By James Ward, PA
The number of new apprenticeships available in Ireland each year is to double from 5,000 to 10,000 by 2025.
A new five-year plan by the Department of Further and Higher Education aims to take the total number of apprentices from 20,000 currently to 30,000.
The plan announced on Monday also aims to increase gender diversity in apprenticeships, with 80% of courses currently dominated by men.
Further and Higher Education Minister Simon Harris said the plan is a “crucial part of our ambition to reform the third level service in Ireland.”
This Plan has the potential to transform part of our third level system. Apprenticeship is good for the learner and the employer. pic.twitter.com/CdcQCHjZ2G
— Department of Further and Higher Education (@DeptofFHed) April 19, 2021
He said: “This plan is part of a system change and a culture change that needs to take place in our country when it comes to third level.
“We need to provide flexible routes and alternative routes for people to get to where they want to get to in life.
“Gone must be the day of ‘this is the right way to do it and this is the wrong way’. There is no right way, there is no wrong way.
“It’s about providing as many different pathways, as many different options as possible for people, because different things will work for different people.”
Mr Harris said there were just 26 female apprentices in Ireland in 2015, but that figure had increased to 1,017 by the end of 2020.
“We have a long way to go to make sure that apprenticeships are much more diverse,” he said.
He said he wants apprenticeships to move away from being seen as the “lesser option” compared with universities.
“This is one piece of the jigsaw, and it’s a broader jigsaw we’re putting together, where we’re trying to create for the very first time in Ireland, an integrated third-level system.
“Where further education, higher education, apprenticeships all work and slotting together and in quite a formal way.
“I would like to see the CEO form broadened so that a student in school can see all of their options.
“I think that’s where we’re going wrong be very honest, at 17 years of age or maybe 16 years of age, we’re narrowing the conversation way too much.”
Financial incentives are to be offered to companies to employ female apprentices where the current workforce is 80% male or above.
A new National Apprenticeship Office is to be established to drive the reforms.
A new grant system will be set up for employers, with top-up grants available for targeted recruitment of minority groups, such as women, lone parents, the travelling community and people with disabilities.
Public sector employers will be given new targets in a bid to increase the number of apprentices they hire from around 80 to 100 each year at present to 750 by 2025.
Cross border initiatives are also to be examined, as well as engagement in international programmes such as Erasmus.
Junior Minister for Skills and Higher Education Niall Collins said: “This action plan is based on feedback from enterprise, the education and training sector and apprentices themselves.
“It builds on the apprenticeship system in Ireland, including the strong relationships between employers and the education and training sector and the established collaborative approach between the further and higher education sectors in managing and delivering apprenticeship.
“This plan will make it easier for employers and apprentices to engage with apprenticeship, supporting and driving innovation in the workplace through responsive and topical programmes.”
Ibec welcomes the launch of the Action Plan for Apprenticeship 2021 -2025 from Government.
Apprenticeship programmes can be truly transformative for learners, for business, and for Ireland as we aim to prioritise investment in people, skills and talent. pic.twitter.com/Wi0BeJqe7q
— Ibec (@ibec_irl) April 19, 2021
The plan has been welcomed by business group Ibec and Youth Work Ireland.
“Apprenticeship programmes can be truly transformative for learners, for business, and for Ireland as we aim to prioritise investment in people, skills and talent,” an Ibec statement said.
Youth Work Ireland spokesman Michael McLoughlin said: “Apprenticeship has been a great route for young people in to stable and rewarding employment for years.
“It is a key instrument for many who do not want to go to other third-level colleges. These are critical routes in an education system which is so focussed on the points race and third-level colleges.
“There are a number of other routes that need to be highlighted and can serve young people well.
“We also need to communicate that apprenticeships have moved well beyond the traditional ‘trades’ and there a whole range of other areas in new economic areas where apprenticeships are available such as media, finance. Pharma, ICT and many more.”