Laboratory Apprenticeship
Laboratory Apprenticeship

Lab Apprenticeships – TU Dublin take the Lead

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

In 2020 the first intake of Lab Apprentices will graduate with a Level 6 Higher Certificate in Science as a Laboratory Technician and feedback from both the employers and the apprentices to date indicates the program has been successful
Recently we caught up with John Behan, Head of Science Dept., TUDublin Tallaght Campus to learn about the advantages of the programme, how the Lab Apprenticeship programme came to fruition and what are the plans for it going forward.

So John, these students literally “Earn While They Learn”

Exactly, a main advantage from an employer’s perspective is the fact that these courses are practical and students are working within the organisation from the get-go – you’ll see that the whole programme was industry-led and that’s important.
Equally it’s fantastic for the apprentices to be able to do part-time work in the subject area that they are actually studying. Given the cost of accommodation and just general living costs, so many students are forced to work part-time jobs in completely unrelated fields to what they are actually studying – putting them under a lot of additional pressure. This way they get to learn key practical skills related to the modules they are studying – on-the-job. It’s a great alternative to conventional full time courses, which may not be financially feasible for some students. But also, certain students are more suited to learning through practical hands on experience and it’s difficult from a financial resource perspective for an educational institute to replicate a real-world lab environment.
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John, I understand TU Dublin were involved from the very outset?

Yes, the origins of the Lab Apprenticeship programme go right back to a government initiative a few years ago when an Expert Group (EGFSN) produced a report on Future Skills Needs in2016 and it identified a potential skills shortage of skills such as laboratory technicians and laboratory analysts scientists, given the projected growth of the Biopharma sector. A Steering Group was formed which included employers, IBEC/BPCI and educators like TUD and the Lab Apprenticeship programme evolved out of that. In fact you recently interviewed Andrew Hayes, Helsinn Birex Pharmaceuticals and he Chaired that group and made sure the employers perspective was central to the development of the programme.

From an educational perspective, it was a natural fit for TUD to become the Lead Educator - we had already featured as a Case Study in the 2016 report by the expert group. This case study highlighted the upskilling of Honours Science Graduates in a Skillnet funded initiative with TU Dublin to give these graduates the skil set required to prepare them for careers in the Biopharma sector In addition for over 20 years we have been running CPD programmes in this area, which involved a blend of working part-time and studying part-time – with a very practical approach to learning. The fact that we had experience with placing students in industry as part of a pharmaceutical programme gave us insights into how students learn in the workplace. So we were delighted to put our hands up and work with the Industry consortium to deliver the programme.

Everyone on the Group was conscious that the content had to be practical and deliver programs that meet the needs of the employers taking on an apprentice. So the content for the course modules was industry-led at the outset.

How did the course get validated from an academic perspective?

Well the timelines were all pretty tight but again our experience helped a lot in making sure we ticked all the necessary boxes. While it was important to meet the needs of industry, we still had to get validation through a strict and rigorous academic process. Initially we had an internal process where we took the modules and made sure they were fit-for-purpose from an academic perspective. Then we had to get external approval – this involves an external panel of senior academics as well as industry representatives who analyse the program documentation, the learning outcomes curriculum content and assessment and the balance of the course between practical skills acquisition and necessary related theoretical components
It’s a very collaborative approach; we supply the learning outcomes to the employer at the start of each module so they can make sure the practical experience supports the achievement of learning outcomes at program and module level in each semester . Additional supports in industry which include the workplace supervisor and mentor support this learning process.
Happily we secured the necessary program validation and I’m really looking forward to seeing our first set of 13 students graduate next year!

So what’s next for the Laboratory Apprenticeships Programmes?

This academic year 2019-2020 we have our first intake into the 3 year Level 7 Bachelor of Science Degree Ordinary Degree Laboratory Analyst Program. The Graduates from the Level 6 Program can complete the BSc Degree by doing one additional year We want to see the roll out of these programs in other Institutes of Technology around the country to enable the regional and national potential of these programs to be fully realised. We as the Lead Educator, will facilitate this progression and we are delighted to see that our colleagues in WIT have had their first intake of Apprentices on to the Level 7 Analysts program in September 2019. We look forward to other IoT’s coming on board in the coming years. This is what industry needs!