30 July, 2015 - Address by Minister for Skills, Research and Innovation- Announcement of 25 New Apprenticeship Proposals

I am delighted to be here this morning to support the new apprenticeship proposals put forward by the Apprenticeship Council.

Today’s proposals come after the launch last weekend of the national team which will represent us at the 43rd WorldSkills Competition in São Paulo, Brazil next month. This team of 14 young apprentices and trainees have proven expertise in their chosen field, and will showcase their skills and talents in a wide range of areas. The biannual Competition is the world’s largest professional education event, with approximately 1,200 competitors from 70 countries.

As you may know, my responsibilities span both the Departments of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and Education and Skills. The exciting developments in apprenticeship which we are here to announce today, therefore, are of great interest and relevance to both aspects of my role as Minister of State.

This morning’s announcement is an excellent example of what can happen when there is a real commitment from all stakeholders to developing an education and training system that can respond to the needs of business and learners alike.

I have no doubt, that a broadly based, responsive apprenticeship system can make a major contribution to our future economic development. This view is clearly shared by my colleagues in Government, as the developments in the apprenticeship system have played a prominent role in the Government’s Action Plan for Jobs initiative in recent years.

The Action Plans for Jobs have been developed to place a determined and focussed approach on creating a vibrant economy and to provide the basis for the development of good quality careers throughout Ireland in a wide variety of sectors. The critical input of the Education and Training sector to this process has been recognised through the establishment of a ‘National Talent Drive’ element of the plan. This initiative sets out a comprehensive and coherent framework for the implementation of reforms in the sector which will have a positive impact on job creation. Apprenticeship forms a key aspect of that important work.

As part of the  “Action Plan for Jobs” initiative, the objective of the Apprenticeship Review was to “examine the future of apprenticeship training in Ireland with a greater focus on a work based learning and a closer alignment of the current needs if the Irish labour market”.

There is no doubt that the work done to date at various stages of the review process leading to the new apprenticeship programmes being announced this morning more than meets this objective.

Apprenticeship has a long-standing and respected history in Ireland, but it has, to date, been confined to a relatively small number of industries. Today’s announcement regarding the introduction of 25 new apprenticeship programmes – and with the possibility of more to come - reflects well on the standing of apprenticeship as a valued alternative pathway to a sustainable career.

The Irish Apprenticeship Sector is in a very good place at the moment and it is a very exciting time for the sector.At the end of 2014, apprentice registrations for the existing 27 craft apprenticeships were up 40% on the same point in 2013. That trend is continuing this year and the forecast for future apprenticeship registrations remains strong.

The submission of 86 proposals to the Apprenticeship Council is evidence of a very strong level of commitment on behalf of employers and education and training providers to the future development of the Irish Apprenticeship system. It also reflects well on the value of apprenticeships to both industry and learners alike.

I believe, the strong relationships that now exist between employers and education and training providers will stand us in good stead in the future for all education and training programmes.

As Minister O’Sullivan mentioned, apprenticeship proposals are being announced this morning in a wide variety of sectors. These sectors will now reap the many benefits of having apprentices in their industries. 

It is appropriate to mention, given our surroundings, that there are many stages involved in the development of the type of high quality food which Fallon and Byrne’s have become famous for. I am confident to predict that in the years to come there will be apprentices involved in most of the stages of that process - from logistics and warehousing, to butchery, bakery and chef skills at every level!

Employers elsewhere will also benefit from apprentices who have gained valuable experience and skills in ICT and accountancy. Engineering apprentices will be on hand to design and manufacture machinery and when all else fails, well trained insurance practitioners will be available to assist!!

All of these apprentices will have experienced a unique combination of on and off-the-job training which will equip them with the range of education, skills and experience that will be required to ensure they can contribute fully to their chosen sector.

By having apprenticeships in these new sectors we are building on the success of our current apprenticeships, but we are also now addressing the diverse needs of industry, of learners, male and female, as they now have a structured pathway into these new sectors and indeed a pathway to further their education and training qualifications and experience.

In the Programme for Government we undertook to introduce a better approach to how the State engages with and supports the unemployed, learners and industry so that the needs of all are met.

The reform of the Further Education and Training Sector, and apprenticeship in particular, is playing a key role in this process. Equally, the reforms being implemented in Higher Education aim to better match the needs of students and employers as well as maximising the performance of that sector.

Apprenticeship is a wonderful example of cross-sectoral provision at both Further and Higher education levels, with the input of employers, the HEA and SOLAS as well as educational institutions at both levels being critical to its success.

All of these reforms are helping the unemployed and learners and will also ensure that employers have access to people who have the skills they need for their business both now and in the future.

This is being done by using existing advisory infrastructure to facilitate education and training providers to engage directly with employers to identify skill needs at local, regional and national level. The work of the Expert Group on Skills Needs and the Strategic Labour Market Research Unit, based in SOLAS, for example, is essential in providing an evidence-based approach to dealing with labour market needs in this context.

In conclusion, I very much welcome the announcement of the new apprenticship proposals today.

I look forward with the utmost confidence to the results of the ongoing work of the Apprenticeship Council, which will ensure that the Irish Apprenticeship System will meet the new and diverse needs of employers and learners alike, now and in the future.