Friday 6 December 2019

Taking another route to a career of the future

Apprenticeships in areas such as finance and insurance could prove to be more attractive to some students and their parents. Stock image
Apprenticeships in areas such as finance and insurance could prove to be more attractive to some students and their parents. Stock image

John Walshe

Too many parents are obsessed with getting their children into college to the exclusion of alternative training or education options. Record numbers of applications for college places have already been lodged before next Monday's CAO deadline, fuelling fears that the entry 'points' will rise again next autumn.

But there are other routes to a rewarding career - as a timely report launched yesterday reminded us. The new National Skills Strategy sets a very ambitious target of 50,000 apprenticeship and traineeship places between now and the end of the decade. Other countries have a well-developed and high status apprenticeship/vocational track and it's about time we did as well.

Up until now, apprenticeships were concentrated mainly in the construction sector.

We were heading towards 30,000 apprentices at one stage during the height of the boom but the intake collapsed during the economic crash. Now we are rebuilding the economy, with a renewed emphasis on skills to drive that recovery and Minister Jan O'Sullivan is broadening the range of apprenticeships - this follows a review initiated by her predecessor Ruairi Quinn. Apprenticeships in areas such as finance and insurance could prove to be more attractive to some students and their parents.

The success of the new apprenticeships will depend on significant support from industry but there also have to be access points back into education for young people who follow this route. Indeed, the need for greater alignment between the whole area of further education and higher education is stressed in the report.

The report announces the setting up of a new National Skills Council while regional fora, which will bring industry and education together, are in the early stages of development and will shortly be appointing directors. All of these and other changes are designed to attune the education and training system more closely to the world of work. And that's not just work in big industry. Most enterprises in Ireland have fewer than 10 employees and often poor enough training on the job.

Educational purists may not be happy with the very considerable emphasis in the report on entrepreneurship and preparation for work.

Full employment is the Government's objective for the next few years but advances in technology will strip out millions of jobs world wide as a paper released during the recent Davos meeting warned. Students need to be prepared for periods of their life when they won't have work and they will need the skills to adapt to dramatically changing circumstances.

The Arts feature only briefly in the report. We are used to the acronym STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) but now we may have to get used to STEAM, with the A standing for the Arts.

The report suggests that a cross over of arts-related subjects makes science more relevant to day-to-day situations. The Arts can also help prepare students for the interdisciplinary nature of research activity both within academia and industry, it says.

Surprisingly, there is no target for the numbers going on to higher education. It notes that progression rates have jumped to 69pc, made up of immediate school leavers, mature students, those transferring from Post Leaving Certificate courses and others.

We know that one-in-six students don't make it past first year. Some would clearly be more suited to high-quality apprenticeships, traineeships or further education courses. But it won't be easy to cure some parents of their deep belief that college is the only option for their children.

John Walshe was special adviser to former education minister Ruairi Quinn

Irish Independent

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