Suiting those who might prefer hands-on work, Teagasc’s “earn as you learn” apprenticeship programmes have a unique structure, with apprentices working 80% of the time, and in college for the remainder.

Teagasc recently held a live webinar to provide insights into the apprenticeship programmes. There are 10 apprentices enrolled in the farm technician course and eight in the farm manager course, both of which started last September.

Teagasc provides four two-year apprenticeship programmes:

  • Farm Technician at Clonakilty Agricultural College.
  • Farm Manager at Kildalton College – Level 7.
  • Horticulturist at the National Botanic Gardens – Level 6.
  • Sportsturf Management at Kildalton College – Level 6.
  • Apprentice perspective

    Olivia Rigney, a farm manager apprentice from Laois, is completing her apprenticeship on Brian Doheny’s 380-cow farm in Kilkenny.

    After completing a Level 6 dairy herd management course in Gurteen College, she began working with Brian last summer before enrolling on the apprentice programme.

    “I enjoy the hands-on aspect, you’re out every day, not stuck inside reading a book or studying,” she says.

    “You’re learning as you go. Outside in the fresh air, it’s good for you and your mental health. [The biggest advantage is that whether we’re on the farm or in college, we get paid, so it encourages people to further their education.”

    The college work for this apprenticeship is split between Moorepark and Kildalton. The modules covered have prepared Olivia for the challenges she faces on the farm.

    Brian provides Olivia with information that she needs for her course and she has access to the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation and PastureBase apps for her projects and college work.

    As this is an ordinary level bachelor degree, there is opportunity for further education and progression.

    After her apprenticeship, Olivia hopes to travel to New Zealand or Australia for more work experience.

    The apprenticeship suited Brian as it meant Olivia could continue to work on his farm, while furthering her education. He said that it works both ways: “We get the benefit of having an employee here, and the benefit of what she’s learning. Giving her responsibility takes away from my workload.”


    To roster his staff, Brian uses the Time Tree app, which allows days off to be rostered in advance so that Olivia can attend college. Brian says that watching Olivia upskill also encourages him to up his game.

    “It’s nearly a challenge for me. When you get a good question, you have to be able to deliver a good answer.”

    He adds that he would “absolutely recommend” the programme. “We’re competing with all industries for good employees. This is a good way to bring someone into your business. You get the benefit of their effort and they get upskilled.”

    A key requirement of the programme is that mentorship is available within the employment.

    John Mulhern, principal of the Teagasc College of Amenity Horticulture at the Botanic Gardens, highlighted that this means that the programme is not suited to all employers as they must be able to train and mentor apprentices, and give them one-on-one attention.


    “Every module has an on-the-job and off-the-job component. Tutors in the college provide the off-the-job component and employers need to be able to provide the on-the-job component for their apprentice.”

    Apprentices undertake college-based learning for at least 10 weeks a year, depending on their programme. This equates to roughly three or four days a month in the college.

    Each apprenticeship has a defined syllabus which is specific to years one and two. All modules are credit-based, and exams must be passed in order to be awarded credits.

    Year one has a focus on sustainable production, health and safety, and the sciences underpinning horticulture and farming.

    Year two modules look at financial management and administration. Apprentices also undertake a project, allowing an opportunity to capture all their learning.

    The courses are designed to minimise the impact of the apprentice’s absence for the employer. Block release allows the employer to plan for absence in advance.

    Attendance at block release is compulsory. In this part of the course, apprentices attend labs, field trips, face-to-face classes and practicals.

    They also participate in group discussions and share experiences to date. Exams also take place during this period.

    Apprentices work a minimum of 39 hours a week, and are guaranteed the minimum wage, but the payment rate is agreed between the employer and apprentice.

    John Mulhern encourages every farm employer to look at getting approved for the farm apprenticeship programme.

    “It doesn’t cost anything. They can then advertise on to draw people who are interested in joining their business.” With the structure of the programme, he says that it is a “definite pathway that everyone should thoroughly examine”.

    With just 20 places per apprenticeship programme per year, anyone interested is encouraged to start enquiring soon. Further details are available at