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University not for everyone – education pathways to prepare you for work

Alternative options: try recruitment programmes, further education courses and traineeships

The different strands of the Irish education and training system have their own particular roles to play in preparing students for the world of work. This ranges from providing the baseline qualifications for students to build on through further education to offering training in particular skills for specific jobs .

"Schools are integral to the long-term pipeline of talent equipped with the skills, capabilities and mindset required for both the financial services and technology sectors," says Sharon Walsh, vice president of technology management with Fidelity Investments. "There are several very practical approaches for schools to consider. These include encouraging teamwork and focus on critical and complex thinking, allowing students to develop strong decision-making and problem-solving skills. Different ways to reach a solution requires innovation, creativity and the ability to look at alternative approaches."


College is not for every student, she points out, so schools need to support students to consider a wide array of educational options like apprenticeships and more traditional vocational education . “They should also focus on a well-rounded curriculum and educational experience across art, science, technology, engineering and maths [Steam], history and communications.”

Fidelity has partnered with Scoil Bhríde, Mercy Secondary School, Tuam, Co Galway, to support it in those areas by providing curriculum support, teacher training days, technical support, work experience and access to role models. “Our pay-IT-forward ethos is a great example of industry and school partnership to attract the next generation of technologists to the industry,” she adds.


Fidelity’s entry-level recruitment programmes are aimed at graduates but not with any specific qualification. “At Fidelity, we seek individuals aspiring to a career in fintech with an affinity toward innovation and continuous learning,” says Walsh. “A baseline qualification is necessary but, more importantly, we look to hire talent that have a mindset open to continuous learning. We support our employees to engage in a full learning day on a biweekly cadence because we strongly believe in having a learning organisation for the long-term career success of our talent and in support of our business.”

Technical skills

Technical skills change so it’s important to keep up, she says. “In today’s landscape skills in full-stack development, cloud, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, machine learning, blockchain, augmented reality and virtual reality are relevant to our technology division. Technical skills are important but so are skills in communication, problem-solving, critical thinking, collaboration and teamwork. Both technical and soft skills are necessary to successfully perform and advance.”

According to Walsh, universities and industry need to be willing to ensure tech-ready programmes and courses are created to enable the talent required by the industry . “At Fidelity, we have strong partnerships with university intern programmes,” she says. “We also have strong academic research partnerships with the Adapt, CeADAR and Insight research centres to connect us with talent offering state of the art global research expertise to existing Fidelity business problems, providing a managed and safe environment to enable value creation for both Fidelity and the academic institutions.”

In many cases, newly qualified graduates will round out their skills and qualifications on a graduate recruitment programme such as that offered by Jameson. "We know how important it is that a programme supports both personal and professional growth," says Sinéad D'Arcy, head of the Jameson International Graduate Programme. "Our multi-award-winning development programme Distil Your Own Success is a key pillar of the programme's success. The programme applies a 70/20/10 approach to graduate development; 70 per cent on-the-job learning; 20 per cent learning through feedback and reflection; and 10 per cent formal learning. Through this, graduates are afforded the best possible opportunities to build and develop their careers."

Further education

Of course, as Sharon Walsh points out, university is not for everyone. That’s where further education and training (FET) comes in. It offers a wide variety of life-long education options to anyone over 16. These include apprenticeships, traineeships, post Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses, community and adult education as well as core literacy and numeracy services. FET courses and programmes are provided through the Education and Training Board network throughout the country as well as through other local providers including some that operate online through the Solas eCollege. FET courses are provided at levels one to six on the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ). Apprenticeship programmes range from levels six to 10.

“From business and accounting, engineering and aircraft maintenance to costume design and culinary studies, there are thousands of options for students in FET to develop their skills and gain the qualifications they need to secure a job in their chosen field or progress to further or higher education,” says Maria Walshe, director of branding, communications and FET strategy implementation with Solas. “FET is for anyone who wants to learn new skills or enhance existing skills to get the right job, progress to third level or to support the achievement of personal goals.”


One of the newer forms of further education is the traineeship. This offers participants the opportunity to develop cutting-edge skills and knowledge on the job, making them more employable. All traineeships lead to an award at NFQ levels four to six (or equivalent), are six to 20 months in duration and are delivered through local education and training boards.

“Traineeships also enable employers to access a pipeline of talent and learners,” says Walshe . “The training content and occupational standards for traineeships are developed in consultation with employers, trade unions, regulatory bodies and interest groups. Currently, there are more than 50 traineeship programmes available around the country across a range of industry areas including aviation, IT, animation, hospitality and digital marketing.”

Finally, anyone considering further education should take a look at the Solas eCollege, the online platform that delivers training courses in a range of areas including business, project management, information technology, graphic design, web design, digital marketing, software development and basic computer literacy. These courses are temporarily being made available free of charge to anyone over 18.

“The courses may benefit those already doing a course who would like to augment their learning, those who have recently become unemployed or had their hours reduced and those wishing to upskill or reskill,” says Walshe.

Barry McCall

Barry McCall is a contributor to The Irish Times