Scaling up on apprenticeships beyond male-dominated areas a winner for economy

A greatly expanded system will provide career opportunities and alternative routes to higher education for those with different skill sets

 

The most successful economies in Europe have the best-developed apprenticeship schemes, offering hands-on education as alternatives to arts degree and other third-level courses. Irish governments have been slow to invest in this sector for historic reasons and it was generally regarded as a poor education relation. Now, however, training schemes are to be extended beyond traditional, male-dominated areas such as construction and engineering and women will be encouraged to participate.

Much ground has to be made up in the range and the quality of courses on offer if the abilities and ambitions of young school-leavers are to be met and a more balanced education system is to be achieved. A commitment by Minister for Education Richard Bruton to invest €20 million in 13 new apprenticeship scheme is to be welcomed, as is the intention to create 50,000 apprenticeship places within three years. Meeting those targets, however, will not close the education gaps with Germany, Switzerland and the UK. Germany offers 300 apprenticeship courses; 70 per cent of Swiss school-leavers participate in such schemes and half of UK places are taken up by women.

Here, only 33 women were employed last year, out of 10,000 places available across 27 different courses. That is a dreadful reflection on the nature of the positions on offer and – perhaps – on the attitude of employers. Whatever the underlying reasons, they have nothing to do with ability, as more women than men secure third-level qualifications from universities and third-level institutions. The UK apprenticeship system can offer useful insights on the changes required.

Irish education tended to concentrate on academic subjects and a snob-factor pushed young people towards third-level courses irrespective of ability, acumen or genuine interest. This led to a poorly developed apprenticeship system that lost 80 per cent of its places during the recession and is only now recovering. A greatly expanded system will provide career opportunities and alternative routes to higher education for those with different skill sets.

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