Chefs, childcare workers, and staff for the retail and ICT sectors could be trained through new apprenticeships as part of plans to widen their availability and appeal. Talks are under way between employers, trade unions, and State agencies as part of an overhaul of apprenticeships.

In July 2014, a National Apprenticeship Council was appointed and will oversee calls for new schemes, likely to be proposed by industry groups, colleges, and training centres early next year. Curricula for five of the 26 trades in which training is currently available are undergoing reviews due for completion later this year.

Reforms taking place are based on a review published last year whose recommendations are being implemented over the next two years.

Phil O’Flaherty, head of the Department (Ministry) of Education’s further education and training section, said the system has produced high-skilled crafts people who are in demand around the world, but its narrow industrial base exposes it to swings in the domestic economic cycle. He told the education committee of the Irish legislature last week that enormous efforts had to be made to allow redundant apprentices in construction-related jobs to complete their training.

Tony Donohoe, head of education policy at the Irish Business and Employers’ Confederation (IBEC), said attitudinal changes to the schemes are needed. ’Apprenticeships and vocational education in generaldo not enjoy parity of esteem inasociety that defines education achievement in terms of Central Applications Office (CAO) points,’ he said.

In this respect, a majority of Irish school-leavers apply for third-level programmes through the CAO. Admission to third level through the CAO is based on a system of points, achieved based on a student’s performance in the leaving certificate examination – an examination which takes place at the end of upper secondary education. It is broadly comparable with UCAS (university and colleges admissions system) in the United Kingdom.

While the review group recommended employers continue paying apprentices during off-the-job training, Mr Donohoe said any new system should see costs shared by employers, apprentices — through acceptance of a lower wage — and the government.

Peter Rigney, Irish Congress of Trade Unions industrial officer, said a small proportion of employers’ pay-related social insurance (PRSI) could be put into the national training fund to finance schemes. PRSI is the social insurance paid by employees, employers and the self-employed.

The need to bring more women into apprenticeships was stressed by members of parliament and senators, through promotion of existing trades and broadening of jobs included in the schemes.

Mr Rigney said the childcare sector is a prime candidate for a pilot scheme in extension of apprenticeships. ’The State exercises a predominant role in this sector through regulation and through funding. It could use this position to advance public policy in the apprenticeships area.’

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