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'There's still a stigma around apprenticeships. People look down on you'

This perception of apprenticeships as a back-up plan compared to university is one that is changing. We talk to 4 young apprentices.

Caitriona O'Neill and William Gallagher

FOR A LONG time apprenticeships were looked down on, but they are increasingly being recognised as a highly credible qualification by employers, and careers advice within schools has started to see them as a worthwhile option for school-leavers. 

Solas, the further education and training agency, is working hard at changing mindsets when it comes to apprenticeships. 

The WorldSkills Competition, which is held every two years, is the world’s largest professional education event for apprentices. Approximately 1,200 competitors from 70 countries and regions compete in almost 50 different skills and disciplines. We caught up with four Irish entrants in advance of this year’s event in Abu Dhabi.

Kevin Hough 2 Kevin Hough (21) from Navan is a 4th year apprentice with the ESB. Source: MAXWELLS DUBLIN

There’s a bit of a stigma around apprenticeships.

I’d done Construction Studies at school and I’d enjoyed the very hands-on aspect of that – way more than studying the more academic subjects. My next-door neighbour and a few of my uncles are electricians so they were part of my inspiration too.

I think there’s a bit of a stigma around apprenticeships still. A lot of people look down on you. Apprenticeships were never covered in our careers’ class back in school. The careers’ guidance teacher never mentioned them. She tended to promote going to college only and I know so many of my peers that went onto college and then dropped out after failing exams.

My course with the ESB includes practical on-the-job training as well as theory modules. But theory and maths aren’t daunting when you figure them out and see them applied to practical situations – it isn’t like doing maths in school.

There are three girls in my course out of 70 and I’d say that the course is totally suitable for girls. Most of the heavy work is done with forklifts and cranes, and health and safety regulations have taken the grunt out of the work. There are people on the course too who got the points for law but chose this instead. I’d tell everyone in Leaving Cert year to consider an apprenticeship.

Ciara Daly Ciara Daly (19) from Kerry is a on a traineeship in beauty therapy. Source: MAXWELLS DUBLIN

My teacher always believed in me.

After school I went to art college for 6 months. But I hated it – it just wasn’t for me. I’d always tried to look after myself and was interested in learning about the body so I decided that beauty therapy would be a good bet.

It’s a jampacked course. Modules range from anatomy and physiology, to holistic massage, epilation, skin treatments and business theory. I’m probably most interested in skin treatments and facial machines, so I’d like to pursue that side of it more after I finish. I’d love to go to Australia for a while and maybe try to open up a room in my house to operate out of. Eventually I’d love to have my own salon.

I recently went to the WorldSkills China competition and came third out of 16 countries. I owe all this success to my teacher, Tara O’Halloran Cronin – she always believed in me. Beauty therapy is for anyone who is interested in the body – and those who are willing to put in the work.

James 2 James McSwiney (21) from Ardee, Co Louth is on a carpentry and joinery apprenticeship. Source: MAXWELLS DUBLIN

You’re actually getting paid to go to college.

I’ve always been better at doing stuff with my hands more than with books. In school I liked the more practical subjects like woodwork, construction studies and technical drawing. There are a few tradesmen in my family – a couple of brickies and that.

The carpentry and joinery course involves site work – that’s putting in the doors, cabinets or whatever and then the joinery side involves making the doors or whatever. So I got to see all aspects. You’ll fly through a course like this if you’re good with your hands and there are lots of different options open to you after finishing.

People shouldn’t forget that you’re paid too while you’re doing your apprenticeship so yes, you’re actually getting paid to go to college. I think a lot of people don’t realise this. I was in my local school recently giving a talk about my own experience and lots of the lads hadn’t even considered doing an apprenticeship. People should look into it more. It’s an eye opening experience and you get to meet so many different kinds of people along the way.

Brendan Muldowney Brendan Muldowney (22) from Tipperary has just completed his apprenticeship as an electrician. Source: MAXWELLS DUBLIN

I just wanted to go working and I made the right choice.

My father is an electrician and a few of my uncles are too. I’d always worked with him when I was younger – even if it was just doing simple stuff like wiring up plugs and lamps. I’d originally planned on joining the army but three months after finishing school, I decided to go for this. I said I’d give it a chance.

Only two of us out of my Leaving Cert class did apprenticeships. A lot of the other lads just wanted the whole college experience and thought that you couldn’t have that if you did an apprenticeship. People used to ask me why I wouldn’t go to college but I just wanted to go working and I made the right choice for me.

Some parts of the course were hard but I enjoyed the challenge. It’s easy to learn about something that you are actually interested in. I’m going to go on now and do the 2-year electrical engineering course in LIT.

14 young apprentices and trainees will represent Ireland at the 44th WorldSkills Competition – the Skills Olympics – in Abu Dhabi, from 14 to 19 October 2017. The WorldSkills Competition, which is held every two years, is the world’s largest professional education event. Approximately 1,200 competitors from 68 countries and regions will compete in 51 different skills and disciplines. All competitors will demonstrate technical abilities both individually and collectively to execute specific tasks for which they study and/or perform in their workplace.

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Caitriona O'Neill and William Gallagher

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