‘This is a game changer’: civil engineering apprenticeships available outside CAO points race

‘Earn and learn’ option will allow students complete degree and masters level qualifications

Civil engineering qualifications will be delivered by apprenticeship for the first time in a move that academics say could be a “game changer” in developing an alternative entry route into the profession outside the CAO points race.

Atlantic Technological University (ATU), which will co-ordinate the new programmes, said the new apprenticeships will allow students to “earn and learn” and gain civil engineering qualifications at a fraction of the price of going to college.

The development comes as latest skills data indicates that a minimum of 3,000 new civil engineers are needed to meet national targets for housing, infrastructure and climate action initiatives.

A range of courses are being developed by apprenticeship ranging from level six (higher certificate) to level nine (masters), which would result in students becoming qualified civil technicians or engineers, depending on the course.

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“This is a practice-led profession and you can learn so much in the workplace rather than just a chalk-and-talk setting,” said Dr Emma Britton of Atlantic Technological University. “Engineering is very much hands-on and it suits kinetic learners who learn best by doing rather than being told.”

Candidates will be required to secure an employer initially and fulfil minimum entry requirements in the Leaving Cert. They will work with their employer four days a week and complete one day of online courses, with one day a month on campus at Atlantic Technological University.

Most of the apprenticeships will range in duration from two to four years.

The first intake of students will take place in September 2023 for higher certificate (level six) and bachelor of engineering (level seven) civil engineering students, subject to validation by Engineers Ireland.

They will followed by the first honours degree (level eight) and masters (level nine) students, with a forecasted intake in September 2024.

Dr Britton said the rates of pay for apprentices will be negotiated with individual employers, rather than set nationally, however rates will need to be above the national minimum wage for five days work.

The cost of education will also be significantly less, she said, given that registration fees to become an apprentice are set at about €750, in comparison to the €3,000 student registration charge in higher education.

“University is expensive nowadays, with estimates at about €17,000 a year for students who need accommodation. That’s not an issue for apprentices who won’t need accommodation and who’ll be paid for five days a week,” she said.

“The apprenticeships won’t be for everyone. They will be quite full-on, with four days working, one day studying, as well as self-directed learning — but they will be a great alternative. We’re finally catching up with what has been offered for years in the Netherlands, Germany and the UK.”

The development of the programmes is being supported and funded by the National Apprenticeship Office in a bid to attract new entrants into the profession and satisfy a growing demand for learning through apprenticeship.

Among the organisations involved in a civil engineering apprenticeship consortium include ATU Sligo, Engineers Ireland, the Construction Industry Federation, Irish Water, the Local Government Management Agency, the Association of Consulting Engineers of Ireland and Transport Infrastructure Ireland.

The consortium chair John Murphy, chief executive of Murphy International and former president of the Civil Engineering Contractors Association, said it was a strategically important initiative that will help address the “huge deficit” in civil engineering talent.

Eamonn Stapleton, president of the Civil Engineering Contractors Association, said it would provide a much needed route to becoming a professionally accredited, internationally recognised civil engineer.

Úna Parsons, head of college at ATU Sligo, said professional apprenticeships are a growing alternative to the traditional route to a third-level education qualification.

“We are thrilled the Government recognises the value of these schemes and its support will help employers and job entrants alike,” she said.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent