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Key Skills Framework
Enhancing employability within a lifelong learning paradigm

A working paper by the Skills Research Initiative
A prior version of this paper was accepted for presentation at the International Technology Education and Development (INTED) annual conference 2007.

Author - Aidan Kenny, Ray English, Dave Kilmartin

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DIT and apprenticeship

DIT delivers both Phases 4 and 6 of the national Standard Based Apprenticeship System (SBAS), catering annually for over 3500 apprentice students. DIT makes provision for 20 out of the 25 nationally designated trade areas. Academic staff in DIT also organise, co-ordinate, develop examination papers and assessment criteria for the National Skills Competition and directly contribute to the Worldskills Competition. Under the 1999 Qualifications (Education and Training) Act, DIT and the Institutes of Technology (IoTs) are described as a secondary provider for the SBAS; FAS, the National Training Authority has the primary contract with the apprentice. The IoT Apprenticeship Committee (ITAC) is the body that develops policy and gives DIT and the IoTs a collective voice in the education and training of apprentices. Under the present SBAS apprentice students undertake seven phases of practice and learning: one phase of training in FAS, four phases of Work-Based Learning (WBL) and advanced education and skills development, assessment and student experience occurs during both Phase 4 and 6 in the DIT and the other IoTs. When an apprentice successfully completes examinations at Phase 4 and 6 and have served their time they are awarded a National Craft Certificate (NCC) by the Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC). This is a major award placed at Level 6 of the NFQ. SBAS is a dual system of learning and work; specifically, it bridges the gap between formal education and WBL. It shares a lot of the characteristics of vocational education as detailed by UNESCO–UNEVOC (2006), mainly: an educational process involving general education, technology and science, and the acquisition of practical skills, knowledge and understanding relating to occupation, economic and social life. As SBAS provides both practical and related theoretical education it affords an encouraging alternative to pure academic studies. SBAS has been seen as a key method of dealing with the current shortages in the construction industry. A review of the Irish labour market undertaken by FAS in 2002 suggests that there will be a shortage of 11,993 skilled construction workers up to 2006 (FAS 2002a). This figure is not alleviated by the rise in apprenticeship enrolment numbers from 5,000 in the early 1990s (FAS 1998a) to 25,906 in 2002 (FAS 2002b).

Post-NCC, it is apparent, that most apprentices do not progress to higher levels of formal educational attainment. This is recognised in the NDP 2007–2013 which proposes to invest €2.8 billion in up-skilling people in employment, including new skills for those affected by industrial restructuring and/or job displacement as well as an expansion and enlargement of the apprenticeship system (Irish Times, 27 January 2007). In its final report on ‘The demand and supply of engineers and engineering technicians’ for the EGFSN, McIver Consulting for Forfás stress that:

it is important that there should be a national framework for the progression from craft level qualifications to higher level qualifications’. {these qualifications to provide the opportunities to enhance employability and promote new career prospects.
(2003: 113)

EGFSN point out that the importance of apprenticeship has been recognised by the ILO in its World Employment Report and by the OECD (1998) and indicate that the expansion of the apprenticeship system should be reviewed:

In addition the possibility of attracting a greater number of mature students through the introduction of more flexible apprenticeship schemes should be examined. A key issue to consider is the availability of opportunities for apprentices to progress to further and higher education.
(EGFSN 2003: 32)

The OECD had earlier suggested that the apprenticeship style of education and training raised questions regarding the balance between initial and continued lifelong learning. Countries such as Germany and Austria, with their more extensive apprenticeship provision than Ireland, are characterised by strong general and vocational education streams. However, it is suggested that the attractiveness of the vocational route is diminishing, in part, due to the tough economic conditions currently prevailing in Central Europe and high apprenticeship costs. More strikingly, in contrast to full-time education the apprenticeship route does not generally leave open the possibility of entering tertiary education at a later date. Taking the Irish perspective this is supported by Clancy and Wall (2000), who indicate that entrants to HE as indicated from the Fathers Socio-Economic grouping, Skilled Manual Worker, was 34 per cent in 1998, up from 28 per cent in 1992; this group includes occupations such as mechanics and electricians. In comparison, nearly 93 per cent and 85 per cent respectively of those from the Higher Professional Socio-Economic grouping entered tertiary education. In its final report for Aimhigher Greater Manchester Partnership, EKOS Consulting identified a participation rate of 26 per cent for a similar Socio-Economic Group and indicated that 19 per cent of those taking the Advanced Modern Apprenticeship may consider undertaking a degree course and that ‘if they went on to higher education, then this would represent a significantly higher percentage than the national average’ (2004: 9).

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