As of end October 2020, there were 18,800 apprentices registered over 55 apprenticeship programmes. Apprenticeships are between 2 and 4 years in duration leading to qualifications at level 5-10 of the National Framework of Qualifications with a range of arrangements to deliver off-the-job training. These arrangements range from one day a week off-the-job for international financial services apprentices up to a 35 week off-the-job placement for phase 4 aviation apprenticeships.
In March of this year, off-the-job training for number of apprenticeship programmes moved fully online or were modified to allow for greater flexibility between on-the-job and off-the-job elements of the programmes.
Unfortunately, it was not possible to deliver this flexibility in programme provision or assessment in the practical elements of craft apprenticeships (Phases 2,4 and 6) due to the need to access workshops and equipment together with the simultaneous closure of the construction sector. The closure of the education and training sector to face to face delivery of training between March and September 2020 resulted in the immediate loss of approximately 2,200 training places on phase 4 & 6 craft apprenticeships (April intake) and in the region of 2,000 phase 2 training places over the period of the closure.
In addition to the immediate loss of places, the return to face to face training in September has been subject to strict Covid-19 measures which has resulted in the reduction of available places.
The following measures have been taken to ameliorate the ongoing impacts of the Covid-19 measures on craft apprentices:-
- An alternative assessment approach was delivered for the theory assessments for up to 2,500 craft apprentices who had been close to finishing their phase of training at the time of the shutdown in March. Outstanding practical assessments were prioritised for completion in September 2020, with over 1,000 apprentices completing practical assessments and their phase of training.
- Craft apprentices who have had their off-the-job training interrupted in March 2020 were prioritised for a return to training from 31 August (ETB training centres) and from 10 September (Institutes of Technology and TU Dublin).
- Additional trainer posts have been sanctioned on a temporary basis where ETBs have identified a need for additional staff to deliver off-the-job training within Covid-19 guidelines.
- €12m has been provided in Budget 2021 to support additional places which will mitigate against the effect of smaller apprenticeship class sizes and catch up on lost provision in spring and summer 2020.
- SOLAS is currently engaging with Further and Higher Education delivery partners to examine additional options to maximise delivery of craft apprenticeship having regard to the ongoing impact of Covid-19. This includes looking at practical impacts of online delivery and also how much of the theory for craft can be delivered online.
- The HEA and SOLAS are also engaging further in relation to the curricula to see what parts can be delivered online and are working with the sector to see which elements of craft apprenticeship might be amenable to blended learning.