The number of apprentices is set to double to 10,000 a year under a new five-year Government plan aimed at boosting “earn and learn” options for school leavers.
The range of apprenticeships is set to broaden to include dozens of new roles in green skills such as wind turbine maintenance and white-collar areas such as international financial services, software and aircraft asset management.
Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris, who is due to launch the new strategy on Monday, said the plan was a big opportunity for "cultral change" around the status of apprenticeships.
“These aren’t just alternatives to colleges,” he said. “They are, in many cases, an alternative way of doing college which offers a degree at the end of it . It’s not just about plumbing and building anymore; you can also be a quantity surveyor or engineer if you want.”
A new healthcare assistant apprenticeship is expected to be especially popular, and there are roles too in farming (applied horticulture, farm management, farm technician), construction (roofing, scaffolding, quantity surveying) and leisure (sports turf management).
Under the the action plan, public sector bodies will also be asked to dramatically boost the number of apprentices in local authorities, the Civil Service and other State-funded bodies.
The aim is to increase public sector apprentice numbers from about 100 to 750 in areas such as built heritage, ICT and healthcare.
Gardaí, teachers, healthcare and allied health professionals will not be part of the apprentice plan.
There will also be pilot project which will see Erasmus-style apprenticeship placements across Europe and potential cross-border apprenticeship programmes.
In addition, the private sector will get grants – expected to be about €3,000 per apprentice – from next year.
There will be additional supports if employers take on recruits from under-represented groups such as lone parents, people with disabilities or asylum seekers.
Similarly, there will be financial incentives to provide a greater gender mix in areas which are either male- or female-dominated.
For example, more than 80 per cent of apprentices in hairdressing are women, while more than 80 per cent of apprentices in areas such as plumbing and mechanics are men.
Speaking in advance of the launch, Mr Harris said there will be an urgent need to rebuild and reimagine our economy and society as we start to get the pandemic under control and reopen.
“Apprenticeship is a fantastic way to learn. We know this because apprentices told us when we asked them as part of our consultation process.
“I want to see apprenticeship discussed around kitchen tables, in boardrooms, in classrooms and anywhere else that decisions on education skills and careers are made.”
A total of 60 apprenticeship programmes are currently on offer, with 18 more in development.
New roles include equipment services engineer; bar manager; commercial driver; executive chief; manufacturing data integration engineer; precision machinist and quality control; software solutions architect; and stud farm assistant manager.
A national apprenticeship office is to be established to help drive reforms and meet the action plan targets.
There will also be a bursary programme for up to 100 apprentices each year who are from disadvantaged backgrounds or from targeted groups such as Travellers, Roma, lone parents and people with disabilities. In these cases, a rate of €5,000 per annum may be paid to the apprentice.
Mr Harris said these incentives were aimed at ensuring the apprenticeship population better reflects the diversity of our population.
The five-year action plan – to be launched by Mr Harris and Minister of State Niall Collins – also seeks to advance plans for a single portal for school leavers which includes CAO options as well as alternatives in the further education and training sector.
This is aimed at boosting the visibility of apprenticeships as an option for Leaving Cert students and others.