‘We need more engineers’: How to start a career in engineering and technology if you didn’t get a college place

Apprenticeships, traineeships and PLCs mean Leaving Cert results are not the be-all and end-all

Careers in engineering and technology: high points, lots of maths, out of reach.


Not anymore: the number of routes to engineering courses has ballooned over the past decade, and there is more help than ever to bring maths skills up to speed.

Today, post-Leaving Cert (PLC) courses, apprenticeships and traineeships all offer routes into the profession.


There are more options than ever at levels six and seven, which can lead on to level-eight courses.

A growing number of pre-university engineering PLC courses mean that students can gain a QQI level-five qualification and, if they achieve enough distinctions, secure a place on a third-level engineering course.

And a brand new type of flexible learning course means that students can have the best of both worlds: beginning their qualification in further education before transferring to a third-level course (see panel below for more details).

A big driver of all these developments is that there is a crying need for more engineering qualifications, says managing director of Engineers Ireland Damien Owens which is the professional body for the industry.

Technological universities and the remaining institutes of technology have always recognised prior learning. The plan [for flexible learning] is really positive as it gets the message out that the Leaving Cert is not the be-all-and-end-all, and that there are other paths to careers in engineering.

“There are so many opportunities out there. There is, and will continue to be, a huge need for infrastructure including transport, buildings, energy and housing. We need more engineers for this, and further education is vital.”

Owens says that the development of apprenticeship routes to engineering, such as the three-year, level-seven bachelor of engineering (BEng) in manufacturing engineering at Atlantic Technological University is not just addressing a skills deficit, but also opening more doors to the profession.

But can you really do engineering without being very good at maths?

“Maths is essential to engineering, to be fair,” says Owens. “But it is not like secondary school maths; we only teach students the maths that they need for the job, and it is taught in a very applied way.”

He points out that many third-levels will provide courses to help students improve on their maths before they begin an engineering course, while they also have maths support centres to help students throughout their third-level education.

Shauna McKenna is HR manager at Combilift, a company that has long advocated for and championed the benefits of further education as a route to engineering. Every year, secondary students visit their site in Monaghan, while Combilift also runs secondary school outreach programmes.

“The aim is to give a good visual and real-life guide to the practical elements of engineering,” McKenna says.

“We find that learning on traineeships or apprenticeships are a great progression route for employees, as they are designed to suit the needs of industry. They are in here, learning on the job and then they spend 16 weeks at the Monaghan Institute [a college of further education] where they learn theory in depth, allowing them to put that theory into practice when they are with us.”

Combilift is on its fifth intake of apprentices for the original equipment manufacturing (OEM) programme, which has been designed by Combilift and several other OEM companies.

Their engineering and technology traineeship programme, meanwhile, is a QQI-level accredited course running for nine months, including 12 weeks of work-based learning at Combilift and 26 weeks at the Monaghan Institute.

“All these students are well-rounded in all aspects of production and engineering. We know that they will be a go-to person who is well-rounded and has the knowledge they need. Not only that, but their training allows them to be innovative and develop new ideas.

“Apprenticeships are paid and, while traineeships are not paid, we do offer a €100 per week bursary to support them while they are on the course.

“We have found that the training is practical and hands-on, and our graduates stay.”

Flexible provision

From September, for the first time, students will be able to enrol in one of 23 degree courses in a further education institution, before then progressing to a higher education institution – a college or university – to complete their degree.

At least four of these courses are in the area of science, technology, engineering and maths, including:

This is just a pilot programme but, given that further education provides an excellent foundation for third level, with students learning key research and writing skills in a more intimate environment than at third level, it’s likely to expand to more courses in future years.

Best of all, students apply for these courses outside the CAO process. For more information, visit the National Tertiary Office’s website at nto.hea.ie.