January 02, 2020
How the new-and-improved apprenticeship could solve recruitment challenges
As talent shortages continue to prevail in an economy with near-full employment, organisations may find the answer to their recruitment problems in the evolving apprenticeship model. The number of young people choosing to do an apprenticeship has surged to 17,500 a year, compared to 8,300 in 2015, The Irish Times reported on January 23. Part of the reason for this uptake is the changing nature of the traditional apprenticeship, typically associated with young men training to be plumbers, electricians, mechanics or carpenters.
Recent years have seen the development and growth of new apprenticeships in sectors such as finance, insurance, IT and biopharma and for roles as diverse as laboratory technicians, accounting technicians and software developers. And as the diversity of sectors hiring apprentices increases, so too does the number of women attracted to the apprenticeship model.
How it works
Apprentices are employed by a Solas-approved employer for the duration of a programme, which generally lasts between two and four years. About half of a typical apprenticeship programme involves workplace-based learning, with the remaining academic half delivered off-site, often at an institute of technology. Solas, which evolved out of Fás, is the agency with statutory responsibility for apprenticeships. To be approved by Solas to take on an apprentice, an employer must demonstrate that they can provide the type of quality, relevant on-the-job training required by the national apprenticeship programme. An employer can apply online and will receive a site visit from Solas.
For apprenticeships that began before 2016, the employer paid the apprentice while they were being trained on the job, while off-the-job training was in the form of an allowance paid by the local Education and Training Board. However, apprenticeships that started in 2016 or later are paid by the employer. Participants are drawn to the apprenticeship model because they start earning immediately, rather than having to waiting for their first job after college graduation, according to Solas. In addition, participants get a similar college experience to that of a full-time university student, but because they are already in the workplace, they gain a head start on developing the kind of soft skills valued by employers, such as teamwork and communication, Solas says.
Germany’s approach to apprenticeships
Over recent years, many commentators in the fields of education and economic development have cited the German approach to apprenticeships as one that should be adopted in Ireland. In Germany, many young people enter the labour market via the apprenticeship system, with more than 500,000 new apprenticeship contracts completed every year.
Germany’s system of dual education and training has been perfected over centuries, having developed out of the medieval guild system. Its vocational educational training programme for specific occupations caters to about 60pc of the country’s youth. Because of the importance of apprenticeships for the economy, which keeps youth unemployment in check, the German government places a high emphasis on the promotion of the system. The offer of in-company training places is still the decision of employers and is subject to market conditions. But many companies consider such training to be a social good and take pride in being a training company.
In Germany, apprenticeships are still the main pathway into employment for young people. Depending on the occupation, it is also a widely accepted option for young people even if they have qualified for a university course.
Examples of new Irish apprenticeships
In Ireland, apprenticeships are industry-led and are based around the staffing needs of small, medium and large firms. The following is a small selection of the various apprenticeships currently on offer, but if a relevant apprenticeship does not yet exist, it would be possible for organisations to work together on developing an apprenticeship relevant to their sectoral needs.
Accounting technician: This course leads to a level 6 advanced certificate in accounting and is a two-year programme. It involves on-the-job training four days a week, with the fifth weekday spent in education. Other apprenticeships in the financial sector include international financial services (IFS) associates, IFS specialists, and insurance practitioners.
Auctioneering and property services: This new course leads to a level 6 advanced certificate, thereby allowing participants to apply for a license from the Property Services Regulatory Authority.
Commis chef: Solas linked up with the Irish Hotels Federation to create a two-year apprenticeship programme for commis chefs, in an effort to ease the restaurant industry’s talent shortages. It involves workplace training three to four days a week, with the remainder of the week spent on off-the-job training.