Lidl in Ireland has seen applications double for its retail management degree programme this year, with everyone from builders to bankers applying .

The retailer is searching for "ambitious and motivated" recruits for the course, which is being run at Dublin Business School. Lidl will pay students' tuition fees and provide them with a salary, which starts at £16,000, rising to £18,000 in year two and £20,000 in year three. Successful graduates will be offered a deputy store manager position.

Lidl's retail management degree programme is taking on 40 people this year, and is now in its third year.

The programme devotes 50% of time to classroom-based learning and 50% to gaining practical experience up to management level in a Lidl store. Although students can stay at Lidl after the course is over, they are only contractually obligated to the company for the three-year duration.

Lidl is expanding in the Republic and now has 113 stores employing more than 2,500 people. "The creation of new jobs is a serious signal of intent by Lidl to become one of Ireland's top retailers and employers," said a spokesman.

Minister for education and science Batt O'Keeffe, who visited a Lidl store last week, praised the course. "The benefits are not only felt by Lidl, but by the students, who gain valuable work skills, earn an internationally recognised qualification and a real chance to become retail managers."