Apprenticeships grow in popularity, but not in pay

Lora Doyle

Credit: Sonja Tutty

Continuing your education in an academic environment may not be the answer for all, however, the draw to apprenticeships in recent years may be a reason for increasingly uncompetitive pay.

Apprenticeships in Ireland have become increasingly popular in recent years, seeing a 25 per cent increase from 2016 to 2017 alone. As the Leaving Cert points requirements and expectations of third level institutions increase, many students are taking the route of on the job learning and steering away from the classroom. 

School leavers also have far more options for apprenticeships than they did in 2008, where there were mainly craft apprenticeships such as carpentry, plumbing, electrical or motor mechanics. Apprenticeships in other fields have since opened up such as auctioneering, hospitality, finance, food and ICT. 

Many employers such as EBS and Aerlingus are actively seeking out female apprentices and going to girl’s schools to plant the seed in their heads as to why an apprenticeship might be the best route for them to take.

Apprenticeships in Ireland typically have a minimum requirement of 50 per cent on the job making these the perfect alternatives for school leavers who want to leave the classroom behind them as much as possible.

Most apprentices interviewed said that they chose to do an apprenticeship instead of going to college as they felt they would perform better doing something more practical and they found it easier to learn by doing than in the classroom.

Director of apprenticeships and work-based training at Solas, Shauna Dunlop told the Irish Times that apprenticeship enrolments fell as low as 1600 in 2008 when the recession hit. They have risen to over 1600 in recent years, with pay being the most attractive draw.

But despite the attractive incentive of being paid for their efforts while getting their qualification, many believe they should be afforded the same benefits as students, such as discounts on travel. 

According to Solas, the average gross pay a phase two craft apprentice earns in Ireland can range from €195 to €323 per week, depending on which industry they have chosen to pursue.  

Sean Kehoe, an electrical apprentice from Wexford said that despite being given travel expenses by his company he still believes an allowance to pay for college should be given:

“Different apprenticeships have different wages, luckily with the company I work for they pay my travel expenses, so that helps out big time but most companies don’t. You do a good bit of work for €295 a week and are expected to overtime as an apprentice and don’t get paid a lot extra if you even do get anything.

“We have to pay a €2,000 to go (to college) and after being on those wages it’s hard to save up that money,” he said.

Apprentices in Ireland are exempt from applying for a SUSI grant, meaning they must rely solely on their income to pay for the academic part of their qualification.

Most apprentices must also pay for their accommodation if they are going to college, despite not being given the choice to choose which college they attend and the rising costs of student accommodation across the country.

One apprentice said they work 20 hours at the weekend in order to save money for their fees and potential accommodation costs for college as well as working 40 hours a week minimum in their apprenticeship.

Quentin O’Reilly, a metal fabrication apprentice from Wicklow said that nearly half of his weekly wage pays for his digs while in college.

“I don’t feel the wages I receive are enough for the hours and the graft I put in through a working day, especially first year rate. Receiving €270 a week in phase two and having to pay €120 a week for digs makes life tough from week to week,” he said

Some of the apprentices interviewed also said they are often asked to do overtime or work on jobs without the supervision of their employer and they are seldom paid any extra for doing so.

However, there are some apprentices and students who believe the wage they are given is enough for most people and grants and discounts should be left solely to students who are in educations full time.

Dean Gilroy, an electrical apprentice from Dublin said he does not see why apprenticeships should be afforded the same benefits as students considering they get paid for the work they do.

“Everyone has their own stuff going on but I don’t see why we should get things like that. I think in some cases people should be eligible for a grant for half of the (college) fees even if they met certain criteria because first year apprentices get paid about €250 a week and a lot are paying to travel to work but everyone is different,” Dean said.

Gilroy also noted that most universities give apprentices student cards while they are studying. UniDays, an online platform where students can verify themselves to various retailers in order to get discounts will also give apprentices these discounts as long as their university has given them a student card.

Kirsty Dowdall, a final-year journalism student, believes that the discounts and grants given to students should be exclusive to them due to the fact that apprenticeships are paid while students must rely on grants and part-time jobs to pay for their degrees.

“I get that they’re apprentices and it is a form of learning but it’s more of a job. They’re getting paid while they’re learning as opposed to students who are often paying their way through college and don’t have the luxury of being able to spend their money on themselves. It’s a tough one but at the same time it’s not that different to just being a part of the working world,” Kirsty said.

Apprenticeships can be a great way for students to receive their qualifications without the hurdles of the CAO points system and the commitment to four more years in an academic environment. However, there is a gap in terms of the pay most apprentices receive for their efforts and the cost of living. It is  unclear if there will be any efforts made to combat this by either SOLAS or the Higher Education Authority.

Lora Doyle

Image credit: Sonja Tutty