Thousands spurning third level for a trade
THOUSANDS of Leaving Cert students -- many of them high fliers -- are shunning college courses to learn a trade and earn up to €1,300 a week as soon as they qualify.
New figures show the majority of qualified tradespeople earn way above the industrial average and more than the starting salaries of most graduates.
They also reveal that a significant number of crafts workers in their mid-20s are earning more than managers in industry.
Almost half (43pc) of the qualified construction crafts workers have set up their own business by their mid to late 20s.
Almost a third of the 1,000 former apprentices who took part in a major survey refused to say what they were earning, even though they were assured of anonymity.
Among the two-thirds who replied, the survey found: l The average gross salary for a tradesperson is €932 a week compared with just over €600 for the average industrial wage. l One in 10 construction craftworkers earn over €1,300 a week gross, which works out at over €1,000 a week net. l One in eight bricklayers earn over €1,300 a week gross. l More than 60pc of apprentices have their Leaving Cert.
The survey was carried out for FAS by an independent company, CATI, during December 2006 and January this year.
At present there are 29,218 apprentices in training, of whom 16,362 have their Leaving Cert, some with very high points.
FAS director of corporate affairs Gregory Craig said he was not surprised at the high numbers of Leaving Cert holders entering the trades.
Apart from the attractive salaries, a craft qualification also gave a young person great flexibility and mobility, he said.
Apprenticeship comprises seven phases of training on the job with an employer and off the job in a FAS training centre or institute of technology. Generally it takes four years to qualify.
The survey shows very low levels of unemployment among those who stayed the course -- a mere 2pc -- and a positive attitude towards the apprenticeship system generally. It was conducted among apprentices who began in 1999.
Three-quarters had completed their training four years later. Some were still in the system but the rest had dropped out.
The non-completion rate was highest among engineering apprentices according to the survey, which suggests they should be screened before being accepted on to that course.
Of the trades, brick and stonelaying craftspersons earned the most, €865 net per week, none earned less than €500 net per week and 12pc earned more than €1,000 net per week.
Dr Len O'Connor, adviser on Apprentice Education Strategy, said the Irish apprenticeship system was one of the best in Europe.
"We came across one apprentice who had 550 points and in the Cork Institute of Technology we had an apprentice plumber with 500 points -- they were by no means unusual," he said.
Dr O'Connor agreed that the construction industry was slowing down after the past few hectic years and that this could impact on both salaries and recruitment of new apprentices.
"But they're still earning good money," he said.