Twenty years ago, Technician Associate, Gerry Hanney, initiated ROD's trainee technician programme with the aim of helping school leavers gain an engineering qualification while working on live projects with experienced and supportive colleagues. Gerry developed a strong relationship with St. Kilian's Community School in Bray, Co. Wicklow and, over the years, many of its former students, including Eddie Poland and John Kenny, have gone on to become highly-valued members of our team.
ROD looks for trainees who have a natural aptitude for and interest in the role of technician - typically students who have studied design and communication graphics, engineering or construction studies for their Leaving Certificate. Once on board, we pay our trainees' fees to undertake a part-time Bachelor of Engineering degree at Technological University Dublin (TUD). After completing three years of part-time study, the technicians' earn a Higher Certificate in Engineering and then transfer to a Level 7 Bachelor of Engineering Ordinary Degree, which can be achieved with an additional two years of part-time study. The trainees attend college one full-day and one evening per week, with the remainder of their working week spent in one of our Dublin offices, either Sandyford or Northwood.
We currently have 10 trainee technicians working with us and studying at TUD, some of whom started college last September and others who are nearing the end of their five-year degree. We continue to support our trainees during their career journey with us, firm in the knowledge they have the potential to become talented design engineers and great ambassadors for our traineeship programme.
John Murphy, Principal, St. Kilian's Community School, Bray
In many European countries, the apprenticeship and university routes hold equal status and respect. Contrast this with Ireland, where for academically capable students, anything other than progression to university is thought to signal a lack of ambition and/or success. Significant efforts have been made in recent years to address the decline in popularity of apprenticeships in Ireland however. The variety and scope of apprenticeships is being broadened, and there is now a comprehensive range of professional apprenticeships alongside the more traditional craft trades.
The 'earn and learn' approach of apprenticeships is more attractive to many young people than the prospect of what can be a long and lonely four-year slog through college. The immediacy and energy of the work environment, the on-the-job-learning, the mentorship, support, teamwork and financial independence all create a set of conditions in which young people can feel motivated to learn and grow. With experience of working on live projects, apprentices can see the real-life applications of their college work; the theory and practice are developed hand-in-hand.
The experience of young people throughout 2020 has brought into sharp focus the positives enjoyed by those in apprenticeships. Invariably, those attending university are doing so remotely, with little or no access to workshops or labs. The social side of college life is non-existent, with opportunities to join clubs and societies and form friendships much reduced. The 2020 school leavers are attending lectures and tutorials on their laptops, many for up to 40 hours a week, in situations where most students have their cameras off and mics muted. This type of scenario has implications for student well-being, and drop-out rates are a major cause of concern. Contrast this with the experience of the apprentice who, while earning a decent salary, is learning, creating and being productive in a highly-supported environment. Apprentices have a sense of belonging, of being valued and of contributing. They are developing and progressing and they know it.
The apprenticeship model adopted by ROD is an exemplar from which other industries and businesses could learn. To see the company's commitment to employing not just young people with proven achievements but also those with potential and those who might benefit most from the opportunity is reassuring. Witnessing the time and personal interest that continues to be invested in each of the apprentices after they have been employed is equally gratifying.
When I meet my former students, I can hear their pride in their chosen career and see their great personal growth and development. For me, they are living proof of the value of apprenticeships and, in particular, the success of the ROD programme. At St. Kilian's Community School, we are delighted and privileged to be associated with it.
Alex Cwiertnek, Trainee Technician
My school principal, John Murphy, first encouraged me to apply for an apprenticeship with ROD because he thought I had the qualities you need to become a technician. He also recognised that I found it easier doing practical subjects and working with my hands than reading books and trying to study on my own.
When ROD's Gary Short came to my school to talk about his experience as a trainee technician and offered his perspective on working and studying in college, I was even more interested in pursuing it as a career.
I've worked part-time/full-time since I was 15-years-old, but thanks to the apprenticeship, I don't need to have a part-time job. I have my weekends to myself, so I can study and keep on top of my college work. ROD also lets me take days off for my exams and finish early on Thursday so I can get to college without stressing about being late.
As a part-time student, my college experience is different to that of a full-time student, but when I finish my apprenticeship, I will have more than five years' work experience with an engineering company, and I will only be twenty-five-years-old!