Finished college? It may be time to hit the books . . .

Most jobs require ongoing professional development but the form it takes is up to you

Returning to learning: Choosing whether or not to continue education is heavily dependent on what was studied at undergraduate level. Photograph: iStockphoto/Getty

Returning to learning: Choosing whether or not to continue education is heavily dependent on what was studied at undergraduate level. Photograph: iStockphoto/Getty

 

So, you’re finished college . . . Or are you?

Education once took a fairly linear route: primary, secondary, college and work. Those days are gone. Now, postgraduate education – also known as fourth-level – is increasingly common, while almost every job will require at least some ongoing professional development. And, whether it be out of interest, a desire to upskill or perhaps to change career direction, legions of graduates will return to education many times throughout their lives.

Many of the class of 2017 have been weighing up their options over the past few months, and some will be torn. Should they go straight into the workplace? Do they look at doing a postgraduate course? Or can they get all the training they need in one of the many graduate recruitment programmes offered by a range of different companies in sectors as diverse as retail, finance, pharmaceutical and catering?

Some courses including ICT and education will have had a more vocational focus than others

Tony Donohue is head of education and social policy at the Irish Business and Employers Confederation (Ibec). He says that choosing whether or not to continue education is heavily dependent on what was studied at undergraduate level.

“Some courses including ICT and education will have had a more vocational focus than others and, in that case, they are perhaps more likely to go into employment,” says Donohue.

The Higher Education Authority’s 2015 First Destinations report, which looks at where graduates are within a year of graduation, backs this up, revealing that 84 per cent of education graduates, 82 per cent of health graduates and 77 per cent of ICT graduates were in employment, with lower numbers in further studies or training. This compared to 46 per cent of arts and humanities graduates, 55 per cent of social science graduates and 49 per cent of natural sciences, maths and statistics graduates; many of whom were in further studies or training.

“People choose their undergraduate degree for all sorts of different reasons,” says Donohue. “They derive significant value from the skills they can learn in, for instance, an arts or social degree, but they might not explicitly use these skills in the workplace, and these are often the ones who tend to gravitate towards a further education or master’s course.”

Working lives

Donohue points out that people will have to periodically return to learning throughout their working lives and that this can be delivered through formal postgraduates, informal short courses or massive online open courses (MOOCs) or within a company’s graduate training programme. So which should prospective further education students go for?

“Master’s courses can be expensive. There are cheaper options, including MOOCs where students can sign up to study a course from a major university without accreditation, but the falloff rate tends to be high because of the lack of structure and support. Sometimes a blended learning programme, combining elearning with a certain amount of attendance, can be the best option.”

In some cases the training programmes are a roundabout way of getting postgraduate experience but they tend not to be based on pure research

Indeed, these types of blended learning programmes, usually offered at level nine (postgraduate) on the National Framework of Qualifications, are valuable because they allow graduates to work full- or part-time and continue studying. They are now offered by all the main higher-education institutions as well as from established providers such as the Open University.

They are not always essential, however. Ireland. com">GradIreland.com has information on many of the big firms running graduate recruitment programmes and they extend across a range of service and manufacturing sectors. Such programmes run for between one and three years and are paid, structured traineeships which can be a valuable alternative to a postgraduate programme – although many people who pass through them may, in later years, choose to boost their skills by returning to education.

“In some cases the training programmes are a roundabout way of getting postgraduate experience but they tend not to be based on pure research,” says Donohue. “If someone is attracted to science research, for instance, then a science PhD may be a good route. It’s difficult to generalise because different people have different ambitions, but the idea of a linear progression through education, particularly outside the more vocational subjects, is not as common as it used to be.”

All learning is valued by employers, he says. “All experience is valued. As long as the graduate is reflecting on their learning experience, adding to their attributes and skills and able to communicate these to a prospective employer, they will have good opportunities.”

Resources:

Qualifax.ie: explore the full range of postgraduate and further learning options.

FetchCourses.ie: the go-to reference point for full- or part-time further education courses

Springboard.ie: Springboard offers free, level-nine postgrad courses which are, with the exception of some ICT programmes, open only to graduates with a level-eight qualification who have been out of college for at least a year.

Teaching people to learn in the workplace

DCU’s aim is to provide graduates with the tools to develop elearning programmes within their own workplaces
DCU’s aim is to provide graduates with the tools to develop elearning programmes within their own workplaces

Continuous professional development (CPD) isn’t just an added nicety in many workplaces – it’s increasingly expected of employees and the only realistic way for them to develop their skills and get results in their job. This applies equally to media, education, ICT, science, academia, healthcare or indeed any role you can think of.

At DCU, the master’s in education and training management (elearning), run by the International Centre for Innovation and Workplace Learning, offers a two-year, part-time programme with participants drawn from a range of disciplines and professional sectors including the creative arts, education, NGOs, healthcare, State agencies and government departments. The aim is to provide graduates with the tools to develop elearning programmes within their own workplaces.

We look at how various technologies can be used to deliver training

Dr Yvonne Crotty is co-ordinator of the course. “We want people on the programme to have had three years of work experience, and the programme we run focuses on developing their own sense of awareness and critical thinking. The course is offered through a blended approach and we encourage participants to reflect on, and share, their own learning. We look at how various technologies can be used to deliver training. The people on the course are all trainers or educators from different backgrounds. These different backgrounds bring a richness to the classroom.”

Her students have put together a range of resources to support workplace learning. One, a post-primary teacher, delivered science-oriented CPD via a webinar in Irish, to his colleagues around the country. He devised the curriculum and lessons himself. A healthcare employee, working as part of a team, created elearning CPD to offer instructions to her colleagues on how to administer drugs to patients. And two GAA players who work in the association’s learning and development unit at Croke Park created a video exploring coaching skills.

In the process, they all proved that teaching may indeed be the best way to learn.

What’s in a graduate recruitment programme?

Sarah Madigan, graduate recruitment lead at PwC: “ we are looking at people who are well-rounded, not just academically but also socially”
Sarah Madigan, graduate recruitment lead at PwC: “ we are looking at people who are well-rounded, not just academically but also socially”

Professional services firm PwC runs one of the largest graduate training programmes in Ireland and, this year, are recruiting over 300 graduates across all parts of the business throughout their offices in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Kilkenny, Limerick, Waterford and Wexford.

Sarah Madigan, graduate recruitment lead at PwC, says that they are looking for enterprising, passionate and bright people from all backgrounds, courses and disciplines. What does this really mean? “It means that we are looking at people who are well-rounded, not just academically but also socially,” she says. “They may have been involved in extracurricular activities at college, whether that’s through a society such as drama, music or debating, a sports club or volunteer work. We want people who can build a rapport well and have good knowledge of current affairs.”

The career path here is paved with opportunities and real responsibilities

PwC hires graduates straight out of college from a mix of different courses. “Most come from undergraduate courses, although we do have some who will join us after a postgraduate,” Madigan explains. “The career path here is paved with opportunities and real responsibilities. We take a blended approach to learning and development, combining formal training, coaching from others and, most importantly, practical on-the-job experience. You will gain a range of transferable business, personal, technical and communication skills that help you grow. There is a heavy emphasis on training and the majority of those on our programme sign up for a three or three and a half year training contract with us. There is no minimum time which they have to stay with us after this, although we would hope that, following the end of the contract, they would want to stay with us.”

Trainees at PwC are assigned a coach who gives them feedback and guidance for their career, and the firm has a dedicated learning and development department. Recently qualified staff also act as mentors and sources of support for new recruits.

Madigan says that there are many benefits to working in the PwC global network of firms including the opportunity to travel. “There are opportunities for local and global secondments within the firm as well as externally with our clients.”

The graduate recruitment intake is diverse and PwC prides itself on equality in the workplace, with support networks for LGBTI staff, 37 different nationalities in its Irish operations and a “Lean In” speaker series to support women in the workplace.

The company runs a number of corporate social responsibility projects which staff can get involved in and these include work with educational disadvantage charity Camara, teaching children about enterprise and work in local schools, and supporting the St Vincent de Paul; staff can also ask for backup if there is a particular organisation that they want to support.

For all these positive aspects, some reviews of PwC, and other major firms on recruitment and company review website Glassdoor.ie, say that the workload can be very heavy across many of their global operations. “You’ll work hard at PwC, but we offer balance and flexibility too,” says Madigan. “One of the perks is our flexible 3pm finish on Fridays during summer and on bank holiday weekends. We have a 24-hour gym on site and a wellness centre for everyone to enjoy. There are lots of social aspects to the role and we try to be as flexible as we can if someone has extracurricular or family commitments. On top of this, we offer up to three months of study leave for some of the final exams.”

Other firms offer similar benefits, and it’s clear that graduate recruiters are now offering large carrots in an effort to attract the best talent. And we may have reached a point where the best talent can take their pick of graduate recruitment programmes. So what’s PwC’s pitch for the cream of the crop?

“We have chances to travel, to learn, to be yourself, to get involved in corporate social responsibility projects and to develop and grow,” says Madigan.

– Applications are open for PwC’s 2017 graduate programme at pwc.ie/graduate.