Apprenticeships are becoming a real option for school leavers, offering a much wider variety of roles and higher qualification levels than was traditionally the case.

Significant developments in apprenticeship mean that anyone taking this route can aspire to the same level of qualification as someone on an undergraduate course in a higher education institution. The gradual recovery in the economy has seen a return of opportunities in traditional trades, such as construction, including, for the first time, the possibility of progress up the qualifications ladder to an honours degree (NFQ level 8; EQF level 6), and beyond.

The first example of such progression for construction industry apprentices is a new NFQ level 7 (EQF level 6) bachelor degree of engineering in industrial electrical engineering at Limerick Institute of Technology. This is open to qualified electricians.

The Irish Construction Industry Federation (CIF) has also announced a ‘shared apprenticeship’ pilot scheme for the south east, where apprentices in ‘wet trades’, such as plastering and concrete work, will spend time with four companies, rather than one.

Cavan Monaghan Education and Training Board provides a good example of local partnerships, including a link with Monaghan engineering firm, Combilift, for 25 traineeships, which they are developing into apprenticeships.

Another big change is roll-out of the model in ‘white collar’ sectors, such as insurance and financial services, to train staff from the ground up, including to the most senior positions.

An apprenticeship is a combination of paid work experience and college-based learning, generally over a four-year period. A similar model, but of shorter duration, is a traineeship; some sectors, such as IT, are using the title 'associate professional' for this 'earn and learn' approach.

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