For a growing number of Leaving Cert students Further Education and Training (FET) is the best route to their chosen career.
Whether they have a particular job in mind and want the most direct route in; are uncertain about what they want to do long-term but are keen to try out a new area of learning; or didn’t get the points for the course they wanted on the CAO and want an alternative way into third level, FET is the answer.
It provides three routes designed to help school leavers progress - Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) courses, apprenticeships and traineeships.
Each can act as a stepping-stone into higher education, as a way to try out something new, or to progress directly into a career.
“Everyone is so focused on the CAO right now that FET is still sometimes overlooked as an option,” explains Maria Walshe, director of communications with Solas, the state agency tasked with building a world class Further Education and Training sector to fuel Ireland’s future.
Post Leaving Certificate courses
Each year between 20,000 and 25,000 people undertake a PLC course. These are full time one- and two-year courses that offer a mix of practical work, academic work and work experience.
“They bring a lot of advantages. For a start, they are local, which might have a bearing for some people, making it a good option for those making the transition from school,” says Walshe.
For students who haven't done as well as they wished in their Leaving Cert, the PLC provides them with a great opportunity for progression to third level
Most courses are delivered by Education and Training Boards (ETBs) and cover a huge range of programmes, from business and computing to sport, science and multi-media.
Completion of a PLC course leads to an award on the National Framework of Qualifications at NFQ Level 5 or 6, as well as other qualifications, such as City and Guilds.
A huge part of their appeal, and their value, is that they focus on a mix of technical knowledge, core skills and work experience.
“With a PLC, students get the benefit of smaller class sizes and more one-to-one interaction, which can make them a great stepping-stone to employment or on to third level,” says Walshe.
PLC courses such as pre-nursing, pre-law or pre-business, can provide an alternative route into such courses at third level.
“For students who haven’t done as well as they wished in their Leaving Cert, for whatever reason, the PLC provides them with a great opportunity for progression to third level,” she adds.
Having an alternative route into higher education is particularly valuable this year. “This year’s Leaving Certificate class has had to deal with such uncertainty, and had less time in the classroom, so trying to make decisions around courses has been hard,” explains Walshe.
Few areas of FET have been transformed as much as apprenticeships, which has seen a resurgence in demand as a result. Currently around 6,000 people take up an apprenticeship each year, a number which has doubled over the past five years.
Apprenticeships combine both on- and off-the-job learning. Depending on which apprenticeship you choose, off-the-job training is done either as a block of full-time training over a period of weeks or training on a specific day each week.
While they remain the traditional route into sectors such as construction, electronics and the motor industry, a raft of new apprenticeships has been added in sectors such as international financial services, ICT, logistics, property, insurance, accounting and biopharmaceuticals.
In fact there are now 62 different types of apprenticeship, all of which allow participants to earn while they learn. Some of the newer professional apprenticeships pay apprentices between €17,000 and €30,000 a year, as well as netting them a qualification at the end of a two- or three-year programme.
We are seeing big increases in the numbers taking up the well-respected craft apprenticeships
Qualifications now available via apprenticeship range from QQI Level 6 to Masters Level QQI Level 9 right up to a new QQI Level 10 PhD Doctorate, in engineering.
“With so much emphasis on progression to third level at this time of year, some people may overlook the opportunities that exist through FET,” points out Walshe.
“In the last few years, we are seeing big increases in the numbers taking up the well-respected craft apprenticeships which offer routes to really great careers in areas such as electrical, plumbing and engineering. Couple this with the newer apprenticeships such as ICT options, cybersecurity and computer networking, and there really is a world of choice out there. And, because you get your qualifications while you work, you come out with two- to four-years’ experience too.” That in itself can fast-track your career.
Traineeships are developed and delivered by the ETBs, which work in partnership with industry representatives and employers, to ensure they are always current.
These are shorter than apprenticeships, typically lasting one or two years, but are also designed to provide strong work experience, so that participants leave with job-ready skills. Some even pay a training allowance.
There are currently more than 40 traineeships available, covering everything from radio broadcasting to beauty therapy, and from medical administration to childcare. All lead to an award at NFQ Levels 4-6, or equivalent.
It is important to know that there is a world of choice out there for school leavers
“These are very specific courses designed for people who are trying to progress directly to working,” explains Walshe, who says around 10,000 people go through traineeships every year.
Leaving Cert results time is stressful for both students and parents. Often, there is huge pressure on young people and their parents to have their education and career path mapped out, and unexpected Leaving Cert results can seem like a catastrophe and a dead end for these plans.
“With the added pressure of Covid-19 uncertainties, it is important to know that there is a world of choice out there for school leavers, including FET, and it’s great that awareness of that is growing,” she says.
“Afterall, the world is changing. It’s no longer all about getting your four-year degree and believing that’s the end of your education. There is increased recognition that learning is actually a lifelong journey that we will all need to dip in and out of throughout our working life, to update our skills and qualifications.”