Chasing jobs today with tomorrow’s qualifications

What will happen when number of CAO applicants reaches 100,000?

CAO applicants have discerned that the property market is well on the way to recovery, and that graduates in disciplines such as surveying, valuation, construction management, architecture, and so on, will be in demand shortly. Photograph: Eric Luke

CAO applicants have discerned that the property market is well on the way to recovery, and that graduates in disciplines such as surveying, valuation, construction management, architecture, and so on, will be in demand shortly. Photograph: Eric Luke

Tue, Mar 11, 2014, 01:00

When the CAO publishes its application statistics in March each year we get an insight into the collective national psyche concerning our opinion on which disciplines or courses will ultimately deliver secure jobs. Given the four- or five-year gap between a decision to select a particular course and being qualified to seek a job in that field, the thinking behind the decisions is questionable.

We all have skills, talents and interests that usually draw us into particular occupations or career paths. However, we are also mindful of where the labour market is creating jobs, so we tend to
try to shoehorn our interests into career areas in high demand.

The most recent figures released yesterday show that CAO applicants have discerned that the property market is well on the way to recovery, and that graduates in disciplines such as surveying, valuation, construction management, architecture, and so on, will be in demand shortly.

Recession
The people who will really benefit from the pick-up in the construction industry are those who took these courses in the depth of recession, where graduates had lost their jobs and were plying their trades building soccer stadiums and motorways in Doha in preparation for the 2022 World Cup.

Because they were so few in number, they secured their college place on modest points and can now command good initial salaries due to the shortage of graduates.

Every year the same pattern repeats itself, with parents and students chasing jobs on offer in 2014 with qualifications that will see them enter the labour market in 2018.

This year the perception is that as well as construction, science and particularly computer science are hot, as are engineering, technology and agriculture/food production. Business, having been becalmed during the recession, is also recovering its attraction.

Arts degrees, while still by far the biggest draw – providing 30 per cent of all honours degree places – is not seen as immediately attractive from a labour market perspective.

Nursing and medicine, where salaries have been dramatically reduced and hours increased, have had a consistently bad press in the past year, which has led to a small falloff in applications, though not to the extent that points will reduce to any extent.

Patterns
Far more important than who is applying for what in 2014 is the underlying patterns within the 73,000 applicants to date, whose numbers will grow to 79,000 by the May 1st deadline for applications.

Firstly, the increase in the birth rate which started in the mid-1990s has now arrived at the Leaving Certificate, having grown by 2,000 in the past year. It will grow by 2,000 every year for the next 12 years and should see our CAO application numbers hit 100,000 in 2026.

What is the plan within the Department of Education and Skills to accommodate all of these students? Should we be trying to create universities and technological universities to accommodate them all?

Alternatively should we be looking to the Germanic model?

Far fewer students attend third level, but they have a highly effective vocational training structure integrated with a world-beating manufacturing sector.

Solus, which has replaced Fás, is now responsible for devising a national strategy around further education and vocational training. Our present system is totally dysfunctional.

We have 30,000 students taking post-leaving certificate courses each year, with over half of them applying to the CAO. Unfortunately, fewer than 20 per cent of those who seek a CAO place by presenting a Fetac award succeed.

Every year, for example, thousands of Leaving Certificate students who apply for level eight honours degree nursing programmes, who fail to secure them due to the high entry point requirements, take pre-nursing PLC programmes. More than 400 of these students each year secure a perfect score of eight distinctions in their Fetac award, but there are only 92 nursing places out of 1,660 on offer to PLC candidates.

If this happened to hundreds of Leaving Certificate students who secured 625 points, but failed to secure a college place, there would be a national uproar.