Sunday 20 October 2019

5,648 in 2018 and rising: apprentices ­ you're hired

New and traditional sectors see major increase in uptake, writes Katherine Donnelly

The renewed attraction of the building trades is obvious, with 1,486 new apprentices last year, compared with 914 in 2016’. Stock image
The renewed attraction of the building trades is obvious, with 1,486 new apprentices last year, compared with 914 in 2016’. Stock image
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Apprenticeships are back with a bang. Despite talk in recent years about a renaissance in traditional craft apprenticeships, alongside the launch of new programmes in other industries and businesses, progress had been slow.

But now, there is a sharp and ongoing rise in apprenticeship registrations. Unsurprisingly, much of it is on the back of the current construction boom, but what is more significant is the steady uptake in new and less familiar offerings.

Apprenticeships are open to everyone - school-leavers as well as more mature applicants. But at this time of year, when sixth year students are considering and reconsidering their future choices, the growing variety of earn-as-you-learn opportunities is bringing a new dynamic to the career-path mix.

When the recession hit over a decade ago, apprenticeships - then available in 27 trades - nosedived and the closing off of those options was a contributory factor in the surge in CAO applications in the years that followed.

While a three per cent increase in Leaving Cert numbers is expected this year, the initial figures from the CAO after the February 1 deadline did not reflect that rise, which may suggest that some of this year's school-leavers have already decided to opt for a different path.

Latest figures from the further education and training authority, Solas, provide hard evidence, not only of a recovery in areas such as construction, but of how the new offerings are gaining a foothold.

Overall, there were 5,648 new apprenticeship registrations in 2018 - a big jump from 3,821 two years ago. Some 5,058 were in the 27 traditional areas, up from 3,742 in 2016.

The renewed attraction of the building trades is obvious, with 1,486 new apprentices last year, compared with 914 in 2016. The most popular was plumbing with 653 new apprentices, almost double the 345 in 2016. Carpentry and joinery was next, attracting 591 new apprentices in 2018, up from 399 two years previously. And the pace is quickening - when January 2019 is compared with January 2018, figures for these two areas alone have almost doubled.

New apprenticeships in electrical trades ran to 2,224 in 2018, compared with 1,605 in 2016, while in engineering, new registrations hit 640, compared with 503 two years previously. At 708 new apprentice signings last year, the motor industry was down from 716 in 2016, although up on 673 in 2017.

Alongside the 27 traditional trades, there are 18 new apprenticeships: from 79 registrations in 2016, there were 590 new apprentices recruited to these areas in 2018. It's everything from white collar, desk-based jobs such as in the insurance, accounting and financial services to commis chef and butchery. Another example is the freight transport industry's logistic associate apprenticeships, in partnership with the Technological University (TU) Dublin school of management.

The latest one, the 45th on the list, is cybersecurity and there are many more on the way. In what must be heartening for the hospitality industry, which has long been sounding warnings about skills shortages, is the leap from 25 new commis chef apprentices in 2017 to 112 last year. It didn't exist in 2016.

At a hearing of the Oireachtas Education Committee last autumn. concern was expressed about uptake in the new generation apprenticeships being a year behind the target figure of 976. That was partly explained by a delay in launching some programmes, but also a lack of buy-in by employers in some sectors.

One area with a lower than expected uptake was the financial services industry. However, it is running a new recruitment campaign for its third intake - closing date this Friday - for both the two-year Level 6, International Financial Services (IFS) Associate, with a starting salary of €23.000, and the Level 8 IFS Specialist, also two years duration and aimed at graduates or mature applicants, with a starting salary of €32,000.

Carol Kenna, the IFS Apprenticeship Programme Manager with the employers organisation, Ibec, says there are currently 12 companies involved and 50 apprentices.

The 27 apprentices recruited in 2017 will graduate this year. Employers include major names such as AIB, Bank of Ireland, Ulster Bank, State Street, Fidelity and Citibank.

She says they expect to see growth over the medium to long term. As a result of the current recruitment campaign, they hope to increase the figures (both employers and apprentices) for the autumn 2019 start. Plans include rolling out the IFS Specialist programme on a nationwide basis.

Where it is up and running, she describes it as "hugely successful". Apprentices, overwhelmingly, are achieving top grades and the retention rate is 90pc from the 2017 intake and 100pc from 2018 to date.

The feedback from employers is also very good, with high satisfaction rates regarding the apprentices' level of engagement and productivity, she says.

IFS apprentices will be among those showcasing their skills at the Generation Apprenticeship Competition, where they will present a sales pitch, known as an elevator pitch, to a panel of judges at the Ireland Skills Live Event (see panel, left, and supplement with today's paper). It will be the first time non-craft apprentices have entered this competition.

Irish Independent

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