Earn and learn in a new era of apprenticeships
Apprenticeships have returned as a real career option for school-leavers and others.
The combination of economic recovery and a major review of the system is heralding a new era of apprenticeships both in traditional areas, such as construction and motoring, and in new career sectors including financial services, information technology, medical devices, accountancy, logistics and hospitality.
Overall, the number of individual occupations covered by the apprenticeship programme is almost doubling, to 52, and two of those - pipe-fitting and stone masonry - have been launched. Others will roll out during 2016.
At least 37 apprentices have already started on the new pipe-fitting programme, which has arisen from the growth of the pharmaceutical and chemical industries in Ireland, in turn prompting the need for commercial and industrial piping systems, using new materials and different types of thermal processes. Up until now, apprenticeships, with the exception of printing, have led to a Level 6 qualification, but under the new system some apprentices will have the option of achieving Level 7 and level 8 qualifications, on a par with third-level degree programmes.
A great value of the apprenticeship system is its 'earn and learn' approach to developing skills and a qualification. Many school-leavers prefer to be 'hands-on' rather than spending four years in lecture halls.
Apprenticeships are usually done over four years and generally comprise seven phases: four on the job and three in college.
Because the system is employer driven, it means apprentices are gaining skills in areas for which there is demand and can look forward to quality, sustainable jobs.
Overall responsibility for the apprenticeship system rests with SOLAS, the further education and training authority.
To start an apprenticeship it is necessary to get a job with an employer who has been approved by SOLAS.. Local employment offices (Intreo) hold lists of local employers while career guidance teachers may also link in with potential employers.
In the past year, the number of new apprentice registrations exceeded targets and rose to over 3,100 - up from below 2,000 a couple of years ago.
The figure for new starts is expected to rise further this year, as economic recovery continues and the new apprenticeships come on stream.
As well as apprenticeships, there is also growing activity in the area of traineeships, which are similar in style with their approach to blending work experience with classroom education, but are done over one to two years.
A number of education and training boards are involved in running these programmes.