Saturday 1 October 2016

Young people will get genuine opportunities to build secure lives

Jan O'Sullivan

Published 02/07/2015 | 02:30

The IFSC in Dublin – financial services is just one of the areas that will recruit apprentices for the first time.
The IFSC in Dublin – financial services is just one of the areas that will recruit apprentices for the first time.

Ireland currently has 27 apprenticeships. All of these are in traditional areas, largely construction-based, but including printing, aircraft maintenance and mechanics.

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These apprenticeships are of a very high quality - over the years we've had a lot of success in World Skills competitions. And these apprenticeships provide great opportunities - this year alone, more than 3,000 young people are expected to begin apprenticeships in these areas. That's an increase of more than 100pc compared with the number of new apprentices in 2012.

New research from the further education and training agency, Solas, has indicated that the numbers in existing apprenticeships will grow each year, reaching 5,000 new apprenticeships by 2018. That's 5,000 young people who will be presented with a real opportunity each year, and a chance to develop the skills and experience they need to build stable and secure lives for themselves and their families.

We've also had success with shorter forms of vocational training. Like apprenticeships, traineeships use a model of workplace-based training and work experience, but are of shorter durations - usually a year or so. They provide people with training and experience in areas such as beauty therapy, office administration or sales and marketing. Ten thousand people have completed traineeships since 2011, and another 10,000 will complete traineeships between now and 2018 - again giving people real alternatives to the academic route to college and beyond, and the chance to gain relevant skills and experience to help them start their careers.

Much has been achieved over the last few years. But, along with my colleague in the Department of Education and Skills, Damien English, I am impatient for a much greater level of achievement and opportunity in this area.

As part of the Government's Action Plan for Jobs initiative, the Department of Education and Skills undertook a review of the apprenticeship system, to determine whether the current model should be retained, adapted or replaced. It examined the needs of both learners and industry. Arising from that review, last November, I appointed an Apprenticeship Council to seek applications from new industries which are willing to create apprenticeships. Earlier this week, I received the report of the council.

The council received more than 80 proposals from a range of sectors. These are proposals where employers have said they want to create apprenticeships, and that there is a long-term demand for skilled employees in their sectors.

The council has reviewed the proposals, and identified 25 new apprenticeships that can be given the green light. We will now move to develop curriculums and get these new apprenticeships started. This will effectively double the type of apprenticeships available in Ireland, including new apprenticeships in sectors such as IT, hospitality and financial services - sectors where we know there will continue to be significant career opportunities in the coming years. I want the first of these new apprenticeships to begin enrolling by the end of this year, with others coming on stream next year.

Since entering Government, Labour's focus has been on creating jobs and ending unemployment. We believe in giving people the skills and experience they need to build fulfilling lives for themselves. We believe in the power of education to liberate and empower people.

And so, we have improved the reading and maths scores of our children for the first time since 1980. We've hired more teachers and special needs assistants (SNAs), and made sure every teacher is a qualified teacher, to protect the quality of education our children receive. We're reforming the school curriculum, and getting rid of prefabs in our schools.

But in creating these 21st-Century apprenticeships, we will do one of our most important pieces of work.

And we will provide genuine opportunities to many thousands of young people.

Jan O'Sullivan is Minister for Education and Skills

Irish Independent

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