Thinking of a career change? These courses may give you that edge

With so many online courses it’s difficult to choose – but we’ve selected some of the best

Remember in March and April last year, when we thought the coronavirus pandemic would shortly be in hand?

Back then, we were all over the free courses, signing up for everything from crafts courses and bread workshops to fitness classes and new musical skills. It was something to fill the time before life returned to normal and we all picked up and carried on.

It got old, quickly. And a year later, here we are, most of us still working from home, some of us still waiting for our industries to restart.

If you’ve been thinking of a career change though, now may be a good time to look at upgrading your skills. There are numerous courses available – many free of charge – to those who have been hit hardest by the pandemic and the never-ending measures to control the spread of the virus. Many of the courses are being delivered online, opening up courses from institutions all over the country – or even the world – to would-be students.


A combination of Government funding and big tech throwing their weight behind the reskilling initiative has meant there are plenty of options out there for people who either want to explore a new career path, or just want to learn a new subject either free of charge, or for a small fee.

So what is available, and how much will it cost?


When the coronavirus pandemic caused Ireland to go into lockdown last March, the State's further education and training authority Solas was quick out off the mark with an announcement that its eCollege would be offered free to those impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

A year later and that measure is still in effect, giving you a way to upskill without it costing you a cent.

The online courses are interactive and available for you to access at any time, making it ideal to fit in around other obligations. Unlike some courses, they have tutor support, so you can get feedback and help when needed – or a nudge to get that coursework submitted and completed. They also offer certification once completed, including professional certification where appropriate, so it could really beef up the CV for the future.

Topics are varied, ranging from business and project management to graphic design and IT courses. If you want to start from the very beginning, there are basic computer skills courses available through the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL). For more advanced computer users, eCollege includes access to courses in programming, from HTML and CSS to Javascript and Python. There are also professional certification courses available, including CompTIA Network+ certification and Cisco Certified Network Associate courses .

The only limitation is that you can only enrol on one course at a time – which seems entirely sensible given the amount of work involved in each.


Need a formal college qualification? Springboard courses may be what you need.

Co-funded by the Government and the European Social Fund, Springboard+ aims to boost skills in areas seeing a skills demand, from ICT and high-level manufacturing to international financial services and entrepreneurship.

The 2020/21 academic year was marked by the Government introducing a Human Capital Initiative Pillar 1 programme, which brought almost 6,000 places on 93 graduate conversion courses over three years.

The courses are part-time, with qualifications at certificate, degree and master’s level. As for fees, all Level-Six courses are free, with level Seven, Eight and Nine free to those who are unemployed. Everyone else pays 10 per cent of the fees for the year.

Among this year’s cohort were qualifications in artificial intelligence, payroll, data analytics and entrepreneurship. Many of the deadlines for application have passed, but it is worth keeping an eye on the site for the next academic year.


Microsoft’s Stepin2Tech initiative is aimed at supporting 10,000 people affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, targeting those who want to switch to a new career. As the name suggests, that career is in the tech industry but you don’t need advanced skills to get going. Everything in the courses is designed as an introduction to areas such as a cloud, coding and design, so you gain basic skills and can go on to study further and gain professional certification for your chosen career.

Developed in partnership with Fastrack to IT, the scheme is designed to equip people with the digital skills needed for in-demand jobs in the tech sector, and will also support people who have either recently left school or college or are mid-career in an industry that is digitally transforming.

The courses are delivered online, and provide one-to-one advice and mentoring from Fastrack to IT’s “digi-chaperones”.

Global skills initiative

Last year, Microsoft and LinkedIn announced they would team up to provide access to learning resources that would help millions of people worldwide train for in-demand jobs. If you have a burning desire to work on your data analytics skills, or train as a financial analyst , then Microsoft and LinkedIn's courses are right up your street. Also on offer are graphic design, customer service and digital marketing. You take the courses through LinkedIn Learning and Microsoft Learn, and then practice them in GitHub, before applying for your dream job through the professional networking site.

The global skills initiative has since been expanded, so you can access them through to the end of the year.


Online education platform FutureLearn has plenty of courses at its disposal, teaming up with institutions all over the world to create courses spanning tech, and economics to the arts and literature. You can even take a baking course if you haven't managed to perfect your bread recipe yet. Aside from UK colleges and universities, it also hosts content from major Irish third-level institutions, including DCU and Trinity College Dublin. Among the free courses offered are Business Ethics, The European Union: Crisis and Recovery, and series on Irish culture through DCU.

Future Learn offers many of its courses free of charge, allowing you to access the material for each course duration plus 14 days, while a yearly unlimited subscription will allow you to dip in and out of different courses at will. There is also an “expert track” option that bring you professional qualifications you can use in your career, which costs €36 a month.


If you have a bit of money to spare, Udemy may be a good place to work on expanding your skills.

The courses cover a wide range of topics, from drawing, design and marketing to more complex tech subjects such as SQL and AWS certification.

Digital marketing, ethical hacking, even “soft skills”that we are told employers prize from a personal development point of view can also be studied through the platform.

In total, there are 130,000 online video courses, and new ones are added every month.

The courses aren’t always cheap, but it is worth checking in regularly for promotions; Udemy runs sales that can cut the cost of its courses from more than €100 to a fraction of the cost.

Google Digital Garage

Whatever your feelings about Google, you can’t deny the impact the company has had on not only the tech sector but also every-day life. That hasn’t been an entirely one-sided relationship; the company has built an incredibly successful business thanks in part to the amount of data it has had at its disposal over the years.

So it’s only right, you might think, that the company gives back a little. The tech giant has pulled together a number of free, short courses in everything from digital marketing to the basics of machine learning. The Digital Garage houses most of these courses – some are carried out by Coursera – giving you a way to access expert tutorials on everything from digital marketing and cloud services to coding basics and imporving your business’s online security.

Amazon AWS Restart

If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that cloud services are a vital part of keeping us connected to the world. One of the major players in that space is Amazon through Amazon Web Services.

The company periodically offers a 12-week bootcamp that will help you start your career in as a cloud support practitioner. The good thing is that you don’t need existing experience or qualifications to be part of this training programme, and once it is done, the you can take the AWS cloud practitioner certification, funded by Amazon. It will also point you in the right direction to get a job – and according to Amazon, it has a significant success rate.