Over the past few years SOLAS has been doing tremendous work to continuously improve and promote apprenticeships across a wide range and variety of industries. In fact, the work undertaken by SOLAS has shaped the landscape of apprenticeships in Ireland and has managed to shift outdated perceptions with regards to apprenticeship programmes. Our CEO, Dermot Murray, recently caught up with Dr. Mary-Liz Trant, Executive Director at SOLAS to learn more about the great work she and her team are doing, and what they have planned for 2021.
Mary-Liz, thank you for taking the time to speak with me – I know how busy you and your team at SOLAS are – would you mind telling us a little about the work you do in the area of apprenticeships
Thank you Dermot, lovely to catch up with you and your colleagues at The Insurance Institute. Apprenticeships have been a big focus of ours (at SOLAS) over the past five years, with a strong drive by Government to establish apprenticeships as a central route to skills development in Ireland. There is significant investment by Government - €198m for 2021 and we have expanded from having 25 national apprenticeships, in largely craft-based areas, to now having 59 programmes across a wide range of twenty-first century industries. Almost 20,000 people are currently completing an apprenticeship, with nearly 7,000 employers all around Ireland. Within SOLAS we oversee the national system, providing information via a dedicated website www.apprenticeship.ie; promoting apprenticeships nationally; supporting industry-led groups as they develop and roll out new apprenticeship programmes; approving employers to hire and train apprentices and maintaining the national Register of Apprentices.
Your work in relation to ‘Generation Apprenticeship’ has been hugely successful – would you mind explaining the objective of the initiative and why it’s important?
The Generation Apprenticeship brand was launched in 2017 as the first batch of newer apprenticeships, including The Insurance Practitioner Apprenticeship, was getting underway. We knew that people needed to hear about and understand the transformation of apprenticeships that is underway in Ireland. We knew that there needed to be a unifying brand that would showcase and celebrate the vitally important craft-based apprenticeships as well as the exciting and innovative programmes in the newer areas. Programmes that are leading, for the first time, to qualifications at degree, masters and Phd levels.
The benefits of apprenticeships are now being realised in many quarters – do you think attitudes have changed? If so, what do you attribute this to? If not, what do we need to do?
The figures say a lot and the number of apprentices and employers getting involved each year is growing. I think there are three main reasons for this.
Firstly, there has been phenomenal work by organisations such as The Insurance Institute and the other industry-led consortia to develop high-quality apprenticeship programmes and to drive their adoption within each industry area.
Secondly, apprenticeships have had some superb champions, who have been effective in communicating the vision for apprenticeships in Ireland, including the members of the national Apprenticeship Council, and in particular the Chairman of the Council, Chief Executive of the ESB Pat O’Doherty.
Thirdly, achieving a transformation in education and training takes time. It does not happen overnight. However, after five years we are now starting to see momentum growing, and a level of awareness and understanding all around Ireland of what a twenty-first century apprenticeship system has to offer.
There is still work to be done, however. Apprenticeships are still considered in certain quarters as a route to recommend if academic options are not available. This couldn’t be more misguided. We all need to keep communicating the message that apprenticeships are, quite simply, just another mode of learning, and of equal status to any other skills development route.
I presume there is a huge variety in the apprenticeship schemes you promote – would you tell us a little about some of the industries and sectors that now have apprenticeship programmes?
The 59 programmes now available are really diverse and support a wide range of industries. They include the insurance industry of course, as well as international financial services, biopharma, tech areas including cyber security, logistics, retail, sales, hospitality, advanced engineering and manufacturing. Over the next 12 months we expect to add up to 7 more apprenticeships in areas that include arboriculture, healthcare and advanced skills for the construction sector. Industry representatives are regularly in contact to explore development of new programmes so that we can continue to respond to the skills needs of their sector.
We are now entering the sixth year of The Insurance Practitioner Apprenticeship – would you have any advice for new employers and apprentices involved in this year’s programme?
I am so delighted and impressed with the graduate stories from The Insurance Practitioner Apprenticeship and the testimonies of their employers. These real life accounts are the best possible endorsement of the programme and I hope new employers and apprentices have been able to see and read these. It is not a walk in the park, undertaking an apprenticeship takes investment and commitment from both employer and apprentice. But the rewards are so clearly worth it, for everyone involved. I would like to express my very best wishes and encouragement to the 2020 group starting out. It has been a challenging year and I applaud your courage and commitment. You are part of a fantastic Generation Apprenticeship movement which is continuing to go from strength to strength in Ireland. Go n’éirí an bóthar libh.
For more information on the Insurance Practitioner Apprenticeship, go to www.earnandlearn.ie or visit www.apprenticeship.ie to learn about other apprenticeships around Ireland.