Third level education is viewed as the conventional route towards a successful career. However there are other routes to fulfilling careers as outlined by a recently launched report. The new National Skills Strategy brings a long overdue alternative path to career options by setting ambitious goals. These include 50,000 training and apprenticeship places before the decade’s end. Bringing the vocational and apprenticeship path into the 21st century will align Ireland with other countries who have established high status vocational options in education.
Historically, Irish apprenticeships have been mostly within the construction sector. During the Celtic Tiger boom times, there were almost 30,000 apprentices within this sector. Needless to say the ensuing crash caused a huge reduction in apprenticeship opportunities.
The overhaul of the system is timely considering that a recent Irish Times Report showed that one in six students are not progressing beyond the first year of third level education. Clearly, this contributes to the youth unemployment statistics of 20%. While there has always been a very high level of successful graduates from third level, over 40% of them are working in areas unrelated to their chosen college course.
At the same time, in an improving economy, there is a growing emphasis on skills to push the recovery onward. Widening the scope of the apprenticeship and vocational options will be one strand that can aid progress and provide attractive opportunities in areas such as IT, Science and Engineering.
Significant input and support from industry will be required and there must also be access routes back into education for the students following the apprenticeship options. One of the key points from the report is a recommendation for more alignment across further education and higher level education.
A new National Skills Council is aimed at bringing education and industry together. Directors will be appointed soon and this set up along with the other changes will align the worlds of education and industry more closely together.
The Further Education and Training Authority (SOLAS)) has reviewed the successful Swiss model of apprenticeship where the participation of 15 to 19 year old’s in apprentice schemes is 70%. However, this is a very different situation to Ireland, where a change of mind-set will be required. Traditionally, children from more affluent areas have progressed to third level courses regardless of whether they are suited to that level of education.
The decline in apprentice numbers from circa 30,000 in 2007 to just over 5,000 in 2013 shows that confidence has been lost in apprenticeships as a viable option. The message to be delivered is to demonstrate the clear cut progression of career development and academic achievement that can be attained with the new schemes. Apprenticeships are to be addressed not as internships or on-the-job training but as concentrated learning for specific occupations.
SOLAS are hoping that apprenticeships, by giving students learning and work experience, will result in a reduction of ‘dropouts’ from college. To support apprenticeships, there is a fund of €10 million, but there is also a need for sustained stakeholder investment which will include educators, central government and employers. Guidance counseling will be critical in schools to encourage the take up of the new opportunities. In the short term, an extra two hours per week per 100 students is to be implemented.
Apprenticeships are associated with practical and technical careers in various areas: engineering, motoring, construction, electrical and printing. This year, new apprenticeships across 25 industry sectors will be launched. Software development, catering, travel, medical devices, warehousing, and plastics are just some of the options available. Apprenticeships will also be on offer at third-level as well as training and further education establishments.
Apprenticeship vs College
Many of the new apprenticeships will include college-based lectures. The higher education pathways will have intensive off job training, therefore the differences between apprenticeships and college courses will not be so marked.
Employers are responsible for paying apprentices and will set their own pay scales. Industry norms increase as the apprenticeship progresses and more details on some of the various industry norm rates can be viewed at – http://www.fas.ie/en/Allowances+and+Grants/Apprentice+Wages.htm
This is currently a work in progress with the first apprenticeships under the new scheme due to come on stream in September 2016. Information will be rolled out to schools and guidance counselors alongside a proactive campaign.
The prospect of improving the available skill sets to industry via new types of apprenticeships is an exciting one and will broaden the options for those students who are not entirely suited to a purely academic education. The opportunities are ideal to encourage entrepreneurship, innovation and a desirable skill set for the growing economy.
Author: Denise Colebrooke