The Minister for Further and Higher Education has said that there needs to be a "system change and culture change" regarding how apprenticeships are viewed.

Speaking at the launch of his department's Action Plan on Apprenticeships, Simon Harris said there has been a "narrowing of the conversation" around what young people would like to do when they leave school.

He said people should be asking students "what would you like to do with your life" as opposed to asking them what college they would like to attend.

Mr Harris said that while increasing the number of trades is important for Ireland, people can also pursue apprenticeships in other areas, "you can do a PhD through an apprenticeship," he added.

As part of the Action Plan, 10,000 apprentice places will be created every year, from 2025 onwards.

Mr Harris said he would like to see the CAO form broadened to incorporate apprenticeships, "so that a student in school can see all of their options".

He said that somebody could do a university degree through an apprenticeship, "where you can earn and learn".

Minister Harris also said he is conscious that there are people, perhaps older adults, who "can't just pack their bags and head to university for three or four years, perhaps they have kids or dependents or a mortgage".

He said the message his department want to get across to those people is that an apprenticeship is "an equally worthy way or might even be a better way for you to get to that endpoint".

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There is a target to hire 750 public sector apprentices annually by 2025.

Employers who take on apprentices are set to get a €3,000 yearly grant from 2022.

There will be further supports offered to employ lone parents, people with a disability and those in living direct provision.

A bursary of €5,000 annually will also be established for 100 apprentices who experience socio-economic disadvantage.

The range of apprenticeships will be expanded with new roles in healthcare, the green economy and farming.

A national Apprenticeship Office will be created along with a portal for school leavers interested in registering to become an apprentice.

Minister Harris said the plan is a significant step in the effort to improve access to third level education.

"I am determined that the apprenticeship population better reflects the wonderful diversity of our people," he said.

Mr Harris said: "We have listened to businesses and employers too and will introduce further supports to make it easier to take on an apprentice and offer you the financial support to do so.

"This plan has the potential to transform this part of our third-level system. Apprenticeship is good for the learner and the employer," he added.

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, Mr Harris said there were just 23 female apprentices in 2015 and while there is now over 1,000, there is a need in the plan to positively discriminate to improve the participation of female apprentices.

He said there is a need to make sure that younger girls in schools are given information on all options, including apprenticeships in school.

Business group Ibec has welcomed the plan saying that apprenticeship programmes can be truly transformative for learners, for business, and for Ireland as the country aims to prioritise investment in people, skills and talent.

"They bring strong alignment between training and employment schemes and the labour market, developing learners to build work-ready skills in their chosen occupation while growing talent for the organisation," Ibec said.

Ibec's Head of Education and Innovation Policy Claire McGee said the new action plan sets in train the necessary elements to allow apprenticeship to drive innovation across the education system and at a business level.

"In particular, the strong commitment towards direct financial supports for employers and a streamlined administration process, will be a game changer for encouraging businesses, in particular SMEs, to collaborate in Apprenticeship Programmes," she added.

Reporting Micheál Lehane and Tommy Meskill