Going to third level is baked into the Irish psyche, but apprenticeships offer a chance for school-leavers to get a valuable qualification, have a college experience and earn money at the same time.
In recent years, employers have tended to be less interested in the precise qualification of a third-level graduate, and more concerned to see that they have the skills provided by a college degree. Apprenticeships, however, not only provide critical-thinking skills but also equip apprentices with the particular skills they need to step into specific roles.
Apprenticeships were once primarily undertaken by young men, aged 17-21, in familiar construction crafts (including carpentry and joinery, painting and decorating, scaffolding, stonecutting and stonemasonry, plastering and plumbing), electrical (including electrical, electrical instrument, refrigeration and air conditioning), engineering (including farriery and manufacturing technology) and motor (including agricultural mechanics, motor mechanics and vehicle body repairs).
We caught up with Alan McGrath, director of apprenticeships with Solas, the further education and training authority, to see what apprenticeships have to offer and how demand has held up during the pandemic.
How have apprenticeships changed in recent years?
"Over the past five years the apprenticeships on offer have grown to include accounting, insurance, recruitment, ICT, hairdressing, sales, auctioneering and property services, healthcare, biopharma, finance, food and hospitality, sales, logistics and supply chain.
"We now see people of all ages – whether changing career or just out of school and looking to start their career – starting apprenticeships. On some courses, including auctioneering services, there is now a majority of women.
Are people interested in apprenticeships – and why should others consider them?
"They are for everyone, whether you got 200 or 600 points in the Leaving Cert. They are also an option for anyone changing career. You will gain a recognised qualification between level five and 10, and if you do a level-eight apprenticeship, you come out with a level-eight degree – the same as anyone who went to college. You gain real-life, on-the-job experience, while earning a salary. If you go to third level, you need to pay over €3,000 in fees before you even get into the cost of college; if you do an apprenticeship, you could potentially earn €25,000 in your first year.
"If you want to change careers but have financial responsibilities, an apprenticeship can be the way to learn and still earn money."
What skills are in demand – and will they still be needed when I graduate?
"People see that apprenticeships are key to employment. At Solas, we look at expert skills reports when we format our requirements for craft apprentices. The need for more houses and the need to respond to climate change mean that there will be a demand for green skills and construction. We see qualified bricklayers and carpenters coming back and reskilling in near-zero energy regulations and retrofitting."
How have apprenticeships been affected by Covid?
"Craft apprenticeships, which require hands-on training, were on hold between March and October 2020, which created waiting lists and training backlogs. Theory training could happen virtually, but practical skills were delayed. For non-craft apprenticeships, such as insurance practitioner (level eight, IT Sligo), students were less affected."
"Griffith College Dublin recently launched an advanced healthcare practitioner course, Galway Roscommon ETB have launched an arborist apprenticeship and, in coming years, Solas will be expanding the range of apprenticeships on offer.
"We have also received funding to develop additional training capacity and developing an accelerated training model for craft apprenticeships which were impacted by Covid."
What else do I need to know?
To get a place on an apprenticeship, you need an employer willing to take you on. Your local ETB or course provider can provide more information, and you'll also find a list of employers on apprenticeshipjobs.ie.
For more information and to see the full range of apprenticeships on offer, see apprenticeship.ie