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Swiss and Irish Legends
50 Years of Bar Education
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50 Years of Bar Education

By  Andrew O'Gorman
This article was written 50 years ago- but little has changed:
Ten years ago it might have been thought ridiculous and today there are people in the licensed trade who think that it is ridiculous that apprentices to the trade should have to attend a three year course of training at a school in addition to their work behind the counter.
At the present time the apprentice’s courses conducted by the Dublin Vocational Education Authority for apprentices in the trade will or should need no introduction to any one in the trade. It may be difficult to establish who was primarily responsible for the scheme but it can be said in all certainty that a need for special training to keep up with the changing trends in the trade was felt on” both sides of the fence” and that this resulted in the setting up of the courses.  
When the Apprentices classes were first started over five years ago they were conducted in the union offices but it soon became evident that if the scheme was to become even a moderate success it should be properly organised. It was with this in mind that the classes came under the auspices of The School of Retail Distribution which was already catering for apprentices in other distributive trades for a number of years. So early in 1965 the classes changed their abode from the union offices to the former residence of Lord Enniskillen at 39 Parnell Square.
In the years since the inception of the scheme the classes have been the source of much criticism in the trade itself. There are many barmen, both managers and assistants alike, who cannot understand why apprentices should have to go to school, others can see little if any connection between what the apprentice is taught at the school and what is done where he works, Little publicity has been given to the courses (regarded in some licensed trade circles as “excellent”) in licensed trade journals who seem mainly to concern themselves with the prices of beer and government taxes in the liquor business.
Four main parties are concerned with the operation of the course. These are the Licensed Vintners Association, this union, The Dublin Vocational Education Committee and the Apprentices. As we shall see each party has its own particular part to play and only if each party plays its respective role can the scheme as a whole be expected to achieve the desired result. An advisory council prescribes the subject content of the course to meet the specific needs of the personnel in the trade. At the present time the syllabus of training includes: Communications (English etc.) Speech Training, Retail Accounts and Licensing Regulations and practise. The main object of the course is to improve the standard of efficiency in the trade. The teachers in the school are responsible for the teaching of the prescribed subjects but their part of the bargain can only be fulfilled if the apprentice attends and does so regularly. In order to see that this is the case this organisation is responsible for circularising the apprentices, telling them when to enrol for their respective classes, when to return after holidays etc. Each circular concludes with the well known warning “………if you fail to attend, the executive committee will take steps to deal with you.”
At regular intervals the head of the licensed trade department submits a list of those apprentices who have failed to attend regularly to the secretary of this organisation for his consideration. In addition a note is sent to the manager of the house where the apprentice works informing him that his apprentice is not attending regularly. The absentee is next summoned to the union headquarters and warned about his absence. It was rumoured that apprentices had been expelled from the union for non-attendance at the classes, but there is no evidence to bear this matter out. 
To the Licensed Vintners Association falls the part of awarding Diplomas to successful apprentices after three years of attendance at the classes. To the members of this organisation-the employers-falls or should fall the task(in addition to paying half the school fees for the apprentices) of seeing what the apprentice learns at the school on his day off can be put into practise behind the counter. A hint that this is not so was given by the president of this organisation at a prizegiving function last June when he pleaded with the employers to take a greater interest in their workers. While stressing the importance and necessity of training and exists as the scripture says “a great gulf”. If all groups are to work in harmony then surely the education in the distributive trades  he referred to a frustration which existed with some workers resulting from a conflict between what they were taught at the school and what was done where they worked. He was quoted as saying: “we have done our part; education is one field where all groups can work in harmony.”
From this statement it would appear that the apprentice is being trained after the best and oft inglorious traditions of the trade where he works and at the school many of the practises meet with disapproval. And between the two trainings there “minds and hearts of men” must be changed, but can this be done anywhere else except from the pulpits on Sunday mornings?
At the present time it would seem that the Licensed Vintners Association Diploma is little more than an honorary and empty title carrying no weight in the trade at all. Its practical value is negligible to its holder since many of those “who failed to satisfy the examiner” at the final diploma examination are as successful in the trade as those who were awarded a testimonial for “having attended the prescribed classes and having satisfied the examination requirements.”
The licensed trade may be in need of training courses to keep up with changing trends but when will recognition be given to personnel in the trade who have taken the trouble to avail of the opportunities available? Many people connected with the apprentices classes will tell you that “the next ten years will see things right”, but do they forget that tradition dies hard in the licensed trade? 
And come to think of it, does the customer who is the mainstay of the licensed trade really care if the barman has a degree from Oxford, much less a diploma from a recognised trade body so long as he is civil, courteous, fills a good pint and gives the correct change? 
Notes: The union referred to in the article was the Irish National of Vintners Grocers and Allied Trades Assistants, 20, Parnell Square, Dublin. The School of Retail Distribution was part of the School of Commerce and Retail Distribution, 18, Parnell Square, Dublin. Apprentices attended classes on a half day per week. The course continued under the Dublin Institute of Technology until 2010.The bar workers union is now part of the Mandate Trade Union.
Educating professional bartenders
Educating professional bartenders requires a large amount of on-the job training supplemented with vocational training. Bartending should be taught through special training and education courses tailor-made for bartenders. Various Institutes of Technology throughout the country provide full-time courses for bartenders from Higher Certificate to Degree level. 
Bartenders need to be trained and mentored if they are to progress and become a useful part of the team and that costs time and money. Without proper salaries, career structures, and the prospect of advancement pubs are not going to be able to attract the calibre of staff that they require to function at a professional level.
It is only as we grow older that we understand fully the truth of the saying: “The more we know, the more we realise how little we know”. We never stop learning and every day is a school day. Almost regardless of age, the career opportunities available nowadays are greater than ever, but how many make the most of them?
Up to the 1960’s, only a few had the chance to get third-level education with the vast majority facing very limited prospects. At that time there was an excellent apprenticeship structure in the Dublin licensed trade and many of today’s most successful publicans came up through that system including Ireland’s largest publican, Louis Fitzgerald who hails from Cappawhite, Co. Tipperary.
Finally I pose the question: How far has bartender training and education progressed  since the above article was written 50 years ago?
Submitted by
Andrew O’ Gorman, Treasurer & Past President Bartenders Association of Ireland, Secretary Irish Guild of Sommeliers, Former Head of the Licensed Trade Department, Dublin Institute of Technology, Member of the Judging Panel for Licensing World Bar Awards & involved in various sectors of the licensed trade since 1959.



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