Thousands of apprentices waiting up to a year for training due to Covid-19

7,500 trainees such as plumbers and electricians unable to access off-the-job training

Thousands of apprentices have been waiting for up to a year for essential training due to difficulties accessing further and higher education campuses. Photograph: iStock

Thousands of apprentices have been waiting for up to a year for essential training due to difficulties accessing further and higher education campuses. Photograph: iStock

 

Thousands of apprentices have been waiting up to a year for essential training due to difficulties accessing further and higher education campuses.

About 7,500 craft apprentices – such as plumbers and electricians – have been unable to access off-the-job training due to Covid-19 restrictions and face delays qualifying as a result.

All have been waiting at least six months, while about 2,000 have been waiting for up to a year or more to move onto the next phase of their training.

Speaking at an Oireachtas education committee, Solas chief executive Andrew Brownlee said the issue was a “significant worry” to education centres being closed for nine out of the last 12 months.

“We know how urgent and important it is for apprentices and employers and we are absolutely committed to ensuring apprentices get back into the training they need as soon as possible,” Mr Brownlee said.

There were challenges even before the pandemic due to capacity constraints linked to a sharp rise in numbers choosing craft apprenticeships.

However, he said an action plan to tackle the problem is in place which includes a euro20million fund to expand the capacity of training centres, delivering more components online and over-time to deliver extra training.

Mr Brownlee said several thousand craft apprentices have recently returned to education campuses to complete practical training and assessment in line with public health guidelines.

The committee heard that, overall, about 20,000 apprentices are currently registered, with plans to double the annual number of registrations from 5,000 to 10,000 a year.

The range of apprenticeships is set to broaden to include dozens of new roles in green skills such as wind turbine maintenance and white-collar areas such as international financial services, software and aircraft asset management.

The issue of how apprenticeships can be promoted among Leaving Cert students was raised by a number of deputies, with some asking how the status of the sector can be boosted.

Plans

Mr Brownlee said plans are being examined to allow senior cycle students take “taster” modules for further education courses such as engineering, nursing or Stem courses.

He said plans to reform the senior cycle could also offer greater exposure to vocational pathways.

In addition, he said the “generation apprentice” campaign was building awareness among students, parents and guidance counsellors.

Sinn Féin’s education spokesman Donncha Ó Laoghaire expressed concern that Solas is due to step away from co-ordinating craft apprenticeships.

He said some trade unions were worried that plans to shift responsibility for these apprenticeships to consortiums of education providers and employers could affect take-up numbers.

Mr Brownlee confirmed that there was a plan to “migrate” Solas out of its co-ordinating provider role for craft apprentices over a five-year period.

He said there has been conflict of interest in Solas managing these apprenticeships as well as being a provider.