Guest blog: Here’s why professional apprenticeships are an alternative to college



Sandra Harvey Graham of the Insurance Institute of Ireland writes on why the recently expanded apprenticeship schemes represent an excellent opportunity for both jobseekers and industry.

“I can’t get a job without experience. But I can’t get experience without a job.”

Sound familiar? If you’re a graduate in Ireland or a first time jobseeker, the chances are you’ve said these words.

The difficulty for many employers is that graduates are coming out of university lacking key workplace skills necessary to hit the ground running. This is down to the fact that while most college courses teach technical and academic knowledge, students rarely learn the soft skills that are essential to career success.

For graduates, it’s more than disheartening to come out of college after four years and face the ‘at least 2 years’ experience’ criteria on every job spec – even for some entry level roles. Aside from highly competitive graduate programmes or unpaid internships, many graduates are faced with few options other than to take a job unrelated to their qualification. This is where apprenticeships come in.

What’s a professional apprenticeship?

Apprenticeships are work-based training programmes that combine academic teaching with valuable on-the-job experiential learning; combining technical and soft skills to create the perfect employee for organisations. When you hear ‘apprenticeship’, you probably think of a trade – for example a plumber or an electrician. However, in July 2015 the government announced the expansion of the current national apprenticeship scheme to extend beyond trades and into professional industries; one of which is insurance.

What does an insurance apprenticeship involve?

The Insurance Practitioner Apprenticeship is a three-year programme, where apprentices are recruited into an insurance organisation while working towards a level 8 degree – the BA in Insurance Practice, awarded by IT Sligo. This is the first apprenticeship in Ireland to offer a level 8 honours degree. The programme is delivered through a combination of online study with IT Sligo and The Insurance Institute, and on-the-job learning through an insurance employer. The degree portion of the programme is fully funded through the Apprenticeship Council and apprentices are also paid a salary by their employer.


As an apprentice you’ll develop technical insurance knowledge along with transferable workplace skills and competencies. Once you graduate, you’ll be business-ready and extremely employable in a range of sectors. Your employer will support you in your on-the-job learning, with regular one to one personal development sessions with an industry supervisor and mentor. Your mentor will also help you to settle into your role and into working life.


A huge variety of roles are available in the insurance industry including claims, risk management, underwriting, broking and loss adjusting. As an apprentice, you’ll work in one of the three core industry areas – underwriting, claims or direct client advice.

The nature of the programme means that you will learn about all areas of the business and you’ll complete projects and case studies to reinforce learning in the workplace. You will also earn the insurance industry’s benchmark professional qualification the Professional Diploma in Insurance, which means that by the end of your three years, you’ll be compliant to work in any area of general insurance – personal, commercial or private medical.

Who should apply for the apprenticeship?

Apprenticeships aren’t just for those who didn’t get enough leaving cert points for their preferred college course. Applicants include:


  • School leavers who want to earn a level 8 degree without going down the university route. They want to launch their careers straight away while not missing out on the academic advantages of a college degree.
  • Third level students who are questioning the relevancy of their current college course can undertake an apprenticeship without having to incur any extra cost of starting a brand new course.
  • Graduates who want to further their education in the insurance and financial services sector, while gaining valuable workplace experience through a structured programme.
  • Career changes who’ve worked in other industries and wish to start a career in insurance.

When will I start?

The first programme will begin in September this year, with employers beginning their recruitment drives in mid-June.

How do I apply?

Entry requirements include a minimum of 2 honours in the Leaving Cert or equivalent, with a pass in four additional subjects including Maths and English or Irish. If you’re over 23, interviews or other selection tools may be used to assess instead of these minimum requirements. Companies will recruit apprentices through their own processes, however The Insurance Institute will post details of who’s recruiting on their website You can register your interest in hearing more about apprenticeships here too.

Sandra Harvey Graham is Apprenticeship Programme Manager with the Insurance Institute of Ireland.



Five ways to make the most out of the gradireland Summer Fair

The official gradireland Summer Careers Fair is taking place on Wednesday 8th June from 11am – 5pm in the RDS Simmonscourt. Ireland’s top graduate employers will be in attendance, actively recruiting students and graduates in a whole range of disciplines. In preparation for the Summer Fair our team have put together five tips to help you make the most out of the event!

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Use the Jobs Wall

There will be a large jobs wall in the hall at the gradireland Summer Fair. This will have live graduate schemes and opportunities listed, use your phone and take a photo of any that you are interested in applying to – then go home, find the job, internship or graduate programme on and start making applications!

Bring your CV

Many employers are happy to receive CVs at Careers Fairs. In addition, at the gradireland Summer Fair we will be running a specialist CV Clinic, hosted by careers advisors from your University, providing 50 hours of specialist advice, at which you can have your CV reviewed in a one to one setting. However, a word of caution – the CV clinic has a limited number of slots and gets booked up very quickly, so get there early to book your appointment and don’t expect the advisors to write your CV for you – they are there to review and advise but you’ll have to do the hard work yourself first!



Make sure you have researched the exhibitors who are attending, and decide beforehand which ones you would like to talk to. Think of questions which might not be answered already in brochures or on their websites. Many exhibitors have recent graduates now working with them available to talk to you at their stands, so ask them what working life is really like in that company.

Attend the Seminars

Make sure you attend one or more of the specialist careers seminars – they are designed to give you the edge when it comes to applications and interviews! From Assessment Centres to Interview Dressing there is a seminar to benefit everyone. Check out the line-up of seminars for the Summer Fair here.


Download the gradireland Events App

The brand new gradireland events app is your personal assistant for the Summer Fair. You can create a profile, directly contact employers, personalise your seminar schedule and much more! Download it from the App Store or Google Play now.

The gradireland Summer Fair is completely free to attend. Students and graduates can register for free entry here and will also have the chance to win an Android Tablet! Looking forward to seeing you there!

LGBT workplace equality – Realising the importance and value of diversity & inclusiveness in business

Guest blog: Catherine Vaughan, Director, EY

In Ireland and across the world; customers, suppliers and other business partners no longer make choices simply based on price. In recent years, shared values have become increasingly important when choosing who you do business with.  Whether you can identify and connect with the people and organisations you are working with is more than ever becoming a determining factor.  When a strong connection exists, real trust can be built, and in turn relationships develop naturally.

This is particularly true when choosing an employer. Just as customers, suppliers and business partners now make choices based on shared values, so do employees.

Multiracial Group of Friends with Hands in Stack, Teamwork

Undeniably, salary will always be a factor when deciding where to work, but more and more people are making choices based on softer factors including values, experience, development potential and opportunities. Opportunities and experiences are what inspire commitment to an organisation, and it is commitment that leads to innovation, productivity, growth and success – for the individual and for the organisation.

When considering how to attract and recruit the best talent, including graduates, organisations need to be clear about the opportunities and experiences on offer and the environment in which those experiences will be gained.  To win in the attraction space, an organisation needs to clearly articulate the vision of an employee experience.  For an organisation to win in the recruitment and retention space it needs to bring the vision to life.

Not so long ago, LGBT employees might not have expected to have the same experience as their straight colleagues and expectations of shared values and experience might have been lower.  At the very least, LGBT employees probably did not have the confidence to speak up and voice their expectations.

Times have changed however and the expectations and voices these days are pushing organisations to deliver on the vision, not only for LGBT employees but across the diversity spectrum – gender, age, culture, physical ability.

For organisations to be truly successful in achieving its vision for a positive employee experience, opportunities must be accessible to everyone. LGBT employees must be afforded the same respect, voice and experience as all of their peers. The perceived ability to speak up and share one’s ideas, to feel like part of the team, is critical to collaboration, an essential component to developing the products and solutions customers demand.

In Ireland there has been significant change in the understanding of employers about the importance of LGBT workplace equality, but there is always room for improvement. Change comes from both a top down and a bottom-up approach. Changing organisational culture requires buy-in from management, and leading by example is crucial. Similarly, engaging younger professionals, as well as staff across a range of different disciplines helps to ensure all corners of the business are addressed.

To really achieve diversity and act inclusively it is not enough to simply put ideals on a page, be that in a values statement, code of conduct or policy. What really makes the difference are the spoken words and actions of the people at the heart of the organisation itself.  After all, even in this highly automated, digital age, it is people who create organisational culture, define behavioural norms and in the end, who make the decisions.

At EY many actions and initiatives have been taken to realise the commitment to LGBT equality, below are some tips organisations might consider:

  • Engage with and train leadership – Regular meetings between LGBT staff and senior leadership help develop understanding of the LGBT workplace experience. Providing inclusive leadership training can be an invaluable way of raising the bar.
  • Find out how you measure up – gather independent feedback to understand how you are performing, to reflect on achievements and identify areas to focus on in the future. Initiatives such as the Workplace Equality Index are a great place to start.
  • Establish an employee network – since 2008 EY has had an employee network group. The group is led by a committee representing every part of the business and participation on the committee is recognised in annual plans and performance appraisals.  Committees give people experiences outside of their normal day-to-day role fast-tracking their development and success.
  • Take learnings from others – network with other employee network groups and sponsoring organisations to understand and learn from their best practices.
  • Support and sponsor the LGBT community – keep connected to what’s happening in the LGBT community to help understand your staff and to deliver your message on the value you place on workplace equality, diversity and inclusion.

Looking back at my own experience of entering professional services as a graduate, I am amazed at the change.  Had I been asked in 1995 to complete a survey I would have ticked the box “Out only to a few at work”; I certainly wouldn’t have ticked the box “Out to all at work” – the box I tick these days.  I am immensely proud to be part of an organisation that recognises my talent before my sexuality but which, at the same time, values my difference.

At a time when more graduates are choosing to stay in Ireland on completing their degrees, being able to offer them something other than salary to connect with can be the differentiator you need to attract and retain the best talent.

Catherine Vaughan, Director, EY



Returning to the market for skilled candidates? (Infographic)

During the recession, the recruitment market was primarily employer-led with a significant deficit in jobs and career opportunities. But over the past year, the market has turned on its head as the demand for skilled graduates grows, putting the candidate back in pole position.

When speaking about the recent changes in the graduate recruitment market, Director of gradireland Mark Mitchell said ‘The jobs market is coming back, but not as it existed pre-recession. There are more diverse career paths than ever before, new skills are required and graduates are being given a much more diverse variety of opportunities’.


Employer’s skills requirements have become much more specific in recent years. But worryingly, it was found in this year’s Graduate Salary Survey that 52.3% of employers anticipate challenges finding applicants with the right skills set.

On the flip side of this, the return of the candidate-led market has given graduates more choice when it comes to their career decisions. During the recession, graduates were much more inclined to commit themselves to a single job opportunity, due to the increasingly competitive jobs market. They were far less inclined to take risks when it came to job offers, meaning that employers could rely on hire-retention rates. In contrast to this, candidates are now in a position to accept multiple job offers and choose the opportunity they consider the most advantageous for their career.

This change in the market creates challenges for employers, as a steady increase in the amount of candidates dropping out of graduate programmes for other opportunities has been noted by our team. Employers are being forced to go back to market to recruit candidates in areas that they are experiencing a shortfall.

gradireland are providing a forum for these employers to recruit candidates at this year’s Summer Fair being held in the RDS Simmonscourt on Wednesday 8th June from 11am – 5pm. With over 4,000 students and graduates expected to attend, this is the perfect opportunity for you to recruit skilled candidates in sectors where your company may be experiencing a shortfall.

For more details about the Summer Fair contact a member of our team on 01-6451500 or email


Top tips for your summer internship!

Summer is just around the corner which means that many graduates are preparing to start summer internships. With this in mind, the gradireland team have asked some interns currently working with Deloitte for some advice for students about what they can expect, and how they can make the most of the experience.


  1. An open mind is essential

Be ready to meet new people from all walks of life. You may have the impression that new graduates will all come from business backgrounds and this was one of the biggest misconceptions for me. The interns I’ve met, from Audit and Tax, Consulting and Corporate Finance, all come from various undergraduate degrees. I’ve met people in Audit studying Science or Engineering. There are people in Consulting studying Psychology and Music and I’m sure that this applies to many workplaces. Deloitte is excellent at building on diversity throughout the firm so I would say that it is definitely important to walk through the doors with an open mind.

  1. Be Polite & Professional

First impressions can make a lasting impression. Make sure to have perfected that firm hand shake and dress professionally. Deloitte’s dresscode is business attire, similar to many corporate offices. It is important to put yourself out there on your first day, introduce yourself to the people you meet and take time to talk to other interns and members of staff. Sometimes this may be difficult if you are a particularly shy or nervous person, but you can almost guarantee that other people in the room are feeling the exact same way that you are, so make an effort and you will reap the benefits.

  1. Talk to everyone you can during induction

The first few people you talk to during induction normally bring you some comfort in what can be a very different and new environment to most people. The coffee breaks during induction can be really helpful in getting to know people and hopefully make some good friends and contacts for the next six weeks, remember, effective networking is a vital part of completing a successful internship.

  1. Deloitte, like all companies, love abbreviations

The technical part of your induction will be “abbreviation heavy.” Don’t worry because no one really knows what any of them mean until you “hit the floor.” Audit is especially intense with abbreviations, you will hear ROMMs, ABCOTDs, TBs, FS, EMS, and CTB being mentioned a lot. Frightening at first, but you’ll learn the ropes soon enough!

  1. Meet your mentor and your buddy

Many summer internship programme have a mentor and buddy system in place. As soon as they email you they will probably suggest having a meeting. It’s important that you arrange one as these people are your go-to people if you have an issue with anything. Especially admin issues, like taking time off or other everyday issues. It’s important to note that your mentor is also your appraiser. Appraisers give you feedback on the work you have done as well as listen to how you have got on while doing the work.

  1. The induction booklet is really handy

During induction in Deloitte you get a little A5 induction booklet, which I imagine is provided by most companies. This is an absolute goldmine of information. Look after it and read it,  it’ll help you find your feet.

  1. Don’t get stung with emergency tax

You need to give your P45 in to one of the people facilitating induction or if not them, to someone in HR. Your P45 must be current, i.e. from 2015. I submitted one from 2011 not realising this was the case and got charged emergency tax. If you don’t have a P45, you must follow the instructions on page 20 of the intern book. (Like I said, this book is really handy)

  1. Join Yammer, join the Facebook group, join LinkedIn, join everything…

You are going to be told to join Yammer, and you really should. Everything that’s going on in the firm will be here. Also post questions in your group if there is something you’re not sure about. The other two are really useful to join too, but mainly Yammer.

  1. If you have a question…

You can ask your mentor or buddy, but other trainees can also help you out if you have other little questions. More than likely they have had the same questions and will help you out if you are stuck.

  1. Enjoy it

My time at Deloitte have been great fun, and I have gotten to know a lot of new people as well as working with a great team. I’m sure you will enjoy your experience also, wherever you’re doing your internship. Don’t forget to be social too; there are a lot of sports clubs and groups in companies like Deloitte, you will get all the details at induction, so be outgoing, friendly and enjoy the experience.

For more from gradireland on making the best of internships with large employers, make sure you read

Authors: James Lynch & Jennifer Whitehead, Deloitte


Success & Innovation at 2016 gradireland Graduate Recruitment Awards

winners group shot _001  (1)April 28th saw almost 600 of Ireland’s graduate recruiters, course providers and stakeholders come together in the Round Room of Dublin’s Mansion House to celebrate achievement and innovation in the graduate recruitment area, on this the tenth anniversary of the gradireland Graduate Recruitment Awards. 2016 saw the largest ever Graduate Recruitment Awards, conducted in partnership with the Association of Higher Education Careers Services (AHECS) and the Higher Education Authority (HEA). The 2016 event attracted over 160 submissions from more than 60 organisations and almost 7,500 students participated in the vote to determine Ireland’s most popular graduate recruiter.

Opening the evening’s proceedings, gradireland Director Mark Mitchell said; “More organisations than ever are investing in defined graduate programmes. Graduate programmes that lapses during the recession are being reinstated and reimagined, this has led to increasing competition and a different set of challenges for graduate recruiters, careers services and students.” Mark also spoke of the importance of partnerships and invited Professor Maria Hinfelaar, former President of LIT, to give the keynote address on the evening.
Hosted by RTE’s Brian Dobson, the awards ranged throughout the graduate recruitment spectrum and also acknowledged achievement in the postgraduate course provision area. Indeed this area saw the first awards of the evening, the AHECS awards, being presented, the winners being:

Employability Award (Small and Medium Services)
Winner: National College of Ireland

Employability Award (Large Services)
Winner: Ulster University

Engagement Award
Joint Winners: Deloitte and PwC

The award winners on the night represented a broad spectrum of Irish and international industry. PwC landed the award for Employer of the Year, while KPMG was named Ireland’s Most Popular Graduate Recruiter in the student vote, displacing Google, who had held top spot for several years. Abbvie was judged to have the Best Specialist/Professional Graduate Training & Development Programme and Abbott was awarded with Best Internship Programme. The dynamic of the graduate recruitment sector was evident everywhere in the room. Stakeholders in industry rubbed shoulders with course providers, tasked with providing the next generation of talent. Commenting on the awards, Mark Mitchell, gradireland Director, added: “These awards are now firmly established as a key event in the year, enabling all of the stakeholders in the graduate recruitment process to create important networks as well as to celebrate success.”

The full list of winners (and silver and bronze awards) at the gradireland Graduate Recruitment Awards and Postgraduate Course of the Year Awards 2016:

The most popular graduate recruiters

Accountancy/Professional Services
Winner: KPMG

Banking, investment & financial services
Winner: Bank of Ireland

Winner: Accenture

Winner: Intel

Winner: Jameson – Irish Distillers Pernod Ricard

Winner: Google

Winner: A&L Goodbody

Logistics, transport & supply chain management
Winner: Aer Lingus

Online retail services and telecoms
Winner: Amazon

Winner: Lidl

Public service/business organisations
Winner: Department of Education and Skills

Winner: Boston Scientific

Utilities, Energy, Renewables
Winner: ESB

Ireland’s Most Popular Graduate Recruiter
Winner: KPMG

Best Graduate Recruitment Website
Winner: ESB

Silver: Aldi

Bronze: Jameson – Irish Distillers Pernod Ricard

Best Innovation on Campus
Winner: Deloitte

Silver: KPMG

Bronze: Intel

Best Student Marketing Campaign
Winner: Jameson-Irish Distillers

Silver: Glanbia

Bronze: PwC

Best Graduate Training & Development Programmes
Specialist/Professional Training programme

Winner: Abbvie

Silver: Abbott

Bronze: PwC

Business/General Training & Development programme
Winner: Glanbia

Silver: Jameson – Irish Distillers Pernod Ricard

Bronze: EMC

Best Internship Programme
Winner: Abbott

Silver: Abbvie

Bronze: KPMG

gradireland Diversity Recruitment Award

Winner: Enterprise rent-a-car

Silver: Abbott

Bronze: KPMG


Winner: DCU, MSc in Human Resource Management


Winner: UCC, MEngSc Information Technology in Architecture, Engineering and Construction


Winner: UCC, MSc Information Systems for Business Performance


Winner: NUI Galway, MSc Biotechnology


Winner: Maynooth University, Masters in Design Innovation


Graduate Employee of the Year
Overall winners
Robert Beirne, LIDL
Maxim Romancovs, HEDGESERV


Graduate Employer of the Year

Thinking of moving job? Make sure you make an informed decision

With the economy continuing to improve, opportunities are on the increase and plenty of those in their first time job have the opportunity to make a career move. But, when should you move, and why should you move? A recent article in Forbes magazine pointed out that even seasoned professionals frequently make poor career choices, so as someone who is relatively new to the job market, what should you look out for and when should you make your move, and for what reasons?

If you’ve only recently graduated and are currently in your first job, it might not be looked upon favourably by future employers if you make a move too soon. It’s a mix of not having gained enough experience, and a possible perception of lack of loyalty. But at the end of the day, it’s your career, and in a market where opportunities are definitely growing, you will likely be faced with the choice of whether to stay or move on.

What to look out for

The prospect of a new job may seem so tempting that many of us can blindly ignore plenty of warning signs that an initially tempting position may be flashing in our faces. Remember, even if you have been offered a new position, try and look past the prospect of purely financial reward and remember that is ok to say no, in many cases it may be a better decision for your career, and your personal welfare.

First, find out as much as you can about the new company. Is it result-driven, or rule-driven? If it’s result-driven, can you match the heavy expectations that could be placed upon you at this stage of your career? If it’s rule-driven can you work in a process based environment? It could be a small or start-up company, which may sound attractive, as you’ll get varied and practical experience, but will you be working for someone who will call you after hours and at weekends and expect you to answer emails at any times of day or night? If you value your personal time, make sure you get a real sense of the culture of the company, and the employer, before you accept the offer. Make sure you ask the questions; ‘what’s a typical workday like?’ and ‘would I be expected to answer emails or take calls in the evening or at weekends?’

If you are joining a large corporate company, consider how this fits in with your long-term career goals, understand the short-term and long-term priorities of the position.
Network and get in touch with someone who you could be working with, find out the reality of day-to-day work there.This ensures that you and your employer have a clear understanding of what is expected of you. Make sure all the details are covered and you’re not in the dark about anything, get everything in writing about your position—whether it is in an offer letter or a contract. You should have your salary,  benefits, and other terms and any other terms and conditions on paper before you make a decision. Moving for purely financial reasons is a risk, as it can cloud your judgement, but if the offer is generous, it’s understandable for it to be a driving factor.
Make sure you have room to grow professionally. Will this new job enhance your employability skills and take you further down the road you want to be on?  You do not want to take a job only to realise later that it is a stagnant and limited position.
For some, working in a group environment is great and enhances creativity. For others, it is a distraction.

Ultimately, you have to make your own decisions, but use all the supports that are out there, peers, friends, and your careers service. But no matter how much you prepare, you will never know what working somewhere is like until you actually get in the door. However, if you’ve done your research, at least you will know that you’re making a decision armed with the best possible information.

For more on making informed career choices, visit or watch our videos on what working life is like in a host of sectors.




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