Quick guide to alternative educational options

There are more options available than ever before

For those finishing up their second-level education or seeking to return to education, there are more options available to them than ever before for the next steps in their academic journey. While many may decide to pursue purely academic courses at third-level institutions, there are a multitude of practical and flexible alternatives to choose from in the area of Further Education and Training (FET).

FET encompasses all education options available to young people post secondary school that are not related to attending a third-level institution. FET offers courses and hands-on work experience in every conceivable area, ensuring that those who choose not to pursue third-level education may still enter whichever field of employment they wish.

FET includes PLC courses, apprenticeships, traineeships, community and adult education as well as core literacy and numeracy services.

PLC (Post Leaving Certificate) courses are one to two-year programmes for those interested in dipping their toe into a certain industry and gaining some first-hand experience before committing to a third level course, or a career in said field. Courses are not limited to those who have recently completed their Leaving Certificate, and are geared towards anybody who has completed their Leaving Certificate exams at any stage. They are a viable option for adults who wish to return to education also, and for those who have not completed their Leaving Certificate but still wish to pursue a PLC, they should contact the institution they wish to study at directly to apply.


These courses can serve as an alternative access route to third-level education, whereby upon completing their PLC, students can apply to third-level courses using credits they accrued during their course.

PLCs tend to be highly practical courses, aiming to give students hands-on experience in a given field before they move on to further study or work. As of September 2022, there fees are no longer sought for PLC courses, however depending on the course there may be some additional expenses.

Apprenticeships are fully accredited and internationally recognised schemes for those seeking to get to work straight away, while also achieving all of the necessary qualifications to work in their chosen field. At present there are 56 different types of apprenticeships available across Ireland, with many more in development.

There are two kinds of apprenticeships - craft apprenticeships, referring to apprenticeships in industries such as plumbing, mechanics, electrical etc., and also a branch of new apprenticeships in other areas of industry, in areas including culinary, accounting, insurance, computers etc.. Both kinds of apprenticeships combine on-the-job practical training with periods of off-the-job teaching.

Apprentices must be at least 16 years of age, and have achieved at least 5 D grades in their Junior Certificate exams. Apprenticeships can last between two and four years, after which time the former apprentices are fully qualified in their field and have a qualification between NFQ level 6 and 10. Craft apprenticeships offer a Level 6 qualification.

Those seeking to undertake apprenticeships must find an employer themselves, and ask them to take them on as an apprentice. Employers for apprenticeships must be approved by SOLAS. The apprentice and the employer must both sign a formal contract of apprenticeship, ensuring that certain conditions will be met throughout the apprenticeship and that the apprentice will be compensated appropriately for the duration of the contract.

There is no fee to undertake an apprenticeship. During “off-the-job” periods, apprentices will continue to be paid.

Some industry organisations have set up their own apprenticeship schemes, with their own requirements and list of approved employers.

Traineeships are schemes run by local Education and Training Boards (ETBs) alongside industry organisations and employers, to provide hands-on training and education. Traineeship programmes are developed in response to industry needs, ensuring that upon completion of their traineeship, trainees are ready to enter the labour market, and respond to the gaps within and demands of it.

Traineeships last between six and 20 months, and include at least 30 per cent on-the-job learning. There are currently 75 different traineeship programmes on offer across Ireland. Traineeships are open to those from all backgrounds, including school leavers, those who left school early and wish to return to education, those who have been long term unemployed, and those seeking to reskill or retrain.

Traineeships combine technical skills related to their specific programme, with transferable skills that are useful in a number of areas, to ensure upon completion of their traineeship, trainees are as prepared as possible to enter the labour market.

Local providers across Ireland host the education portion of traineeships, in FET centres, community colleges, colleges of further education, among others. Local ETBs organise the on-the-job training portion of the traineeship for the trainees, so unlike apprenticeships, the onus is not on the trainee to find a suitable role or employer. While working, trainees will have an in-company mentor to guide them and monitor their progress.

Traineeships are co-funded by the Irish Government, and the European Social Fund. As a result, traineeships do not have fees.

Community Education refers to adult education and learning outside of formal education, run by Community Education Services within local ETBs. Community education aims to enhance learning, empower people and allow them to contribute to society in a meaningful way. These programmes are personalised and the person undertaking the course works with the provider to create a curriculum that suits them and their needs.

Community education courses are part-time. Courses tend to last between 8 and 10 weeks, and may involve a commitment of approximately two hours a week. The time commitment and duration may vary depending on the course.

These programmes aim not only to help the individual taking the course to develop, but also to contribute to the development and advancement of their community, particularly in the case of marginalised communities. Community education programmes also provide support to make the courses as accessible as possible, such as mentorship programmes and childcare assistance.

Community education is recognised through the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ). This allows for learners to progress on to other forms of education directly, using their community education course as a stepping stone to do so. As a result, learners can move from non-formal to formal education, from basic to further education, and from further education into higher education, should they so wish. Accreditation for these courses is not always a priority for providers or learners, but local ETBs should be able to provide some assistance or guidance.

FET is working to include campaigns and strategies to address the significant base of adults with low literacy and numeracy levels in Ireland. Over the last number of years considerable work has been done to integrate these supports into FET, seeking to reduce the reliance on voluntary support, offering recognition and certification to learners, developing initial literacy and numeracy assessment approaches, and generally raising public awareness of such issues.

Over the next five years it is hoped that literacy and numeracy support will be fully integrated with wider FET provision, and will embed digital literacy and capability as a core element of literacy and numeracy support also. Future campaigns will seek to also break down the stigma attached to literacy and numeracy issues, and that there are reasonable accommodations for learners with such issues at all levels of education.

Financial assistance such as the SUSI grant or the Back to Education allowance may be available to people pursuing some of the alternatives to third level education mentioned above. Social welfare payments such as jobseekers benefit, one parent family payment, disability allowance, among others, may be possible to retain throughout certain programmes, such as traineeships or community education initiatives. It is not possible for apprentices to receive government grants or social welfare, as they are paid throughout their programme of training and study. Students undertaking PLCs may be eligible for SUSI or other relevant government grants.

For more information visit: apprenticeship.ie/fetchcourses.ie/solas.ie/susi.ie/qualifax.ie.