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Apprenticeships: a proven successful alternative route

When it comes to deciding on a career path to follow, the route that traditionally comes to mind is full time study in college or university. While many will take this route to their chosen career, it might not be for everyone.
Apprentices are assessed on a structured on-going basis throughout their apprenticeship. Modular assessments incorporating course work, standardised practical assessments and theoretical assessments are carried out during the off-the-job training phases.

So is there another way of getting a qualification that will help you find employment in your chosen career? Apprenticeships are a respected alternative to full time college or university courses. These programmes alternate phases of on-the-job and off-the-job training and development, and provide an opportunity to get a recognised qualification while at the same time gaining practical experience relevant to your chosen career and being paid.

How does it work?

Generally, the duration of an apprenticeship is a minimum of four years consisting of alternating phases of training – three off-the-job phases and four on-the-job phases. The ability to apply the knowledge gained and skills learnt during off-the-job phases spent in a training centre, Institute of Technology or another approved training provider, to the day-to-day operations of a business, is a key benefit of apprenticeship and one which appeals to many. This coupled with the benefit of earning a salary while training further enhances the appeal of apprenticeship.

Apprentices are assessed on a structured on-going basis throughout their apprenticeship. Modular assessments incorporating course work, standardised practical assessments and theoretical assessments are carried out during the off-the-job training phases. During the on-the-job training phases of apprenticeship the apprentice’s competence is assessed to specified standards by the employer. On successful completion of an apprenticeship a Level 6 Advanced Certificate Craft is awarded. Recognised both nationally and internationally, this qualification opens up further opportunities in career development or progression to study further. Those awarded the Level 6 Advanced Certificate Craft are also eligible for consideration for entry into related degree programmes in the Institutes of Technology provided other special entry requirements are met.

There are currently 27 crafts available under the apprenticeship programme in Ireland. However, the number and range of apprenticeships available is expected to increase with the expansion of apprenticeship into new sectors of the economy. The recently established Apprenticeship Council has been tasked with mapping out the sectors where apprenticeships can make a real difference to both employers and employees. Craft occupations under the apprenticeship programme have been designated by SOLAS and come within the scope of the statutory apprenticeship system, which is organised in Ireland by SOLAS in co-operation with the Department of Education and Skills, the Higher Education Authority, employers and unions.

How do you become an apprentice?

There are some minimum educational qualifications necessary to become an apprentice. You must be at least 16 years of age and have achieved a minimum 5 D grades in the Junior Certificate examination or equivalent, or successfully complete an approved pre-apprenticeship course. However, in many instances employers specify higher educational qualifications. If you are over 16 years of age and have at least three years’ relevant work experience approved by SOLAS, an apprenticeship might be an option for you also. For some apprenticeships passing a colourvision test is a mandatory requirement. However be warned. While this is the minimum entry requirement, most employers require a leaving certificate, especially if you are interested in an electrical or plumbing apprenticeship.

To start an apprenticeship you must obtain employment as an apprentice in your chosen apprenticeship by an employer who is approved by SOLAS to train apprentices. You may have a relative, neighbour or friend who works in a craft occupation or you may know a company operating in the trade in your area that might consider recruiting you as an apprentice. Staff in your local Department of Social Protection Employment Services office and senior training advisors in your local education and training board offices may also be able to help with matching job vacancies to registered individuals where possible. Also, the CIF have recently launched a new website, www.apprentices.ie to assist young people who are seeking an apprenticeship in the construction sector. Employers too can reap the benefits of apprenticeship.

Apprenticeship courses are based on uniform, pre-specified and industry agreed standards and comply with current and future needs of the occupation. Through the systematic development and assessment of skills, knowledge and competencies, apprentices become more productive and reach efficient worker standards more quickly. The demand for apprentices is growing with the recovery of the economy. There is a wide range of construction related apprenticeships currently available including trades such as brick & stonelaying, carpentry & joinery, construction plant fitting, and electrical to name but a few. As activity in the construction industry continues to grow the demand for skilled employees in these trades will increase. A full list of trades covered by the standards based apprenticeship is available on www.solas.ie and remember to check out out www.apprentices.ie for all you need to know about apprenticeships.

(© Construction Magazine)