Irish TimesThe plan to haul apprenticeships into the 21st century – Planned changes to the apprenticeship system could be among the most significant to the Irish education system in decades

The brightest young people go on to third level, and the brightest of all go to university: so goes the conventional narrative.

But increasingly this story does not stand up to scrutiny. Recent figures published in The Irish Times show that up to one in six students are not progressing past their first year in higher education, primarily because they have chosen an unsuitable course.

Meanwhile, there are major skills shortages in key areas of the economy, and youth unemployment still hovers at about 20 per cent.

We have one of the highest proportions of third-level graduates, and yet a report from the OECD last year showed that more than 40 per cent of people are working in an area that does not match their qualifications.

It is against this background that Solas, the further education and training agency, is preparing an overhaul of apprenticeships, a system it acknowledges has for a long time been unfit for purpose.

“We are investing in a fairly radical expansion and modernisation of apprenticeships, and hope to have about 100 options within the next three to five years, spanning all the way from certificate to postgraduate masters level,” says Dr Mary-Liz Trant, executive director for skills development with Solas.

“This is commonplace across European countries. When the apprenticeships come on track, we hope people will see that they offer a strong career path and that they are suitable for a wide range of people, including those who might previously have only considered a traditional third-level course.”

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