Thousands opt for further education programmes, apprenticeships, traineeships

Practical, hands-on courses offer career progression and skills enhancement outside traditional CAO system

On Monday last, tens of thousands of places on Level 8 and Level 6/7 degree and higher cert programmes were offered by the CAO to applicants who have until 5.15 pm tomorrow to accept.

What many people fail to realise is that thousands of other young (and not-so-young) people do not seek a CAO place, but instead opt to secure places on further education (FE) programmes, apprenticeships, traineeships, or in employment.

With the national and local media focus firmly fixed on those who secured eight or nine A1s, those who opt for alternate progression routes may be perceived as having secures a less prestigious place.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Many courses provided through alternates to the CAO offer successful applicants career progression opportunities perfectly in tune with their specific interests, aptitudes and abilities.


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 seek courses through the CAO this will involve several years sitting in lecture theatres, attending tutorials, writing essays, studying for long hours in college libraries, and taking written exams at regular intervals.

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

Such individuals may enhance their skills most 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 continental EU partner countries, such practical hands-on courses are seen to be as of equal status as those offered by third-level colleges.

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 parent’s 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.


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

Solas is the national body responsible for coordinating the development of a wide range of new apprenticeship programmes in a wide range of areas within our economy.

Thirty-six apprenticeship programmes are currently available spanning the engineering, construction, motor, electrical, finance, hospitality, and ICT industry sectors.

In 2017, more than 4,700 applicants registered to start and 12,000 apprentices were completing their training.

The new apprenticeship programmes developed in the past year or so includes Insurance Practice offered online through IT Sligo where students work four days per week within a firm, for which they are paid. They receive a level 8 degree following the completion of their programme.

Another recently introduced programme is Accounting Technician. Launched in September 2017, the apprenticeship is a new pathway to a career in business, accountancy and finance, where apprentices are mentored through a two-year, work-based learning programme. Accounting Technician apprentices work four days a week with a registered employer and study one day a week with a local college, on a two-year contract.

Apprentices are paid a salary of at least €18,000 per annum and their college tuition is fully funded by Solas. The programme leads to a Level 6 QQI Advanced Certificate in Accounting.

This year there will be approximately 160 apprenticeships available in industry, practice and the public sector. Opportunities are available in FE colleges in the greater Dublin Area, Cork, Monaghan, Waterford and Wicklow.

Further education

There are up to 30,000 places available in further education colleges throughout the country. They are validated by QQI at both level 5 and 6. Many students take 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.

Mature adults who may have been out of the labour market for many years, due to a variety of reasons including rearing a family, take PLC programmes to bring their skills up to date.

Each college has its own unique set of offerings tailored to the needs of their own community. For example, Stillorgan College of Further Education in Dublin offers courses that address the needs of all of the individuals outlined above as well as meeting the current needs of industry.

One of its new courses is a Level 5 course in Illustration and Design. This course introduces students to the wide-ranging discipline of illustration and helps them gain an improved understanding of the possibilities of image-making.

Another is a course in Regional Tour Guiding, developed in collaboration with Fáilte Ireland to enable learners to acquire the relevant knowledge, skills and competencies to work effectively as a tourist guide in the greater Dublin region and surrounding area.

It also provides learners with the necessary business skills needed to start their own tour guiding business. Animation prepares students with little or no experience for a third-level course in animation production. With a dual focus on drawing and computer skills, the course covers all the fundamental areas required for a successful portfolio submission.

The Art course provides tuition in areas such as drawing, painting, sculpture, ceramics and combined materials.

The college also offers Level 5 and Level 6 course in Multimedia and Web Development. Also on offer is a Travel and Tourism with Airline Studies course which prepares students for work in all areas of the travel industry.

Courses in Media Production, Journalism and Level 5 and 6 courses in Computer Skills for Business round off the offering of courses in the college. Enquiries to .

To discover what your own local FE college is offering for the coming academic year, go to and search courses under the PLC tag identifying your county or specific college and you will find a comprehensive list of all their offerings.


Traineeship is a programme of structured training which combines learning in an education and training setting and in the workplace aiming to improve recruitment and employment outcomes for participants and increase retention and productivity within industry.

Traineeship gives participants the opportunity to develop cutting edge skills and knowledge on the job, making them more skilled, more employable and enhancing their career options, and enables employers to access a pipeline of talent and learners.

Traineeships lead to an award at NFQ Levels 4-6, or equivalent and are between 6-20 months in duration. They are open to all potential participants, of all ages and backgrounds, and are free-of-charge. Trainees may include school leavers, older learners, those in employment and those who are unemployed.

Currently, there are more than 30 traineeship programmes available around the country. This number will increase with the development of more traineeships across a range of industries and sectors.

Existing traineeships include Engineering; Software Developer; Animation Studio Assistant; Health Care Assistant; Food and Beverage Service; Business Administration; Medical Administration; Legal Administration; Sports, Recreation and Exercise; Beauty Therapist and Accounts Executive. More information can be found at


With unemployment now down to 5 per cent, the labour market is tightening and the opportunities for young people to access full employment opportunities across the economy has never been stronger.

In many sectors of the economy – banking, insurance, the food industry, hospitality – employers see the benefit of recruiting motivated school leavers whom they can integrate into their overall human resource strategy. Many of these young people progress through education and training as part of their employment contract and progress in time to Masters and PhD level.

If you are interested in seeking employment directly after the Leaving Cert or following a one-year PLC programme, the quality of your CV, tailored for each individual employer, is crucial.

Young people and their parents suffer through years of anxiety, seeing the CAO and the points race as a huge barrier to career progression in many areas of occupational aspirations. As a society we need to broaden our horizons as to the wide range of options open to potential learners, which will meet the needs of all types of learning styles. There are dynamic challenging career progression opportunities available to suit every aspiring employee, when you consider all the opportunities outlined above.

Brian Mooney

Brian Mooney

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