The government must take action immediately to provide the apprentices in Ireland with a plan for the completion of their off-the-job training.
There are approximately 20,000 apprentices registered in the state and have been completely ignored by the government since the outbreak of the Covid-19. The government is out of touch with what is happening on the ground and how the pandemic is affecting apprentices’ lives.
There are many apprentices who are being asked to work through lockdown yet are not being told anything about when their off-site education will resume and how they will make up for lost time.
This has serious implications for not only their educations, but also their income. Many apprentices are trapped on first year wages which are often below the minimum wage despite being on their second or third year, with no prospect of this changing.
Others should be qualified and earning a full salary but find themselves through no fault of their own unable to complete their apprenticeship.
There is real frustration out there. One person that I spoke with said ‘we hear a lot about other students but nothing about the those who are getting their hands dirty learning a trade’.
In many ways Covid-19 has compounded existing problems in the apprenticeship system. Apprentices are often delayed getting into off-the-job training due to courses being oversubscribed.
Unlike most third-level and further education, due to the practical nature of many apprenticeships they have not been moved online, but instead have just been suspended.
Now we are facing the backlog of training that needs to be done to allow apprentices to become qualified trades people and other forms of professionals.
The government must outline how the backlog will be addressed and apprentices will be able to complete their qualifications as quickly as possible once it is safe for them to return.
The government must consider all options to address the issue including: Expanding courses to rapidly deal with backlog upon reopening; allowing apprentices to do multiple off-site training courses in succession; permitting apprentices to advance conditionally until off-site training is completed.