What is further education and training?

FET was the Cinderella of options for school leavers – but it’s had a massive makeover and is a stronger choice than ever before

Just under 20 per cent of PLC graduates are progressing to higher education, accounting for about one-fifth of the overall first-year intake at institutes of technology and technological universities. Photograph: iStock

Just under 20 per cent of PLC graduates are progressing to higher education, accounting for about one-fifth of the overall first-year intake at institutes of technology and technological universities. Photograph: iStock


First things first: what is FET?

FET is a broad term that refers to a wide variety of lifelong education options for people over the age of 16, and it includes:

Apprenticeship: Usually two to four years in duration leading to QQI level 6 to 8 awards, these combine on-the-job training (with a wage) and classroom learning in either a college of further education or a higher education institution.

PLC: PLC courses provide vocationally-based training for school-leavers and adults. The courses include a substantial work experience component and most PLCs take place in colleges of further education. Many offer an access route to further third-level studies.

Traineeship: Short and longer day courses, evening courses, online courses; and blended learning options for specific skills training with a tight job focus.

Community and adult education as well as literacy and numeracy services also form part of FET, although these may be less relevant for school-leavers. FET courses and programmes are provided through the network of education and training boards (ETBs) around the country.

What can you expect on a PLC?

“There has always been a strong vocational element to post-Leaving Cert courses, and the founding principle is that will get you a job or take you on to higher education,” says Andrew Brownlee, executive director of strategy and knowledge with Solas. “In recent years, we’ve introduced a structured approach to work placement so that everyone on a PLC should have a placement. Following a national evaluation in 2018, we are seeing all PLC colleges offering a consistent and structured work experience component. Pathways to employment opportunities or further studies in higher education are clearer and they reflect key regional and national skills needs.”

What else has changed in PLCs?

The approach has become more focused, too. “We’re seeing a shift from provision of generic courses – such as, for instance, a level 6 in business – to more particular areas like software development,” says Brownlee. “Courses are being flagged as direct entry routes to employment. On top of this, we’ve seen the growth of pre-apprenticeship programmes, which are one-year preparatory courses giving people a taster of apprenticeships and a chance to develop further skills; these are available in both the craft apprenticeships [eg construction skills, motor vehicle maintenance] and new emerging apprenticeships [eg auctioneering, culinary skills and networking]. If they then decide not to pursue an apprenticeship, they still have a level 5 QQI qualification to their name.”

What sort of FET courses are available?

They are as diverse as they are wide and include computer game programming, lab techniques, sports therapy, nursing studies, make-up design and supervisory management. More information on thisisfet.ie.

Where are FET students going?

Just under 20 per cent of PLC graduates are progressing to higher education, accounting for about one-fifth of the overall first-year intake at institutes of technology and technological universities. “Growing numbers are entering higher education using PLC as their baseline,” says Brownlee. “And there is emerging evidence that they are more prepared to complete their degree programmes than those entering higher education directly from lower Leaving Cert points bands [of about 200-300 points].”

Meanwhile, says Brownlee, there’s a growing interest among school-leavers in traineeship programmes, which run from six-24 months in vocational areas with a minimum of 30 per cent on-the-job training leading to employment opportunities. “Traineeships are already available in interesting areas like hospitality, medical administration, animation and healthcare, and they’re being developed in exciting new areas like barista, machine tool operation, biopharma, CAO and equestrian.”

Where can I do a PLC, traineeship or apprenticeship?

The courses are available across the country but, as is the case with third-level courses in colleges and universities, not all locations offer all courses – Ballsbridge in Dublin and Cork city, for instance, are the only places where students can take the auctioneering apprenticeship, while PLC courses may also be restricted by location. But the good news is that PLC courses are available in more than 100 locations across Ireland, providing critical access to people who might not otherwise be able to take it up.

Will I miss out on the social side of college if I opt for FET?

You’re not going to get the same level of clubs and societies on a post-Leaving Cert course as you would in a big university such as UCD, but even within the shorter timeframe of the course, students will find that colleges of further education do have a strong social dimension.

How many people are doing FET courses?

There are almost 30,000 places across the PLC sector as well as just under 4,000 apprenticeship places and more than 20,000 other level 5/ 6 vocational courses such as traineeships across the education and training boards (ETBs) each year.

Where can I get more information?

thisisfet.ie, a new website from the further education and training agency, solas.ie is bursting with news, stories and information the areas of FET that are most relevant for school-leavers: apprentice, post-Leaving Certificate courses and training.

It is a well-designed central point of access for all PLC and apprenticeship information. Nikki Gallagher, director of communications at Solas, says this thisisfet.ie is an umbrella site with bitesize and accessible information that is particularly targeted at school-leavers but also very useful for mature students or those looking for a change of pace.

“If you think you might be interested in childcare, or in aircraft maintenance, you can go on here and see what is available across the range of courses, including apprenticeship, PLC and traineeship,” she says. “Graduates of these courses are going on to build interesting and exciting careers that can help shape the world.”

Many, if not most, of the courses can now be applied for online.

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