“I can’t get a job without experience – but I can’t get experience without a job.”
It’s the catch-22 that most graduates face after leaving college.
The issue stems from the fact that many college graduates don’t have the skills employers are looking for, due to a lack of emphasis on workplace competencies within many courses. With 69% of Irish school leavers progressing to some sort of third level education, this has created huge skills gaps for the labour market along with significant youth unemployment.
So why do we encourage our young school leavers to pursue college over any sort of vocational training?
Ireland is unique in its emphasis on the value of a third level degree above all else – and yet, a report from the OECD found that 40% of Irish people are working in areas that don’t match their qualification.
Other European countries like Germany and Switzerland, and even the UK, have seen huge success with blended work experience and further education programmes. Apprenticeships in particular have been hugely effective across a number of industries.
In Ireland apprenticeships have traditionally been trade-based and the numbers reduced significantly during the economic crisis. In 2015, however, the government announced plans to expand apprenticeship schemes into non-traditional industries – one of which is insurance. These ‘professional apprenticeships’ give school leavers direct work experience while they earn a level 8 degree and could be the next game-changer to hit the Irish education space.
Insurance is a sector suffering due to skills gaps, but is proactively challenging this trend. The industry has developed a government-approved professional apprenticeship scheme, due to launch in September this year.
Over 100 apprentices will be hired into organisations across the country, where they will gain practical workplace experience while earning a level 8 degree – the BA (Hons) in Insurance Practice.
This professional apprenticeship will allow school leavers to gain the valuable workplace skills that the market is lacking, while not having to sacrifice the many benefits of earning a relevant level 8 degree. An added bonus: the apprentices are paid a salary along the way.
The programme has been developed with involvement from insurance companies and the degree portion will be delivered online by the sector’s educational body, The Insurance Institute, along with IT Sligo.
Employers are looking for more than just academic success in their recruits, but also soft skills such as communication, negotiation and customer focus. The apprenticeship programme intends to address these specific competencies, along with technical and academic knowledge, to provide school leavers with the key transferable skills to succeed in any sector.
The apprenticeship is a viable and perhaps even more credible alternative to university. With the third level dropout rate on the rise due to students choosing unsuitable courses, this programme and others like it will reduce the amount of academically overqualified, skilfully underqualified and disillusioned graduates our country is home to.