Look beyond the CAO to the apprenticeship route

From accountancy to construction, the choice of apprenticeships is expanding to meet a growing demand

Apprentices typically combine college days and academic training with real work experience. Photograph: Getty.

Apprentices typically combine college days and academic training with real work experience. Photograph: Getty.


The success or otherwise of those receiving their Leaving Cert results will be judged in large measure, by the students themselves, their schools, their parents and by the offers secured through the CAO application process.

We take great pride in the fact that Ireland has one of the highest higher-education participation rates among the OECD countries.

More than 20 per cent more Irish school-leavers progress to third-level institutions than in Germany.

Yet Germany has one of the lowest youth unemployment rates in the world and one of the strongest economies, whereas youth unemployment in Ireland is still a serious long term problem.

Recent research published by the Higher Education Authority shows significantly large drop-out rates from Irish third-level institutions particularly within the Institution of Technology (IT) sector.

Should today’s Leaving Cert students pause and reflect on the options on offer to them rather than see the securing and accepting of a place through the CAO as being the only criteria of success?


The traditional apprenticeships in Ireland, mainly in the construction industry, collapsed in 2009 as all such activity virtually ceased. Many young people interested in such occupations chose construction related courses CAO courses in ITs following the collapse.

Unfortunately, the drop-out rates were extremely high. Thankfully, the construction industry is recovering and major projects are moving through the planning process.


Construction Industry Federationwww.apprentices.ie

There are also a wide variety of new apprenticeships outside the traditional construction-related ones being developed.

Accounting Technicians Ireland (ATI) is filling 100 new jobs in businesses around the country through a two-year, earn-as-you-learn opportunity that puts school-leavers on the path to a career in accountancy.

The Accounting Technician Apprenticeship offers school-leavers the chance to gain valuable experience over the two years, working four days a week in the office, and attending classes one day a week, as they pursue an accounting qualification.

They’ll be mentored in both the college and the workplace, as they apply the skills and knowledge they learn in class to a real work environment.

Free fees

The programme is running in Dublin, Wicklow, Cork and Monaghan, and the jobs are being offered by a range of companies, from large accountancy firms to small practices. Tuition fees are paid by the State and apprentices earn the minimum wage for the duration of the contract.

Betty McLaughlin, president of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors, expressed her support for the apprenticeship model, and the Accounting Technician Apprenticeship.

“There is a countrywide demand for accountants and accounting technicians. In good times and bad – these skill-sets are in demand. Accounting Technicians Ireland provides an innovative path to a career in accounting through this apprenticeship programme.

“To my mind, the pastoral and inclusive support which is offered by both the employers and the college partners is a recipe for success. Moreover, the opportunities to progress to further study with Chartered Accountants Ireland dispels any misconceptions out there over a lack of progression on the apprenticeship route – and is clear evidence of the sea-change on the apprenticeship model which is now taking place in Ireland.”


Northern IrelandCara HaddenBelfast Metropolitan College

“My experience of the apprenticeship has been fantastic”, she said at the time of the Awards. “Not only have I received excellent training throughout but the work I do has real value. Having the opportunity to make a real contribution to a firm while I earned my qualification was one of the things that attracted me to the apprenticeship.”

When the apprenticeship ends, successful apprentices will have the opportunity to progress to chartered accountancy. The Accounting Technician Apprenticeship starts on September 12th. Interested applicants should visit www.accountingtechnicianapprenticeship.ie/applicants to download an application form.

For those interested in a career in insurance, the Insurance Practitioner Apprenticeship is Ireland’s first degree apprenticeship programme. It starts this September.

Insurance employers across the country are looking to hire up to 100 apprentices, who will work towards the BA in Insurance Practice while earning a salary and gaining valuable on-the-job experience.

The apprenticeship will allow school-leavers, graduates and career changers to get a foot in the door to one of Ireland’s largest and most diverse financial services sectors. The programme is designed to equip apprentices with the technical and workplace skills the industry has identified as lacking, while working towards a level 8 honours degree.

Apprentices will complete the degree portion online through distance learning with IT Sligo and the industry’s educational body the Insurance Institute, which have collaborated in developing the programme. This online study is all done within the apprentice’s workplace, making the programme suitable nationwide.

Game changer

Paula Hodson

Ms Hodson described the huge demand for the programme from both the industry and apprentice hopefuls. “We’ve had over 450 people register their interest in the programme already, with application forms from nationwide employers coming through for approval, demonstrating a huge level of commitment from the industry to taking on apprentices. This is even before the formal recruitment campaigns begin so we anticipate that they will see a huge influx of applicants over the next month.”

Minimum entry requirements include two honours in the Leaving Cert and a pass in four additional subjects including English/Irish and maths.

Further details can be found on the Insurance Institute’s website at iii.ie/apprenticeships. Employers who wish to recruit apprentices can contact the institute on apprentices@iii.ie or telephone 01-645 6600.


FIT is an industry-led initiative which works in close collaboration with government departments and national education and training agencies, local development organisations and a host of community based organisations. Its primary partners in education and training include Solas, ETBs (formerly VECs), ETBI, ICT Ireland, Intreo, Third Level Institutions, Léargas, as well as leader and partnership companies.

FIT is piloting the ICT Associate Professional initiative with a total of 220 places available nationwide. It is a two-year programme and carries an award at Level 6. FIT is currently recruiting for upcoming programmes in Kildare/Wicklow, Waterford/Wexford, Dublin and Louth.

FIT aims to attract young people from diverse backgrounds to consider embarking on fulfilling careers in ICT which has an ever-growing need for fresh talent.

Participants will combine college-based learning with work-based training. They will gain a qualification that will position them well for a career in a technology role across any sector. Details onwww.fit.ie



All these initiatives are just a sample of what is available but they show that high-quality choices which range far beyond the traditional CAO options are open to school-leavers.

Over the coming days students should consider all their options and consult their school’s guidance counsellor prior to making any decision on what route to embark on in the months ahead.