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'I'm learning every day': Apprenticeships in Ireland are making a comeback

At the end of last year, the apprenticeship population was at about 13,000 and new registrations in 2018 are expected to reach over 6,000.

Apprentices Sean Carter, Conor Milligan, James McSwiney at the Sisk training centre.
Apprentices Sean Carter, Conor Milligan, James McSwiney at the Sisk training centre.

APPRENTICESHIPS ARE MAKING a comeback, with government investment in this type of training set to increase in 2018 to €122 million.

Minister John Halligan, in response to a question from Fianna Fail’s Niall Collins, said the budget allocation for apprenticeship training will increase 24% next year.

The apprenticeship population is now at around 13,000 and new registrations in 2018 are expected to reach over 6,000.

Apprentice carpenter/joiner Conor Milligan was always interested in construction when he was growing up – his father is a carpenter and his brother is an architect.

Although he is now in his third year of training, the 22-year-old from Delvin in Co Westmeath had left the country after he finished school because there were no jobs and very few apprenticeships available at the time.

“I went out to Germany first to my brother and then on to Australia, but my plan was always to come home and start an apprenticeship,” he said.

I came home in early 2015 and worked with my dad for a while before being taken on by Sisk to do my apprenticeship. I am getting on great, the time is flying by. With carpentry and joinery there is a great range, it is quite broad, so you get to work in lots of different areas.

After he finishes his apprenticeship, Milligan said he would like to stay on with the company that trained him and eventually work his way up to foreman.

Minister of State John Halligan also provided figures which show an increase in apprenticeships from 10,445 in 2016. The majority of apprentices are male – just 140 women registered in 2017 – and the largest number of apprenticeships were in the electrical and construction sectors.

‘I love it’

19-year-old Sean Carter from Kill in Co Kildare benefitted from the recovery in the construction industry when he finished school two years ago. The training manager at Sisk did a talk in his school and he said he decided to “go for it”.

“I came straight in to begin my apprenticeship here with Sisk after I finished the leaving Cert,” he said.

James McSweeney (21), now a 4th year apprentice carpenter/joiner with the company also started his apprenticeship straight after school.

I was always interested in woodwork at school, it was probably the only subject that I really enjoyed. I was always going to end up doing something with my hands. I love it because it’s so different every day and you are constantly learning, even for the fully qualified lads there is always something new to learn and I think that’s the part I most enjoy.

Dermot Carey, director of safety and training for the Construction Industry Federation (CIF) told TheJournal.ie that opportunities are really opening up again in construction-related apprenticeships.

“We welcome the government’s renewed interest in promoting apprenticeships and are working with Solas to advance the recognition of these opportunities,” he said.

Although there has been a surge in registration for electrical and plumbing apprenticeships, he said numbers entering traditional crafts or wet trades like bricklaying, plastering and painting and decorating are still quite low.

“There are a variety of reasons for this slow-paced improvement, but we believe that this is principally because employers in these sectors tend to be small and are still not confident enough to invest in training or there are operational issues with the system that do not work for some employers,” he said.

The federation has recently commissioned Dublin Institute of Technology to carry out a survey to try to establish what these issues are and how they can be addressed.

“Overall, we welcome the development of the apprenticeship system and the broadening of the subject matter to include other industries. We hope this will bring a heightened interest in apprenticeships as a career path and that more young people and indeed their parents will consider the many exciting opportunities that await if you take taking the apprenticeship route.”

Read: Dublin City Council to re-introduce apprenticeship schemes for plumbers, electricians in 2018>

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