Evolving career routes boost options for school leavers

Further education programmes, apprenticeships and traineeships offer career progression and skills enhancement outside the traditional CAO system

With the arrival of Leaving Cert results last week most students will be on tenterhooks as they await the first round of CAO offers today at 2pm.

What is often overlooked is that there are thousands of students who sat this year’s Leaving Cert or received an assessed grade from their teachers, as well as many thousands of others of all ages, who will not seek a CAO place, but instead will opt to secure places on further education (FE) programmes, apprenticeships, traineeships, or in employment.

With the media focus firmly fixed on those who secured the most H1s, you could be forgiven for thinking that those who opt for alternate progression routes are perceived as having secured a less prestigious place.

Nothing could be further from the truth of course. Many other options offer successful applicants career progression opportunities perfectly in tune with their specific interests. It just happens that these routes are outside of the traditional CAO route.


Strengths and aptitudes Looked at from the perspective of any aspiring student, for a programme of study to be successful it must be a good fit for their particular strengths and aptitudes.

For those who apply for courses through the CAO, they will spend a number of years sitting in lecture theatres, attending tutorials, writing essays, studying for long hours in college libraries, and taking written exams at regular intervals.

For many aspiring learners, CAO-type courses offered in our universities and institutes of technologies are completely unsuitable learning environments.

They may enhance their skills more effectively through a combination of observation and hands-on practice – often combined with ongoing practical evaluations to assess the levels of competency being achieved.

In many of our fellow EU-partner countries, such practical hands-on courses are seen as having equal status to those offered by third-level college

In Ireland, parental pressures can drive thousands of young people down the academic route, where they often flounder and eventually drop out at huge expense to their sense of self-esteem, their parents' bank balance and the tax-paying public.

Thankfully, attitudes are beginning to change, and the wonderful opportunities on offer through FE, apprenticeships, traineeships, and employment are gaining more and more recognition from society at large.

Further education There are up to 30,000 places available in further-education colleges throughout the country. They are validated by Quality and Qualifications Ireland at Level 5 and 6.

Many students take Post-Leaving Cert (PLC) programmes with a view to applying to a CAO course which reserves a specific number of places for FE students. Others are looking to develop a set of skills in a vocational sphere so that they can proceed directly to employment following graduation.

More than 4,000 FE students received offers of places in Round Zero of the CAO process in early August every year. The CAO points scores of those students , in any previous years Leaving Cert become irrelevant when they secure a good FE award.

For students who are aspiring for places in CAO colleges through the above route the options are on offer across the country.

Details of every course on offer is available through the PLC course list on the qualifax.ie website

Examples of just a few courses on offer in one small area of south Dublin include: Blackrock FEI offers Games Development, Computer Science and Arts and Social Science where graduates can apply through CAO for degree courses in UCD, TU Dublin and IT Tallaght. Graduates from Blackrock FEI business studies and law courses can progress to the Business, Economics and Social Studies and Law degrees at Trinity

Blackrock FEI also provides courses that offer direct employment in disciplines as diverse as Make-up Artistry and Accounting Technician – certified ITEC and Accounting Technician Ireland respectively. Each year their graduates also gain employment in the health sector, from courses such as Pre-Paramedic and Over the Counter Pharmacy.

Stillorgan CFE offer a new Level 5 course in Digital Entrepreneurship/e-Business designed to respond to the recent increase in remote working, equipping students with the practical skills to start their own online business, to support an existing business to develop an online e-commerce presence or to acquire the skills to work from home.

Event Management with PR and Digital Marketing is designed to develop the skills to participate in and to coordinate an event from inception to completion, including conferencing, corporate travel, tourism, marketing, media, and design. An emphasis is placed on hands-on event production in this course.

Dundrum CFE offers Sustainability and Built Environments exploring the core principles of sustainability in construction, the scale of the detrimental environmental impact of traditional building and the rationale underpinning the necessity for a more sustainable approach to building as a response to climate change.

Apprenticeships Thanks to rapidly changing perceptions within government and among employers, the range of apprenticeship opportunities has diversified in recent years.

The launch of the Action Plan for Apprenticeships earlier this year is aiming to double the number available and as well as creating simplified routes to entry, and improved flexibility within the system.

There are now 62 different types of apprenticeship available in Ireland across 14 different industry sectors.

Alongside the well-established craft apprenticeships in areas such as construction, engineering and motor, the range of options is increasing with new apprenticeships available in areas including computer generated imagery, healthcare, recruitment, finance, ICT, logistics, hospitality and sales.

Qualifications range from Level 6 on the National Framework of Qualifications up to Level 10 Doctorate level.

The number entering apprenticeship is on the rise with 21,500 people in apprenticeships countrywide.

Year-on-year new registrations have been increasing too with 5,326 new apprentices in 2020 and over 4,000 new apprentices registered by the end July 2021. Included in these figures is a welcome increase in the number of females taking up apprenticeships.

Solas, working with the Higher Education Authority, third-level institutes and Education and Training Boards, is the national body responsible for co-ordinating the development of a wide range of new apprenticeship programmes in many areas within our economy.

To begin an apprenticeship, an applicant must be employed by an approved employer. To be eligible, the applicant must be at least 16 years of age and have a minimum of grade D in any five subjects in the Junior Certificate or equivalent.

However, higher educational qualifications and other requirements may be sought by employers. Many employers are now advertising their vacancies on the recently developed jobs portal on apprenticeship.ie.

Apprentices pay a pro-rata registration fee if their off-the- job training takes place within a higher-education institute. The registration fee will generally equate to the amount of time the apprentice spends in the institute. The payment of the pro-rata registration fee is made by the apprentice directly to the higher education institute.

For apprenticeships developed before 2016, mainly in the construction and motor sectors, the employer pays the apprentice while she/he is being trained on the job. A training allowance is paid by the local Education and Training Board while the apprentice is attending the off-the-job training.

For apprenticeships developed in 2016 and after, the employer pays the apprentice for the duration of the apprenticeship. In all cases, the rate of pay is agreed between the employer and the apprentice.

Last year, the Apprenticeship Incentivisation Scheme for employers was introduced which offers €3,000 financial support to employers who take on apprentices. It was recently extended to December 31st, 2021. To date, more than 1,500 employers have benefited from the scheme, hiring more than 3,000 apprentices.

Growing numbers of apprenticeship programmes are available. They span the engineering, construction, motor, electrical, finance, hospitality and food, biopharma, logistics, property services and ICT industry sectors.

The new apprenticeship programmes developed in the past number of years include a Supply Chain Specialist apprenticeship delivered through the University of Limerick, where students work and learn online with one day on campus every three weeks, for which they are paid. They receive a Level 8 degree following the completion of their programme.

Traineeships For those interested in a more direct route to employment, a traineeship is worth considering. They combine learning in an education and workplace setting and provide learners with job-specific training and workplace coaching with an employer at Levels 4 to 6 on the National Framework of Qualifications.

They also give the trainee the opportunity to gain valuable experience in real work and industry environments providing cutting edge industry skills. Traineeships are six to 20 months in duration and are delivered through local Education and Training Boards. There are traineeship programmes available around the country across a range of industry areas including aviation, bakery, IT, animation, hospitality, and digital marketing.

Brian Mooney

Brian Mooney

Brian Mooney is a guidance counsellor and education columnist. He contributes education articles to The Irish Times