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Prometheus's Fire Chapter Abstracts

Chapter 11 - Apprenticeship in Modern Times

J G Ryan

This substantial chapter, 44 pages, covers the changes in apprenticeship, from the angle of legislation and the de facto results thereof, since the founding of the State. The first act of the State was to split Technical Instruction from Agriculture and put it into Education. Then the Ingram Commission was set up in 1926, which identified the need to overcome a dislike for industrial work.

Legislation along the lines of South Africa and Australia was introduced with the 1931 Apprenticeship Act, providing for Trade Boards representing employers and employees. It represented what amounted to an unwelcome break from the positive 30-year experience of of the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction, which had evolved to suit Irish conditions.

As an unwelcome import it was on the whole unsuccessful, and few Trade Boards were in fact set up. It ran into trade union opposition in 1933. Employers regarded it as a no-win situation, into the bargain.

Drafting a new Bill began in 1952 and culminated in the 1959 Act, the process being slowed by the then split in the trade union movement. An Apprenticeship Board was set up, which however remained constrained by the traditional trades' perceptions of apprenticeship, though it did give stronger powers to require an educational component, with compulsory release.

By the mid-60s however it was recognised that this approach could not supply the expanding technical needs of rapidly modernising Irish industry. The 1965 White Paper on Manpower Policy led to the repeal of the 1959 Act and its replacement by the Industrial Training Act of 1968, which set up an Comhairle Oiliuna, or AnCo for short, with increased funding based on a levy.

Radical changes in procedures took place in the 70s, attracting favourable comment in the national press. The new system was vindicated when the Irish apprentice team performed excellently in the 1988 Youth Skill Olympics in Sydney, coming in 4th place overall and ahead of Britain, France and Germany.

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