Just 400 out of 15,500 Irish apprenticeships taken by women
Women make up less than 5pc of apprentices in Ireland, with just 400 females training in schemes out of 15,500, according to new figures obtained by the Sunday Independent.
This reveals a dramatic contrast with the situation in the UK where around half of all apprentices are female.
Snobbery in Ireland may be partly to blame. Also, the limited range of occupations in Ireland that allow entry through apprenticeships is a major cause of the huge disparity of training opportunities between Ireland and Britain.
Parents may not have considered encouraging their daughters to seek apprenticeships because they may consider learning a trade to be less desirable than 'white-collar' office-based employment.
"There may a snob element to it but that is what we are trying to change," said Fianna Fail education spokesperson Thomas Byrne.
"We need to change attitudes by showing that you can now get a degree through an apprenticeship," he told the Sunday Independent.
It is hoped the number of young women getting apprenticeships will rise steeply with new initiatives like the insurance practitioner apprenticeship which leads to a Level 8 master's degree qualification.
There is also a financial services apprenticeship at Level 7 primary degree standard becoming available in Ireland.
In Britain, a large proportion of all occupations can be accessed through apprenticeships. Efforts are under way to give young Irish people more pathways into employment through a wider range of apprenticeships.
New types of apprenticeships are the key to addressing the huge gender gap in Ireland, said Byrne. "A real problem is that parents particularly, and young people themselves, don't see apprenticeships as equivalent to degrees when, in fact, they are. Some of them, anyway.
"The new insurance apprenticeship is a Level 8 degree that can be got at Sligo Institute of Technology.
"What we are looking for, and it hasn't happened yet, is a massive expansion of the types of jobs that are considered for apprenticeships," he added.
"What is holding this up, too, is that employers are not coming forward. The companies are sitting back instead of calling out for apprenticeships in their areas. They need to contact Solas."
There is a serious skills shortage in the construction sector. Traditional apprenticeship numbers were suffering because of the changed nature of the industry, Byrne said.
"You don't have, to the same extent, the very large companies building houses that have the capacity for apprenticeships. We need the big PLCs involved in housing to come on board with apprenticeships. Sub-contractors don't really have the capacity to do it. So that's a huge part of the problem in the construction trade."
He said the Government only managed to hit a quarter of its modest apprenticeship targets last year. And an acute shortage of chefs in restaurants is worsening by more than 3,000 every year.
Among the proposals in a Fianna Fail policy document are for more apprenticeships in the public sector and for companies like Facebook, Amazon and Google that already offer apprenticeships in other countries "to do the same in Ireland", he said.
Shauna Dunlop, director of apprenticeship and work-based learning at Solas, the State training agency, told this newspaper that some 5,500 employers in Ireland are involved in apprenticeships.
She said the Ireland Skills Live Show in Dublin showcasing apprenticeships recently was a great success with more than 12,000 people attending, mostly secondary school pupils.
About 30 new apprenticeship categories are being rolled out by Solas. She believes an accounts technician apprenticeship will be one of the new roles which will attract more female applicants.
She said there are female bursaries available to employers. She did not believe it was time yet to encourage gender quotas in the sector. There is also a need to attract more people from diverse backgrounds, she said.
"Of course, apprentices begin earning money straight away, which is another advantage," she said, adding that more information on the expanding number of apprenticeships available is on apprenticeships.ie.