Don’t underestimate the power of apprenticeships

‘Not everything can be learned from a whiteboard or in a lecture hall’

Traditionally it has been assumed that the way to advance to management level in a company is to enter the workforce with a degree or similar qualification. But there are other options, such as internships and traineeships, and perhaps the most well-established – an apprenticeship. defines an apprenticeship as "a programme of formal education and training", that "combines learning in your place of work, with learning in an education or training centre".

Betty McLaughlin, former president of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors says: "Apprenticeships have the enormous potential to lead the way in providing an innovative path to a professional career in many disciplines and professions through the appropriate apprenticeship programme."

While McLaughlin understands that there is great value in progressing to third-level study, “it is not for everyone. Not everything can be learned from a whiteboard or in a lecture hall. There are some skills that are best learned in their proper environment.”

Tony Donoghue, head of social and educational policy at the Irish Business and Employers Confederation, says: "If we're going to interest young people and their families in apprenticeships, we need to show them a clear progression route both academically and in terms of career progression."

According to, the range of industries covered by apprenticeships has risen significantly over the last number of years. Computer & ICT, medtech, insurance, finance, electrical engineering, accountancy and hospitality are just a handful of the industries taking on more and more apprentices each year.

The ESB runs a four-year apprentice electrician/network technician programme every year. They take on between 72 and 84 apprentices annually, and the programme is divided into seven phases of between 11 and 26 weeks in duration, involving both on- and off-the-job training.

Anne Gaskin Roe, HR business partner at the ESB, says: "Apprenticeships are becoming more valuable as they now go from advance level six to level 10 qualification."

Gaskin Roe believes that apprenticeships can “absolutely” lead to managerial positions down the line.

She says: “The electrical apprenticeship programme provides very highly qualified individuals, with approximately 80 per cent of apprentices going on to fill positions in our network technician category.” She believes the apprenticeship scheme “has a very positive impact on diversity in our workforce”.

Bórd na Móna also run an apprentice scheme, taking on about five or six apprentices each year. The duration of the apprenticeship varies, but is generally about four years.


"Bord na Móna has always been a strong supporter of apprenticeships with a particular focus on giving young people opportunities of employment and developing young people to possess the skillset we required to service our business needs," explains Pat Sammon, external communications manager at Bórd na Móna.

“The apprenticeship programme is an excellent method of transferring knowledge, skills, experience, attitude and training within the organisation and shaping future employees to fit into our culture and to sustain our workforce into the future.”

Sammon believes that apprentices have the upperhand when compared with those who don’t have the same practical experience and knowledge that can only be learned on the job. “Apprentices who learn their trade within a particular business have a distinct advantage as they have an insight into the company they are working for, they know the people, the company, the culture and this creates greater opportunity to progress into more senior, managerial positions down the line,” he says.

“Several former Bord Na Móna apprentices are now managers and supervisors who have progressed and are now managing apprentices themselves.”

While the apprenticeship scheme is successful in encouraging people from different educational backgrounds and of different ages to pursue careers in Bórd na Móna, it has not been as successful in encouraging diversity across the board. “Unfortunately we do not have many women applying for apprenticeships, this is a national recruitment issue with apprenticeships in general. This is something we would be very keen to see changing in future.”

McLoughlin makes reference to the fact that one in six first year college students drop out, or do not continue into the second year of their course. “We are painfully aware of the detrimental impact college dropout can have on our students after they leave our care. The reasons behind this are manifold – some are unsuited to the more self-directed system in college, others suffer a lack of confidence, students also face the financial pressure of college fees and costs; and third-level institutes often lack the resources to continue whatever support us guidance counsellors have been able to provide, to name but a few.”

The apprenticeship system, McLoughlin believes, offers apprentices more than just an insight into a given career. “The students have more one-on-one support in the apprentice system, no college fees, and the opportunity afforded by the work experience helps the student to learn by doing as they put the theory from the learning into practice, shadowing a professional in the workplace.”

McLaughlin believes that “more awareness campaigns are needed to drive the cultural shift needed to bring apprenticeship programmes on a par with traditional college courses and pathways to further education”.

“To my mind, the pastoral and inclusive support which is offered by both the employers and the college partners to the apprentice is a recipe for success.”