We are all familiar with the traditional craft apprenticeships such as carpentry, mechanic or electrician. They all still exist but have been significantly upgraded to ensure the apprentices get a proper structured blend of practical and theoretical learning. Most learning is conducted on site with block release every year in colleges to provide the theory side. All successful apprentices will graduate with a known qualification that is linked to the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQs), typically a level 5 or 6. For reference, the leaving Cert is a Level 5 qualification and Level 6 is normally a Higher Certificate.
However, since 2015, a new style apprenticeship has been established that provide the successful apprentice with higher levels of qualification including Level 7 (Ordinary Degree), Level 8 (Honours Degree) and higher for a Master’s or even PhD (Levels 9 and 10 respectively).
These apprenticeships are of particular interest for candidates who prefer to learn by doing rather than learning the theory in a more abstract way as happens in university. The apprentice typically will work 4 days per week with the 5th day being allocated for online learning from the designated learning provider such as Institution of Technology (IT). Another substantial benefit is that the person is paid for the duration of the apprenticeship, in some cases, more than the minimum wage. Good examples of Honours Degrees available through the apprenticeship system include Insurance Practitioner, Recruitment Executive or International Financial Services Specialist. Each year more of these type apprenticeships are made available so it is worthwhile checking in on their website Apprenticeships (here).
Pro’s and Con’s of an Apprenticeship
The apprentice has a contract with the employer for the duration of their learning (2, 3, 4 or 5 years).
The contract, issued by the employer gives automatic enrolment into the college that is providing the learning element of the job.
The pay is reasonable – slightly over the minimum wage but the contract will also provide proper employee rights such as holiday entitlements.
The apprentices will graduate from their contract with a QQI certified qualification (example Level 8 Honours Degree) with direct experience relevant to that career unlike university graduates who will have the Honours degree but no/little relevant work experience.
Many employers will retain the graduates as permanent employees on successful completion of the apprenticeship, although it must be stated that this is not guaranteed.
Some employers will offer apprentices access to other professional qualifications (example: the Insurance Practitioner apprentice will graduate with the full suite of Financial Advisor qualifications as well as their Honours Degree).
Apprentices are required to undertake the learning element of their course through block release (craft apprentices such as carpentry, etc) in a training centre or College of education or one day a week release for the professional apprenticeships. Apprentices continue to be paid by their employer for this period and remain within the employment contract.
Apprentices are assigned an experienced mentor by their employer to ensure that their on-the-job learning is in line with their theoretical learning and that the apprentice is making satisfactory progress in both elements of their learning.
Participants may want the full college experience, which is not obtained through the apprenticeship system, although they may have short periods of college attendance (11 weeks) for block release.
The organisers of the craft apprenticeships endeavour to send apprentices to a college in their region for block release but this is not guaranteed. An apprentice in Munster may have to attend college in Leinster for their block release.
Professional apprentices may have to attend their lectures through online means which is not as conducive to learning as in-person. Typically, the apprentice will still attend their place of employment for these lectures where a facility is made for them to have a dedicated learning space. The individual has to arrange their own job with an approved employer. There are differing dates for intake for each employer and/or industry. A close eye has to be kept on the apprenticeship website to ensure that closing dates are not missed.
Finally, new apprenticeships are being added each year so please check in with the Apprenticeship website for new offerings.