21 January, 2014 - Minister Quinn publishes review of Apprenticeship system

Review recommends expanding apprenticeships to new business sectors

The Minister for Education & Skills, Ruairí Quinn T.D., has published a comprehensive review of the system of apprenticeships.  The review was undertaken by an independent group chaired by Kevin Duffy, chairperson of the Labour Court. 

Among the recommendations of the group are an expansion of apprenticeships to new business and industrial sectors.  The role of employers in such an expansion is key, according to the review, and they should identify the occupations which would be suitable for new apprentices.  An Apprenticeship Council should also be established and employers should pay apprentices in the new areas for both on the job and off the job periods.

With regard to existing apprenticeships, the Review Group, recommended that programmes should be continued and adapted over time, with issues such as duration and the level of qualifications being decided on a trade by trade basis.  The curriculum for trades should be examined and updated as a matter of urgency and, where feasible, common modules across apprenticeships should be provided.  Other skills such as literacy, numeracy, maths, science and ICT should be integrated into courses.

Minister Quinn has welcomed the report and broadly accepts its recommendations.

“Apprenticeships are essential for the future economy.  They should be seen as a partnership between education and enterprise.  In order to produce an apprenticeship system fit for the 21st century we need to have the business community on board.

“Education will fulfil its responsibility with regard to the off the job training while industry needs to fulfil its role in identifying the areas for new apprenticeships and ensuring there are meaningful placements.”

Since the current system of apprenticeship was implemented in the early 1990s, there have been major changes to the structure of the economy and the nature of employment.  More recently, the impact of the economic downturn has brought issues with the current system into focus, including dominance of the construction sector and lack of flexibility. 

Major structural reform of education and training, particularly the creation of SOLAS and the establishment of Education and Training Boards, and the critical need to align education and training more clearly with the demands of the labour market meant that it was an opportune time to look at apprenticeship. 

The Minister added, “I also want to see a proper gender balance in apprenticeships.  Previously, the focus on apprenticeships has been in areas like construction that is pre-dominantly seen as a male route into the workforce.  It’s time for that to change.”

The Review Group also recommends that its proposals be discussed further with stakeholders to examine how implementation can be progressed as quickly as possible.  Minister Quinn has requested that this now happen.  The Department will engage with SOLAS, the Higher Education Authority, Quality and Qualifications Ireland and representatives of business, trade unions and education providers to begin this process. 

The full report can be accessed at http://www.education.ie/en/Publications/Policy-Reports/Review-of-Apprenticeship-Training-in-Ireland.pdf


Editors’ Notes:

The review was undertaken in two stages. The first stage was the preparation of a background issues paper in the Department which was completed in the early part of the year. The second stage involved the establishment in May 2013 of an independent review group, chaired by Kevin Duffy to progress a consultation process and prepare recommendations on how the apprenticeship system could be improved, taking into account the views of stakeholders and the information summarised in the background issues paper.

The Group’s membership included employers (including a nominee of the Minister of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation), representatives of business and unions and academic experts. The Group were asked to examine

·        Legislative changes;

·        Model of delivery/curriculum/ range of  crafts/occupations ;

·        Funding and finance mechanisms;

·        Provision changes;

·        Staffing and resource implications;

·        Governance changes;

·        Transition actions resulting from recommendations

A total of 69 organisations made written submissions to the review. A panel of representatives of the Review Group and the Technical Group also met with 25 major organisations with a role, or potential role in apprenticeships in Ireland. These organisations included unions, education and training providers, enterprise agencies and the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, employer groups and agencies involved in funding and organising apprenticeship.

The group’s recommendations with regard to the expansion of apprenticeships to new industrial sectors include:

  • Legislation for apprenticeships should be designed as an enabling framework providing for flexible delivery through a variety of modes, and encouraging innovation and speedy adaptation where necessary. 
  • SOLAS should continue to be the national authority with legal responsibility for administration of apprenticeships, while providing for more plural governance arrangements in the future, which will facilitate apprenticeships at both further and higher level.
  • An Apprenticeship Council should be established, hosted by SOLAS but involving an equal partnership and close co-operation between SOLAS and the HEA in all aspects of planning and delivery.
  • The Review Group noted that submissions suggested that there was potential to expand apprenticeships into a wide range of business sectors.
  • Employer led consortia should identify the occupations that are considered by them to be suitable for apprenticeships and make proposals to the Apprenticeship Council for funding. 
  • A ring-fenced fund should be established to promote the development and operation of apprenticeships in new occupational areas.
  • Employers should pay apprentices in new apprenticeship areas for both the on-the-job and off-the-job periods.
  • Assessment arrangements should be streamlined to ensure that the bulk of the administrative burden falls on the education/training provider, with completion of a portfolio in the workplace, and with a final competence determination mechanism at the end of the programme. 

·        While it is clear that many learners progress to degree level programmes from apprenticeships, particularly within the Institute of Technology sector, progression opportunities need to be made far more transparent for the future.

·        Sustained long term awareness campaigns will be necessary to promote the benefits of apprenticeships to learners, parents, employer, education and training institutions, and guidance staff.

The Review Group also made several recommendations with regard to the existing apprenticeship trades. Funding for existing programmes be ring-fenced and the existing apprenticeship programmes should continue until they are adapted over time to reflect the following principles:

·        The curriculum for each family of trades is reviewed and updated as a matter of urgency.

·        Programmes should provide for the appropriate integration of transversal skills, particularly literacy, numeracy, maths, science and ICT.

·        The minimum entry levels needed to complete each programme successfully should be reviewed.

·        Curriculum review should be carried out on the basis of families of trades, ensuring that core common modules are provided to the extent feasible, while allowing for additional specialised modules that focus on particular occupational requirements

·        As with apprenticeships in new areas, an upper and lower ceiling on recruitment levels should be examined, so that programmes are tailored to labour market needs, while avoiding future skill shortages.  The State should not fund apprenticeship costs above the agreed upper ceiling for recruitment.

·        Opportunities for progression should be strengthened, made more transparent and well publicised. The green economy, heritage protection, retro-fitting, sustainable energy, languages and cross disciplinary skills are all areas where progression options could be developed. A master craftsman qualification should also be considered.