While there may be misconceptions about apprenticeships, the numbers show that their popularity is once again increasing.

Figures released by SOLAS in March of this year showed that there were almost 13,000 individuals in apprenticeship programmes in 2017, a jump of almost 25% from 2016 figures.

For those who take this path, the results of the qualification are fruitful. Raymond Pierik is 22-years-old and from Carrowkeel in Mayo. Born into a furniture business, he admits himself that third-level academia wasn’t for him. This was cemented when the opportunity of an apprenticeship came up.

“At the end of fifth year a neighbour told me about an apprenticeship in wood manufacturing and finishing and asked if I would do one. Before then I would have never even thought of it. I wouldn’t even have known it was possible.

“When I went on to do my Leaving Cert, I knew in my head that I was going to do the apprenticeship – and that was that. The thing about apprenticeships is that they are an option for those that may be less academic, but are interested in a great career such as a trade. When I finished my Leaving Cert I immediately started my apprenticeship. I did on-the-job training in our furniture business for three months and then went to Dundalk, followed by Bolton Street in Dublin.”

The apprenticeship Pierik did was in wood manufacturing and finishing. In total it was a four-year Level 6 course done through SOLAS, in association with DIT. A seven-phase programme in total, the course mixed on-the-job training with theory.

“It was very hands on and not only did you learn how to make furniture but also delved into other things – how to work safely, how to maintain your machinery. I would have never known any of this,” he said.

“It is certainly not easy. It’s still college at the end of the day and it’s easy to fail if you don’t apply yourself. You have to put your head down and study. If you don’t, you will not pass your exams – same as any other college courses.”

Raymond Pierik.

Carrowkeel Furniture

Pierik’s family business is Carrowkeel furniture. Manufacturing high-end furniture, the rural business situated near Ballyvary has grown from strength to strength since its foundation 30 years ago.

Pierik works full time there now, and the qualifications from his apprenticeship have boosted both his and the business’ expertise. For those willing to do something along this line, he advocates it.

“Out of 80 in my year I was the only one who did an apprenticeship straight out of school. I know two or three more who would have gone and done an apprenticeship after going to college, etc. It wasn’t something that was mentioned to us in school, even though it’s a great opportunity for people.

“For those interested in learning through a more hands-on approach, I would recommend an apprenticeship. If I had to go back in time, I would have done the same thing,” he concludes.


Apprenticeships have diversified since a number of new programmes were introduced in 2016, with a wide variety of programmes across construction, electrical, engineering, finance, ICT, hospitality, logistics, biopharma, motor and property services. Several more are due to come on stream between now and 2020.

These new-style apprenticeships can lead to an award ranging between Level 5 and Level 10 the National Framework of Qualifications.


It is expected that 50-100 apprentices will be recruited for each area, creating as many as 2,500 additional places each year. Fourteen new apprenticeships have come through the Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) validation process and are fully approved, launched and have opened for recruitment.

Reduced demand

Demand for trade reduced during the economic recession, but apprenticeship programmes have been the darling of Government policy in 2018, with former Minister for Education Richard Bruton committing €122m to this educational pathway.

With 41 apprenticeships already underway, a further 12 programmes that are in development have been approved, with 26 more proposed. Of these, six are related to the agri food sector – horticulture, farm technicians and farm management, all provided by Teagasc. Two chef apprenticeships and a sportsturf management programme were also announced. These programmes, which were announced in March, will be developed into 2019.

The development of these new apprenticeships and their subsequent roll-out is overseen by industry-led groups (consortia), working with education and training providers and other partners.