The shock of Covid-19 shut down businesses across the country. Many people were able to keep working from home, but hairdressers, restaurants and cafes, clothes shops, garden centres and gyms were among the businesses that were forced to close their doors.
The slowdown - and the economic hit that came with it - highlighted how business is the engine of the economy.
The financial and banking sectors took a hit too. Shares and stocks fell as consumer confidence was eroded, people lost jobs and there wasn’t much to buy with shops closed. Aeroplanes were grounded. Global carbon emissions fell.
Business is broad. You’ll find people with business degrees in restaurants, shops, transport, science, health, food and agriculture, law, entertainment, education and more. They’re working in a range of roles including accounting, banking, entrepreneurship, finance, human resources, insurance, management, sales and marketing.
And, of course, people with business skills are working in financial services including banking, consumer finance firms, stockbroking and marketing and advertising firms. They’re also well equipped to set up their own enterprises.
Empathy and compassion
Samantha Kelly is an entrepreneur who started off with a product called Funky Goddess, a gift basket for young women who had had their first period. "I used Twitter and Facebook to market the business and I knew that, if I told stories and people told me theirs, they'd be more likely to buy the gift box."
Kelly later sold the business because she needed investment. "There are highs and lows in business but you learn to get on with it. Over time, people approached me about how to use Twitter to boost sales, and I went on to build the Women's Inspire Network [Twitter: @WomensInspireIE]. I don't fit the image of a business person in the suit and felt like I didn't fit in because I was different, quirkier, messier. But I did have the characteristics to succeed in business: you have to enjoy what you're doing; you need resilience and courage to start the business in the first place; and determination, courage and stamina to keep going at it."
Business can feel impersonal, but Kelly says that there is a real person behind every business or image. “In business, you need to be good at building relationships and that does take empathy and compassion. It’s not about being cutthroat and I don’t have people like that in my network. We work on mentoring and helping people by adding value and sharing knowledge.”
Yes, employers might value a business degree but, more than that, they value key skills such as teamwork, creativity, enterprise, problem-solving and analytical skills - and courses that help students to develop these skills are worth a look. But students should also look to get involved in clubs and societies, running events, watching the money and working as part of a team.
Courses that offer a work placement or work experience can also give students a leg-up, as can business courses that include an option to learn a foreign language whether as a core or optional module.
In choosing the right business course, students should consider average class sizes, work experience and project work, the skills they want to develop - and whether to go for a broad, general entry course or whether to apply to a specialist course (such as marketing or supply chain management) from the outset.
Ailbe Murphy, career guidance counsellor with studyclix.ie and a teacher at Jesus and Mary Secondary School in Enniscrone, Co Sligo, points out that students have hundreds of different options when it comes to business courses, including level six certificates, level seven ordinary degrees, level eight honours courses and PLC courses that may give a taster of the business world and guidance on the modules that are most interest to them.
“Some students know what they want to do, whether that’s HR, business and law, ICT, entrepreneurship or perhaps commerce with a language. But if they’re not sure, a broad business or commerce degree gives an opportunity to sample a range of subjects in first year and then specialise in second year,” Murphy says.
Students could also consider business apprenticeships. In recent years, Solas, the further education and training authority, have developed a suite of apprenticeships that including accounting technician (level six), insurance practice (level eight), international financial services associate (level six) and international financial services specialist (level eight).
All of these courses give students a chance to earn money while they learn, so could be a great option for those concerned about the cost of college.
Business courses and points 2019
Commerce International (UCD): 509
Commerce (NUI Galway): 422
Commerce with Irish (UCC): 509
Business studies (DBS): 248
Global business USA (DCU): 578
Business and management (TU Dublin city campus): 440
International business (TU Dublin Tallaght): 229
Business (National College of Ireland): 297
Business, economic and social studies (Trinity): 520
Business and law (UCD): 521