Aidan Kenny: Apprenticeships are a vital rung on the ladder
Published 13/04/2015 | 02:30
Going straight from school to higher education is not for every teenager.
Indeed, while a third-level qualification is increasingly a prerequisite for getting a foothold in the workplace, there are other routes through which school-leavers can pursue a meaningful and fulfilling career.
Among the victims of the economic downturn were apprenticeships. Traditionally, they offered a very important pathway for young people with particular aptitudes and skills.
I was one of those young people back in the 1970s, when I did an apprenticeship in plastering in Bolton Street, now one of the Dublin Institute of Technology colleges. I left school after what was then the Inter Cert. It was a pretty normal thing for an inner-city Dublin guy to do; we didn't go to higher education then. The main thing we wanted to do was to work and earn a living.
The culture promoted in Bolton Street was to advance our studies through part-time courses. So, after I qualified and become self-employed I continued to do evening courses, such as construction management, in the college. It meant I upskilled in areas relevant to my work.
By the time I was in my 30s, I was heavily involved in community and voluntary work. Through my interest in that, I decided to do a part-time degree in psychology and sociology. I was still plastering at the time.
That led me to doing a Masters in Education and Training, and then began a shift in my focus from plastering to teaching. I worked in organisations such as Youthreach with early school-leavers. I also returned to Bolton Street to teach apprentices.
I now have a PhD and I am working with the Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) and a member of its Apprenticeship Working Party. Yes, apprenticeships are on the way back. Solas is predicting nearly 3,000 new apprentices this year, more than double what was on offer in 2012.
We are awaiting the report of the recently established Apprenticeship Council, which put a call out to employer for new options and we would hope that the opportunities that will emerge will include areas such as professional chefs, culinary arts and childcare.
The Irish apprenticeship model has been proven to be a world-class system, as evidenced in the World Skills Competition, where there were gold medals aplenty winging their way to Ireland.
Aidan Kenny is assistant general secretary with the TUI