University is not the only way to career - Leaving Cert results

AS close on 60,000 students celebrate the results of their Leaving Certificate exams, the focus will inevitably turn to third-level education and the scramble for CAO points.

For those students who are extremely able and academic in their approach, this will be a joyous time of looking forward to spending the next three or more years at a third-level institution.

For others who may not get enough points for their chosen subject, it will be an anxious and upsetting time.

Likewise for many parents struggling to financially support their child at college.

As an Irish League of Credit Unions survey today shows, 94% of parents in Ireland support their children with college-related costs by contributing an average of €453 per month per child. In this context, the value of apprenticeships as an alternative to third-level education should be given greater recognition.

More than half of people aged 30-35 in Ireland have a third-level degree, compared to an EU average of 35%.

That’s the good news but the bad news is that, at the same time, we lag well behind when it comes to apprenticeships. In Germany – Europe’s economic powerhouse - there are 340 recognised occupations covered by apprenticeship schemes.

Here there are just 27 available in five sectors - construction, electrical work, engineering, motor mechanics and printing. In fairness to Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan, the importance of encouraging apprenticeships has not been lost on her. Last month she unveiled a major overhaul of the system which is aimed at providing school-leavers with a viable alternative path to third-level education.

Some 25 new areas for apprenticeships have now been agreed between industry and training agencies, including trainee posts in software development, medical devices, financial services, accountancy, logistics, and hospitality.

Consideration should also be given to proposals by the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association to include entrepreneurial education in the school curriculum in order to promote the enterprise culture in Ireland.

The association wants education to be broadened to include entrepreneurialism from primary level and to allow the Irish school system play a more enterprising role.

There is currently a serious shortage of apprentices in all trades and the ISME wants college alternatives such as traineeships to be promoted and properly funded to satisfy the future skills.

Students should be aware that the notion of a job for life is now redundant and they need to prepare for a ‘portfolio career’ which inevitably involves gaining experience and skills in a variety of working environments.

While most multinationals and big business take a very regimented approach to job applicants insisting on university degrees as an entry level to employment, the reality is that the SME sector still accounts for 99% of all Irish businesses.

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