Introductory Information on Vocational Education and Training in Ireland

The history of Ireland’s Vocational Education and Training (VET) can be traced back to the development of Irish technical education from the first Mechanics’ Institute in Dublin in 1824, to the first Technical School (Kevin St.) in 1887, the Vocational Schools of the 1930s and the Community Colleges of the 1980s.



The Irish VET System

A key feature of (VET) system in general, is that there is not a sharp distinction between initial and continuing vocational education and training for the unemployed. The Department of Education and Skills (DES) defines Initial Vocational and Training (IVET) as education or training carried on from primary level onwards without interruption of more than one year.


IVET focuses primarily on the education and training of young persons, aged 15-20, who have generally completed compulsory second level education and who have not yet significantly engaged with the labour market, excluding apprenticeship.


Because the roles and responsibilities for vocational education are separate from the vocational training system, which falls under the responsibility of the labour market authorities, there is not one system of IVET for young people who have completed compulsory schooling, but rather IVET policies and programmes implemented through different government departments and intermediary organisations.


These programmes can be divided into the following four broad categories.

  • School-based vocational education programmes and courses in non-tertiary colleges and centres for further education under the responsibility of the DES.
  • Apprenticeship training, for which FÁS (until the establishment of SOLAS in     2013), the Training and Employment Authority, is responsible in co-operation with the DES.
  • Other initial entry-level VET for various industry sectors is provided by publicly funded state agencies.
  • Foundation and progression programmes, for those who have left school early  without any formal qualifications.


The majority of publicly-supported VET relates to initial vocational education and training and training for unemployed people. The Chart below outlines the different levels and qualifications awarded within the formal and initial vocational education system in Ireland.


Apprenticeship Training and Education in Ireland

When Ireland gained independence from Britain in 1922 it inherited an apprenticeship system that was a time served system with no obligatory measurement of competence non-regulated, it was voluntary and dependent on the backing of employers.

The apprenticeship training programme in Ireland has evolved and changed since

the foundation of the State in 1922. The Apprenticeship Act of 1931 was introduced

to ‘make better provision for the regulation of apprenticeship in certain trades’

As a result of this Act, apprenticeship committees were set up to make rules and regulations relating to the training of apprentices.


It was the Apprenticeship Act of 1959 that required employers to send apprentices to training courses. These training courses were flexible in their delivery with day release, block release and part-time release being options for apprentices.

The new National Apprenticeship Board stipulated what type of instruction should be provided as well as the awarding of the qualification.


In 1967 An Comhairle Oiliuna (AnCO) the Irish Industrial Training Authority was established and became responsible for all aspects of industrial training including apprenticeship.

AnCO brought changes to the apprenticeship system.


The apprentice was then expected to have an employer and be released for one day a week into a Technical College (which later became an Institute of Technology).

The apprenticeship training sector underwent further changes in the 1980s. A new

agency was set up following the Labour Services Act 1986. This new agency was

Foras Aiseanna Saothair (FÁS) the National Training and Employment Authority.

The responsibility of the new agency was broadened to include the needs of the

long term unemployed. This new authority shifted its focus away from company

based training facilitation towards youth based training as well as community based

training while also having statutory responsibility for apprenticeship.


The 1993 Apprenticeship Act saw the introduction on a gradual basis from 1993 of a new standards based apprenticeship which made standards based

training mandatory for 14 craft and technician apprenticeships and this has now

been expanded to 26 See below for a full list of designated apprenticeship/trade programmes;

  •  Agricultural Mechanics
  • Aircraft Mechanics
  • Brick and Stonelaying
  • Carpentry & Joinery
  • Construction Plant Fitting
  • Electrical
  • Electrical Instrumentation
  • Electronic Security Systems
  • Farriery
  • Floor & Wall Tiling
  • Heavy Vehicle Mechanics
  • Industrial Insulation
  • Instrumentation
  • MAMF
  • Metal Fabrication
  • Motor Mechanics
  • Painting & Decorating
  • Plastering
  • Plumbing
  • Print Media
  • Refrigeration & Air Conditioning
  • Sheet Metalworking
  • Toolmaking
  • Vehicle Body Repairs
  • Wood Manufacturing and Finishing


Apprentices completing the above programmes are recruited and employed by companies and receive wages when training on-the-job. This is based on a percentage of the full craft wage, while the funding of apprentices during off-the-job training phases is provided by the state. Apprentices must be at least 16 years of age and the minimum entry requirement into an apprenticeship is successful completion of the Junior Certificate. However, the majority of apprentices have completed upper secondary level education. About 10- 15% of all school leavers follow the apprenticeship route. A similar apprenticeship model is found in some other areas of initial vocational training, e.g. in the farming, tourism and hospitality sectors and Defence Forces. In addition, many professional bodies also operate apprenticeship-style schemes, involving full-time employment with day release or evening course provision, for example in accountancy and law.


On 19 May 2013, the Minister for Education and Skills announced a wide-ranging review of apprenticeships in Ireland. The purpose of the review is to examine the future of apprenticeship training in Ireland with a greater focus on work-based learning and a closer alignment of the current needs of the Irish labour market.

In 29th October 2013 FÁS was dissolved and SOLAS The new statutory agency will operate under the aegis of the Department of Education and Skills. SOLAS, in partnership with the 16 new Education and Training Boards, will be responsible for the integration, co-ordination and funding of the wide range of training and further education programmes around Ireland. One of its first tasks will be to devise a strategy for the development of a unified further education and training sector.




Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI)

The QQI was established on 6 November 2012 as a new integrated agency (replacing the Further Education and Training Awards Council, the Higher Education and Training Awards Council and the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland and incorporating the functions of the Irish Universities Quality Board). 

QQI is responsible for the external quality assurance of further and higher education and training (including English language provision) and validates programmes and makes awards for certain providers in these sectors.

QQI is also responsible for the maintenance, development and review of the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ). Since its establishment, QQI has been progressing the development of its qualifications and quality assurance services.