3.5 Traineeships and apprenticeships
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A Traineeship combines learning in the classroom and experience in the workplace to improve employment outcomes for participants and increase retention and productivity in the sector.
The national traineeship programme was introduced in 1995 by the training and employment agency FÁS, supported by the EU Operational Programme for Human Development. There have been an estimated 30,000 trainee participants, with over 1,500 participant companies (The Five-Step Guide to Traineeship in Ireland, SOLAS, 2019). A traineeship aims to provide work-based learning in partnership with employers, improving employment outcomes for participants and recruitment, retention, and productivity within industry. Traineeships are generally 40 weeks in duration, beginning in an education and training environment, with work placement following either during or after the on-campus learning. A traineeship includes a substantial period (generally 30% minimum) in the workplace. Development of a traineeship programme is triggered by identification of a skills need within a particular industry. Successful trainee participants receive an award or industry certification at Levels 4-to-6 on the National Framework of Qualifications. The work-based component is supported by an in-company mentor/supervisor who oversees completion of each trainee’s skills checklist on-the-job.
In Ireland, an apprenticeship is the recognised way people are trained in a craft trade or profession. Craft apprenticeships include carpentry, plumbing, motor mechanics and electrical apprenticeships. Craft trades and professions are designated by SOLAS, the Further Education and Training Authority. Apprenticeships come within the scope of the Statutory Apprenticeship system, which is organized by SOLAS in co-operation with the Department of Education and Skills, employers, and unions.
A new apprenticeship programme called Generation Apprenticeship was introduced in 2016. New apprenticeships in ICT, finance and hospitality include software development, accounting technician and commis chef.
Key features of new apprenticeships in Ireland include:
- Industry-led by consortia of industry and education partners
- Lead to an award at Levels 5 to 10 on the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ)
- Between 2-4 years in duration
- Minimum 50% on-the-job learning
- Flexible delivery – online, blended, off-the-job learning in increments/blocks
- Apprentices are employed under a formal contract of apprenticeship
- The employer pays the apprentice for the duration of the apprenticeship.
The Apprenticeship Code of Practice sets out participating employers' and apprentices' duties and responsibilities. Apprentices and employers sign up to the Code of Practice as part of the statutory apprenticeship process.
Apprenticeship is overseen by a National Apprenticeship Council. The Apprenticeship Council was set up in 2014. The main aims of the Council are the expansion of apprenticeship into new sectors of the economy and to identifying sectors where new apprenticeships can be developed.
The further education and training authority SOLAS is the lead agency responsible for apprenticeship on behalf of Government, working in close partnership with the Higher Education Authority, Quality and Qualifications Ireland, industry and education and training providers across further and higher education. SOLAS' responsibility includes maintenance of a national register of employers approved to take on apprentices and a national register of apprentices. The legal framework of the Industrial Training Act 1967 applies to both apprenticeships and traineeships. The Joint Committee on Education and Skills Report on Hearings Relating to the Uptake of Apprenticeships and Traineeships have recommended updating this Act with an amended to reflect changes in the business environment and facilitate the streamlining of the new apprenticeship development process.
The legal framework of the Industrial Training Act 1967 applies to both apprenticeships and traineeships. The Joint Committee on Education and Skills Report on Hearings Relating to the Uptake of Apprenticeships and Traineeships have recommended updating this Act with an amended to reflect changes in the business environment and facilitate the streamlining of the new apprenticeship development process.
A special female apprentice bursary to encourage specific sectors to employ female apprentices may be paid to qualifying companies wishing to train apprentices in specific occupations.
There are also several pre-apprenticeship programmes and a pilot “Access to Apprenticeship” programme run by Technological University (TU) Dublin.
A Generation Apprentices Showcase event was held in 2019. This was a signposting and recruitment event aimed at apprentices with interactive stands hosted by employers and education providers.
The Generation Apprenticeship Competition was established in 2018. The aim of the annual competition is to highlight the importance and value of apprenticeships as a route to skills development in 21st century Ireland. In 2019, taster sessions were held as part of the programme in 11 different locations around the country. This offered the opportunity to the public to see what an apprenticeship is like in practice and what opportunities they offer.
The Higher Options event is Ireland's largest expo for second level students who are considering their post-secondary education. In 2019, there was a dedicated 'Skills Village' which featured exhibition stands, a Skills Demonstration Area and a Skills Talk Dome which hosted dedicated panel discussions about apprenticeship and skills development topics. Due to Covid-19, the 2020 Higher Options event took place virtually and in similar fashion its 2021 event will also take place virtually later in the year.
New Action Plan for Apprenticeships (2021-2025)
To ensure that the apprenticeship system continues to deliver for both learners and employers, the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science have created a new Apprenticeship Action Plan. This initiative will ensure we have a modern apprenticeship system that is reflective of Irish society and supports both learners and employers along the way.
Currently, there are 60 programmes leading to valuable qualifications in areas such as finance, accountancy, laboratory technicians, engineering, heavy vehicles mechanics and healthcare. The action plan aims to expand the types of programmes available and increase the number of apprenticeship registrations to 10,000 per year by 2025. Pathways to Work 2021-2025, the Governments national employment services Strategy, further commits to support this ambition through its engagement with jobseekers.
Craft apprenticeships completed successfully are awarded an Advanced Certificate – craft, Level 6 on the National Framework of Qualifications. Apprenticeships introduced from 2016 on lead to an award between Levels 5-10 on the National Framework of Qualifications.
The national apprenticeship system is funded through the National Training Fund and from the Exchequer. In 2020, the National Training Fund will support a further expansion of the apprenticeship programme with over 7,500 new registrations on craft and new apprenticeships. An additional €8 million will support 7,000 additional participants on Skillnet Ireland programmes including a new digital skills initiative and an SME upskilling scheme. The ETB Skills to Advance programme will be supported with an additional €6 million to allow for the upskilling of an additional 3000 people in the workforce.
The 2012 Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) Act underpins apprenticeships, supporting validation and quality assurance arrangements for programmes nationally. This Act was amended in 2019 to safeguard the integrity of the National Framework of Qualifications and the reputation of higher and further education and training in Ireland and to improve standards in the international education sector.
All apprenticeship programmes leading to awards at NFQ Levels 5-9 are validated in accordance with Core Policies and Criteria for the Validation by QQI of Programmes of Education and Training (2016).
Employers who wish to employ apprentices are required to complete an approval process. Employers must demonstrate that they can provide quality, relevant on-the-job apprentice training as per the requirements of the national apprenticeship programme and the statutory apprenticeship system overall.
The approval process is completed online and through a site visit to the employer's premises from an 'authorised officer' working on behalf of SOLAS, the agency with statutory responsibility for national apprenticeships.