Number of school leavers choosing apprenticeships doubles

Rising number want to ‘earn and learn’, but women make up just 3% of 17,500 apprentices

The number of school-leavers choosing apprenticeships has doubled in recent years as rising numbers of pupils look towards “earn and learn” options.

Some 17,500 young people are now completing apprenticeships, more than twice the 8,300 in apprenticeships in 2015.

Apprenticeships typically involve a combination of learning on-the-job with an employer as well as studying in college.

Many new “white collar” apprenticeships in areas such as accounting, real estate and insurance pay learners between €17,000 and €30,000 a year.


They typically offer a certificate or degree-level qualification at the end or a two- or three-year programme.

While apprenticeships are growing in popularity, there is a major gender gap in the sector, with women accounting for just over 3 per cent – or 600 – of the 17,500 apprentices. The bulk of learners are still in traditional craft areas – such as construction, electrical, engineering and motor mechanics – which are dominated by men.

Traditional craft

Of the almost 6,000 or so new registrations in apprenticeships in 2019, almost 5,000 were in these traditional craft areas, while around 1,000 were in “new” apprenticeships.

There is a much more even gender representation in these new apprenticeships which span areas such as financial services, laboratory analysis, hospitality and sales.

In many of these new programmes, the number of potential apprentices applying for positions is higher than the number of employers available to employ them.

For example, in the case of tech apprenticeships last year, there were more than 1,500 applications for just 34 apprentice jobs in the civil service.

In the case of the accounting technicians’ apprenticeship, each year there have been on average three applications for every available job.

Solas is planning for significant growth this year with a further 23 new apprenticeship programmes due to be launched.

These new programmes will include training for the occupations of recruitment executive, sales specialists, advanced healthcare assistant and quantity surveyor.

While demand is growing, Solas, the State body with responsibility for the sector, says take-up of new apprenticeships developed since 2016 by employers has been slower than envisaged.


Some groups such as the Restaurants Association of Ireland say a key obstacle is the fact that employers must pay apprentices while they are at college.

This is in contrast to other apprenticeships developed before 2016 – such those in the construction sector – where a training allowance is paid by the State to apprentices while attending off-the-job training.

Solas has said this arrangement was a policy decision taken as part of the apprenticeship review in 2014.

It says the new apprenticeship system was developed in consultation with educational institutions and industry and was aimed at allowing more flexibility in their design.

Overall, it says, the number of participating employers is rising year-on-year.

The numbers of employers hiring apprentices on the “new” apprenticeship programmes is increasing with a total of 540 employers in 2018 compared to around 1,000 at the end of 2019.

Latest figures show there are more than 6,000 apprenticeship employers, compared to about 3,500 in 2015.

To support apprenticeship expansion, the Government is due to provide an additional €27 million to develop the sector this year.

Solas is planning to continue its "generation apprenticeship" campaign this year to boost awareness among school-leavers, and has also launched a new "apprenticeship jobs" platform online at to make it easier to find vacancies.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent