DIT Grangegorman. Photo by Laoise Neylon

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Few at the family fun day on Constitution Hill last weekend seemed to know exactly what an apprenticeship involved.

Some, like Lee Grace (15), said it didn’t interest them: he wants to go straight to college to become a teacher.

Others, such as Shannon Delahunty (18), said jobs that need apprenticeship training sound like boys’ jobs to her.

Sinead Claine (15) said she is looking forward next year to going to Solas, and will probably train in woodwork. But she wouldn’t know how to go about becoming a carpenter, she says.

This gap in knowledge about apprenticeships is something Solas – which used to be called FÁS, and manages ?the delivery of further education and training – is working to fix through a public-information campaign.

Meanwhile, DIT is due to roll out a new pilot programme next month that is designed to introduce people to apprenticeships.

So far, though, knowledge is limited. At the family fun day, just Barry O’Brien (15) had a clear idea of what an apprenticeship entails.

“It’s a job,” he said. “Let’s say you want to be a plumber, you have to be an apprentice to understand how to be a plumber,” O’Brien explained, to the others.

O’Brien said he plans to go to college, but he thinks the trades are a good way to make a living. “If you get a job as a plumber or electrician, from what I’ve heard the money is good,” he said.

Where to Go?

Aimee Harding works in street-based outreach in the north inner city, a role that also includes advising young people on how to access employment. But even she sometimes gets muddled.

It’s not entirely clear to her where to go to find apprenticeship opportunities, or even what exactly different apprenticeships entail, she says. “Even for myself as a practitioner it is very difficult.”

Many of the young men she works with are particularly interested in apprenticeships and opportunities in construction, she says.

But there is a lack of information, and if they don’t have connections in trades, they are at a definite disadvantage. “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” she says.

Others say the same. Social Democrats Councillor Gary Gannon used to be an apprentice plumber and he thinks that most get apprenticeships through personal contacts and relatives.

That might be starting to change. This September, DIT is scheduled to roll out a new programme aimed at addressing these problems.

The Access to Apprenticeship Programme aims to even the playing field and address the lack of opportunity for young people from disadvantaged areas in Dublin’s inner city, says Julie Stafford, senior development manager at DIT.

The plan is for DIT to work closely with employers to place as many of the young people as possible who pass through the courses into apprenticeships.

“The programme is about bringing them from where they are today to a position where they can successfully secure an apprenticeship. They know what area they want to do it in and are able to compete for the position,” says Stafford.

She hopes that the pilot programme will expand and eventually be replicated by other institutes of technology across the country.

Nikki Gallagher, a communications officer at Solas, says they know there is a lack of information on apprenticeships, and that people don’t know how they work or how to apply.

At the moment, Solas is running a publicity campaign to promote opportunities for apprenticeships through social media. They are looking to roll out an online hub to match apprentices to vacancies in the next year, she says.

If it’s part of a wider range of supports, it could have a significant impact on the lives of those who go through the programme, said Pat Gates, the coordinator of Young People at Risk in the Inner City (YPAR).

“Tackling education and income inequalities for some of the young people in the north inner city is key to breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty and social and economic exclusion,” he said.

But many of the people he works with are also in need of more intensive supports, he says. They’re dealing with complex traumas, mental-health problems, addiction, and family breakdown, he said.

Access to Apprenticeship

In 2007, DIT had 3,700 apprentices train with them, according to Stafford. But when the recession hit, apprentice numbers collapsed.

By 2009, the institute was down to just 370 apprentices, a tenth of the 2007 cohort. Now demand is again growing for apprentices.

DIT decided it was time to step in. “We have a long history of apprenticeships,” says Stafford.

“We also do a lot of work in the field of access to education and we felt it was a good time to bring those two together,” she said.

DIT has teamed up with a few different private-sector bodies: the JP Morgan Chase Foundation is the main funder for the project, and the Electricity Supply Board (ESB) – one of the main employers of apprentices in Ireland – also jumped on board as a partner, says Stafford.

DIT already runs the in-the-classroom training for 15 traditional craft apprenticeships. and other colleges offer pre-apprenticeship courses to help people to get the skills – say, basic maths – that they need to access an apprenticeship course.

But DIT’s new course is different from others in several ways. It aims to place them directly in apprenticeships. It’s 12 weeks, the college actively recruits those from disadvantaged backgrounds and it offers taster sessions on a wide range of apprenticeships – rather than a single track for one trade.

There’s personal development work, such as preparing people for job interviews. And, importantly, the institute is working with employers so that people don’t have to rely on their own, sometimes-absent, personal connections to get the work experience they need.

“The social-capital piece is important to open up the world for them and let them see what opportunities are there,” says Stafford.

There are opportunities for trained apprentices to go on to an undergraduate degree or master’s, too, or to move into management, she says. “It’s not a stopping point, it’s also a jumping-off point for a lot of people.”

This year, DIT received 140 applications but could only accept 16 students into the pilot programme.

They hope to expand significantly next year. “We definitely want to develop a programme that other institutes of technology can replicate,” says Stafford.

Is It needed?

Independent Councillor Christy Burke says he has been pressing companies that work in the inner city to introduce apprenticeship programmes for young people for years.

There is huge demand for apprenticeships here, he says. “I guarantee you once the information goes out there will be an onslaught of applications.”

But there are some concerns about the volatility of some trades. Social Democrats Councillor Gannon says he wouldn’t necessarily encourage young people to go into construction because of the cyclical nature of the industry.

“When I left school I was 18 or 19 and I played on a football team. There were about 20 lads there and most of them got apprenticeships during the boom,” he says.

Then the bust comes and you’re out of work. “And then you are the one that gets exported,” he says.

As Gannon sees it, jobs in the tech or pharmaceutical industries might be more stable.

He points to the high rates of progression to university in postcodes such as Dublin 6, compared to those in Dublin 1.

“It seems that you need an access to apprenticeships programme over in Dublin 6,” he says. And more university opportunities for young people in Dublin 1.

Where Are They?

Right now, there’s no single place to go to apply for apprenticeships in Ireland, says Gallagher of Solas.

It’s up to the employer to advertise it as they would any job. “There is no state-run matching service, but it is something we are looking at,” she says.

On 10 August, there were just a couple of mechanical apprenticeships, and two in the insurance industry, listed on the job site Indeed.ie.

The Construction Industry Federation advertises apprentice vacancies in construction and Irish Jobs has an apprenticeship section. 

Solas launched the website apprenticeships.ie this year, which has information on available apprenticeships, including entry requirements, rates of pay and fees.

It’s a goal of the Government’s “Action Plan to Expand Apprenticeships and Traineeships” to review pathways for diverse groups to get apprenticeships, says Gallagher.

Solas plans to liaise more closely with guidance counsellors in the future. For those who have already left school, it can be more tricky though.

A review later this year “will identify any existing barriers and how to address them”, says Gallagher.

Laoise Neylon

Laoise Neylon is a reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at lneylon@dublininquirer.com.

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