenticeships are only for those students that do not achieve high grades has to change.”

There were just over 201,000 people working in the manufacturing sector in Ireland in 2016, according to the Central Statistics Office, making it one of the largest sectors of employment in the State, after retail and the health-services sector.

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson is an Irish Times reporter