By Guidance Counsellor Carol McCarthy
As a new year rolls in again, so too does the predictable panic of parents and school leavers regarding CAO. While the Central Applications System caters for the majority of school leavers choosing to continue their education, it is worthwhile for many to check out the other available options. Courses applied to through the CAO, for the most part, count academic results only, that is Leaving Certificate results converted to ‘CAO points’; however, many of the other avenues open to school leavers consider other aspects, including aptitude and results of interview.
A renewed emphasis is being placed on the apprentice model of training. This blended learning approach still includes elements of study, but the benefits of gaining a qualification ‘on-the-job’ are obvious: earning a salary while training, and no transition to the world of work post-qualification as you are immersed in the work environment of your career area from day one. The insurance industry is one example of a sector that has embraced this approach in recent years.
As well as the traditional craft apprenticeships, a number of occupational apprenticeships have recently been launched, including Accounting Technician, Farriery, Insurance Practice and Commis Chef. Many more are in the process of being developed and introduced, including Baker and Software Developer.
Student Contribution Fees apply for the academic portion of an apprenticeship, but are charged on a pro-rata basis and so work out much less than full-time education. This is somewhat offset by the fact that you earn while completing the practical side of the training. See apprenticeship.ie for more.
Additionally, large companies continue to offer apprenticeships: Aer Lingus – Aircraft Maintenance and Engineering, ESB – Electrician (opened February 1) and Bus Éireann – Heavy Vehicle Mechanics (opens in March).
Further Education colleges offer courses whose entry requirements in the main are basic, and choose instead to put emphasis on the interview process. Many such courses can act as a bridge between Leaving Certificate and CAO courses.
Direct application colleges are just that – colleges to which you apply directly rather than through the CAO system. Courses in these colleges are listed in the usual course databases such as Qualifax. As ‘points’ do not apply, this can be a viable option for some students. For these colleges, check tuition fees and implications for maintenance grants.
Points to consider when making decisions
It is not just about what to study but also how. Pick training and a course and college type that suits your personality and skills. For example, look at the academic-practical ratio; forgetting subject matter, if you have struggled academically across the board, then it is likely that you are suited to practical training. Similarly, find out about class size as this tends to have a correlation with the amount of individual attention students receive. Keep in mind that initiative and independent work skills will be required for broad academic courses such as Arts degrees in universities which tend to have large intakes.
It is always worthwhile to pay attention to the level of qualification on offer. Where a qualification falls on the National Framework of Qualification can influence later options including employment opportunities and further study or training.
All in all, when it comes to post-second level options, remember there are many avenues open and that CAO is just one.
Help with the decision-making process is available in West Cork in an individual private consultation with Guidance Counsellor Carol McCarthy, a qualified member of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors.