Trainee mechanic says more school-leavers should consider apprenticeships

‘ I can’t recommend the earn-and-learn route enough. We all learn differently’

Apprentice mechanic Samantha Kao at  Bus Éireann’s Broadstone depot in Dublin. “We really all do learn differently. You get a chance to put into practice what you’re learning all the time.” Photograph: Naoise Culhan

Apprentice mechanic Samantha Kao at Bus Éireann’s Broadstone depot in Dublin. “We really all do learn differently. You get a chance to put into practice what you’re learning all the time.” Photograph: Naoise Culhan

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Even though Samantha Kao had a passion for engines as a teenager, at schools she was advised against becoming an apprentice mechanic.

“We were always pushed to do something that was ‘better’,” says Kao (33). “But my dream was to work in the motor industry with engines – not to get a degree in engineering at university.”

When she became pregnant while sitting her Leaving Cert she put her career ambitions on hold.

After a series of office jobs she finally secured her dream a few years ago: a place on a heavy-vehicle mechanics apprenticeship at Bus Éireann.

“I really can’t recommend the ‘earn-and-learn’ route enough. We all learn differently. I love this model. It suits me much better. I’d suggest this over going to college. You’re learning and earning on the job. You get a chance to put into practice what you learn on the job immediately.”

Her four-year heavy-vehicle mechanics apprenticeship involves a combination of on-the-job training at the Broadstone depot in Dublin, along with off-the-job training at a Solas training centre and Technological University Dublin or Athlone Institute of Technology.

There are a range of benefits such as access to health cover, travel concessions and “competitive” rates of pay, which increase year-on-year to about €600 a week by the final year of the programme.

“I love the fact that by the time I’m finished and qualified that I won’t be in the red,” says Kao, who is in the third year of the programme.

“I won’t owe college fees or anyone. I’ll have earned enough to keep myself afloat. And I’ll have a trade which is recognised all across the world.”

End the stigma

Kao feels now is the time to end the stigma among parents and school-leavers that apprenticeships are a “second best” option.

“I think school-leavers should realise that it is a great option. We really all do learn differently. You get a chance to put into practice what you’re learning all the time.

“To take on an apprenticeship is four years; it’s not a long time really. By the time you’re finished you’ll have a great qualification and a trade. If you choose to go to college that’s still option.”

She also feels it is important for girls to realise that there are plenty of options in the sector, even if they are often seen as male-dominated.

“There’s a saying, ‘if you can’t see it, you can’t be it’. Look at me. I’m small, I’m a woman, but I’m more than able to do the job.”