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Skilling beyond Covid-19: Ireland’s approach to Apprenticeships

Geraldine King, CEO, National Recruitment Federation, Dublin, Ireland
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Like practically every country around the world the COVID-19 pandemic has presented many challenges to economies and businesses, crippling and in some cases paralysing even the strongest of markets.

With continued rising unemployment and business uncertainty expected to remain high due to the pandemic, many organisations and businesses will have to re-evaluate their resourcing and work organisation models.

Value of Apprenticeships

Strong collaboration between Governments, Industries, Employers, and Education Institutions will be required to provide solutions for quickly transferable skilling and upskilling. This is where Apprenticeships can play a big part.

Anecdotal evidence of the past has shown young people bring innovation, energy and vibrancy to the workplace along with other new skills. Never before was there such a need for these talented key individuals therefore establishing a recognised qualification is hugely significant to attracting these key talented individuals where they can learn and earn at the same time.

Support to Employers for apprenticeships by Irish Government during COVID-19

Since the Action Plan to Expand Apprenticeships and Traineeships 2016-2020 was launched in Ireland in the year 2016 the range of available apprenticeships has continued to expand but not fast enough. There are no shortages of apprentices but there is still a big shortage of employers.

Increasingly more companies are appreciating the value of an apprenticeship-based approach to sourcing of talent and in building the requisite skills they need, but there is still much more awareness and education to be done in this space to increase employer participation.

There is now a growing feature (albeit a slow growth) of recruitment initiatives by employers but more needs to be done by the business community to make jobs available that will welcome apprentices. The Irish Government have acknowledged there needs to be an incentive this year to encourage and to help employers to employ apprentices.

An action plan for COVID-19 was put in place and any employer who takes on an apprentice this year can avail of a one thousand euro at on-boarding the apprentice and another two thousand euro if the apprentice is still employed in 12 months. There is a strong view among the business community this incentive will need to be expanded way beyond this year.

There are now 78 options of apprenticeships in various sectors to choose from in Ireland including a Doctorate at level 10 (level 10 is the highest award on the framework) for Principal Engineers, and all are accredited on the National Framework of Qualification. However, there is still more work to be done in creating awareness and convincing the wider public that apprenticeships are a credible and equal route to a successful career. More sectors need to engage and create spaces for apprenticeships.

What are we doing for older workers?

As many have lost their jobs and or their sector will no longer be needed or recover a focus on upskilling and or reskilling will have to be a priority. We need to offer choice to the older worker and be cognisant that this may be the first time some of these individuals have had to look for another job never mind write a resume. The option of an apprenticeship should be offered with it tailored to the individual and a sector that will allow them to grow again.

While trade apprenticeships will always be needed more attention and focus on other sectors that were not considered in the past will be crucial as we move into a recovery from this current crisis. More State-funded apprenticeships schemes like the one mentioned earlier will need to be considered for additional training and upskilling as countries, organisations, and sectors return to business in this fragile and uncertain economic environments.

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Apprenticeship degree for the Recruitment Sector

Ireland recently recorded a world-first in education for apprentices, with the introduction of a 3 year honors degree level qualification for the recruitment profession. More apprenticeships like this one is needed to attract and upskill workers in other sectors especially for workers who have now found themselves out of work indefinitely.

The apprenticeship degree is positioned at level 8 on the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ). This apprenticeship degree was developed by the National Recruitment Federation (the trade body for agencies in Ireland) in partnership with the National College of Ireland which is one of Ireland’s most prestigious institutions for third level learning. 

The 3 year honours degree is positioned to attract both individuals already in the sector who did not have a chance to go to college and for those outside the sector either school leavers or individuals who are already in workforce in other industries.

The programme is developed to make it fluid and agile to adapt to changing market conditions and legislative changes.

This is a hybrid blended learning programme with four days on the job learning and one day in the college each week as the structure. Due to the pandemic all learning will be online for the first two semesters.

The employers who have engaged in the programme have dedicated a mentor to each apprentice. This is mandatory for this type of apprenticeship and mentors are also trained by the College.

Challenges anticipated

As the recruitment profession is a people’s business a lot of learning is from peers and colleagues on the job. Learning from colleagues is better achieved face to face or in the office environment especially if this is the apprentice’s first job. Remote working may challenge the apprentice to experience these as we go in and out of lockdowns to control the virus.

Perspectives and views from recruitment employers

Employers in the recruitment sector have hailed this apprenticeship degree as a route to not only finding new talent but it will shine a spotlight on professionalising what was not always viewed as a professional sector. It also gives an opportunity to supply a higher calibre of recruiter making this a commercial advantage for the employers who have a qualified recruiter through the programme. There is agreement more collaboration and partnerships like that demonstrated by the recruitment sector is needed in other sectors.

The recent experiences in developing an innovative apprenticeship model teaches us this approach ensure a long-term workforce and economic development strategy that creates a career pathway for existing professionals in the industry and offers new entrants a long term development approach for growing skills in the sector.

Across Ireland and beyond, there is an opportunity now to consider diversifying the scope of apprenticeship offerings while ensuring increased alignment to labour market needs through work-based and traditional learning models. Policymakers and stakeholders needs to ensure that there is a consistent and long term investment in apprenticeship regardless of as the investments made in all forms of apprenticeship will ensure a return on investment for the foreseeable future.

Geraldine King, CEO, National Recruitment Federation, Dublin, Ireland

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