Saturday 19 October 2019

How an apprenticeship can start you on the road to entrepreneurial success

“I’m not knocking college but I joke with my husband that I’m making more money than him even though I left school early!”

An upcoming event at Dublin’s RDS Simmonscourt aims to show secondary school students the benefits of a skills-based career, or apprenticeship, as a choice alongside third-level education. Ireland Skills Live takes place from Thursday, March 21, to Saturday, March 23.

The event will give students, teachers and parents the chance to talk to career professionals and companies that are looking to take on apprentices. It will highlight the pathways and opportunities available to students and the accompanying higher education options.

Visitors will also be given the opportunity to see the best in the country in action in live competition, and to experience skills and trades in the ‘Try A Skill’ area. This will give students the chance to get physically involved in, and learn about, those trades that may form a crucial part of their future lives.

Margaret Reilly knows more than most how an apprenticeship can lead to massive entrepreneurial success. The CEO of Grand Designs in Drogheda started working as an apprentice, fitting kitchens for a local businessman called Dessie Boylan, when she was just 15-years-old.

Through a combination of hard work, a number of courses and with a highly supportive family behind her, Margaret would go on to start her first business CTR Manufacturing in 2009 - during the recession - before she founded Grand Designs in 2011.

“I always thought you had to own land to have a business - nobody told me any different,” she tells

“I thought you had to come from money to be successful, but nothing could be further from the truth. I grew up in a very welcoming and very hard-working family and we all went through FÁS.”

Margaret says she has always been a hard worker, and even in the earliest days of her various apprenticeships she would often work from 6am to 7pm at night.

She did a course to learn AutoCAD, an architectural design software, and even took on the role of salesperson for one company in 2003 when business proved difficult to find.

CEO of Grand Designs, Margaret Reilly

“There wasn’t a lot of work coming in, so I offered to do the sales on the road with very little experience. I doubled that man’s sales in six months. I called into all the kitchen companies in Ireland and ended up working for that company for two and a half years.”

Margaret is now at the point where she is hiring her own apprentices at her factory and showroom on the Termonfeckin Road in Drogheda, and she currently employs a staff of eight people.

While she admits it hasn’t always been easy – Margaret didn’t take a wage for three years while Grand Designs found its feet – she insists that perseverance and hard work will always pay off.

Margaret is determined to pass her story on to anyone contemplating a skills-based career.

She acknowledges that there’s a snobbery in certain parts of Irish society around choosing an apprenticeship over third-level education. However, she knows that initiatives like Ireland Skills Live can prove to people that there is more than one way to build a fulfilling and, indeed, a lucrative career.

“There’s a snobbery about apprenticeships,” she adds. “Why shouldn’t it be good enough to work in a factory? Sometimes the better route is not through college, it’s through an apprenticeship. If the will is there, you’ll never work a day in your life. Do what you enjoy.

“I’m not knocking college but I joke with my husband that I’m making more money than him even though I left school early!

“Anyone can have an apprenticeship, but you have to want it.”

Ireland Skills Live will also host the National Skills Finals, with over 20 different skills taking part in a competitive setting. The winners in each event will have the opportunity to represent Ireland at the World Skills Olympics in Russia 2019. 

On the Heroes Stage, key industry professionals and top apprentices will take part in a series of talks, offering smart advice and guidance to young students or apprentices at the beginning of their careers.

Professionals from the construction industry, the creative arts, beauty, hospitality, transportation aviation and information technology will all be present on the three days. There will also be representatives from higher education institutions such as ETBS, tech colleges and technical universities.

There will also be representatives from the Irish Defence Forces, Ford, Jones Engineering, Mercury Engineering, Stobart Air, Collen, Murphy International, Lufthansa Technik Shannon Ltd, GMIT, Errigal, FIT- The ITC Apprenticeship Pipeline, Hardware Association of Ireland, Education and Training Board, Fingal Training Centre, Suir Engineering, Failte Ireland, The Society of the Irish Motor Industry, JJ Rhatigan and Freight Transport Association all in attendance.

Ireland Skills Live will take place on Thursday to Saturday, 21-23 March in Dublin’s RDS from 10am to 5pm each day. Entrance to the event is free but schools must register their attendance in advance. To register, visit the Ireland Skills Live website.

Sponsored by: ISL

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