Students see PLC courses as low-status option
Study says PLCs have not moved to meet dramatic shift in kind of jobs available
The study says engagement with employers at a local level is crucial, especially for smaller PLCs. Photograph: Getty Images
Students see post-Leaving Cert (PLC) courses as a low-status option for school-leavers who do not get enough points to go to college, according to a major review of the further education sector.
The ESRI study shows that while PLC courses boost employment prospects and access to higher education, it says they have not moved with the times to meet a dramatic shift in the kind of jobs available.
In all there are more than 32,000 learners enrolled on PLC courses, with costs per student estimated to be €5,200 or about €170 million a year.
PLC courses are aimed at serving a number of objectives such as vocational education and training for young people, second-chance education for older adults and a progression route into higher education.
The study found that participants in PLC programmes were disproportionately female, from less-educated backgrounds, are more likely to be older and have children.
PLC learners had lower-than-average qualifications, scoring an average of between 200 and 400 CAO points, compared to an average of 300 to 500 points for most school-leavers.
On a positive level it found that PLC learners were 16 per cent more likely to be in employment and 27 per cent more likely to have progressed to higher education after completing their courses than those who left education after the Leaving Cert.
However, it found the sector generally appeared to be “poorly connected” to the requirements of the labour market.
“The types of PLC courses offered have not changed markedly over time even though there has been a dramatic shift in the kinds of jobs available in the Irish labour market,” the report found.
In addition, decisions around course provision tended to be heavily driven by student demand, with less weight given to employer requirements, government objectives or national forecasting.
Prof Seamus McGuinness, an author of the report, said that while there were positive outcomes for those who completed PLC courses, more could be done to ensure they respond to ongoing changes in the labour market. “It is also important to challenge the idea that PLC courses are ‘second-best’ compared to higher education.”
The study says engagement with employers at a local level is crucial, especially for smaller PLCs.
It also found not all learner felt prepared for the world of work. Over a fifth reported not having taken part in a work experience placement during the course of their studies. Almost a third felt their learning did not contribute to their employability, and a quarter considered that they did not acquire job-related knowledge and skills.
Minister for Education Richard Bruton said the report confirmed the positive role played by PLC provision. “However, it does show some areas for improvement. Given the pace of change in the labour market and the increasing demand for new skills, we need to continuously adapt, change and make improvements based on evidence. ”