Ask Brian: Should my son do an apprenticeship instead of college?

Earn and learn: Apprenticeships offer great options in new areas such as financial services

I’m interested in exploring the option of an apprenticeship for my son, who’s due to sit his Leaving Cert next year. His strengths are in hands-on activities rather than academic study. What kind of career options are open to him through this route?

Apprenticeships are expanding, and offer brilliant opportunities to help your son to develop a wide range of skills and open up exciting careers, with learning grounded in the practical experience of undertaking a real job.

Apprentices can “earn while they learn” and build valuable work-ready skills in their chosen occupation, with nationally recognised qualifications.

Many of our existing apprenticeships are world-class. I have often extolled the virtues of the German and Swiss systems, but Irish apprentices are also well regarded abroad.


Apprenticeships in Ireland have traditionally been the path to skilled occupations in a range of sectors such as construction, engineering, motor and electrical.

Dedicated website

Currently there is a huge shortage of suitably qualified apprentices across all the construction trades. The Construction Industry Federation has a dedicated website for those young people interested in registering their interest in a construction-related trade (

Outside of the construction sector, things are changing radically with an expanded model of apprenticeship. This path into employment is expanding into new industries, with some financial services and IT ones coming on stream soon.

Some of those already up and running include insurance practice, electrical engineering, polymer processing, manufacturing engineering, international financial services, hospitality and accounting - with many more on the way.

These apprenticeships can lead to qualifications ranging from a higher certificate (level six) to an honours degree (level eight).

For example, the commis chef apprenticeship results in an advanced certificate in culinary arts. Meanwhile, the insurance practitioner apprenticeship can lead to a honours degree in insurance practice.

One of the most frequently asked questions is how does someone become an apprentice?

Minimum criteria

To begin an apprenticeship, an applicant must be employed by an approved employer. To be eligible, the applicant must meet minimum criteria.

In many apprenticeships applicants must be at least 16 years of age, but for a number of others applicants must be at least 18.

There's also good scope to earn while you learn. For example, students studying to become apprentice network technicians with the ESB start on about €255 per week – gross – rising to €679 per week in the fourth year.

That’s a big incentive, given the hefty bills for fees, accommodation and other expenses if you go down the third-level route.

For more information on apprenticeships, check out the website run by the Apprenticeship Council, an enterprise-led body with representatives of business, trade unions, further education bodies and the Department of Education.

We do consistently well in international skills competitions. In fact, an Irish team is due to head off shortly for what is the equivalent of the Olympics for apprentices. In the last competition, Ireland came 11th in the world ranking and won a gold medal for aircraft maintenance.