Getting a new qualification under your belt could be the key to bouncing back from unemployment if you are one of the almost 600,000 people who have lost their job since the Covid-19 crisis hit Ireland.
Even if you are still working, the severity of the current emergency could mean that your job is less secure than before - and so future-proofing your career by learning new skills would be a wise move. Given so many household incomes are squeezed today, footing the entire bill for a postgraduate or other college course may not be an option. However, there are plenty of affordable ways to brush up your skills and qualifications.
Springboard+ courses - which include a range of postgraduate diplomas, undergraduate and other third-level education courses - are free for those on social welfare as well as for people who have taken time out of work to care for a family member or look after children, but who are not getting paid any social welfare. These courses are also open to workers, with those in the workforce paying a 10th of the course fee - if it's a Level 7, 8 or 9 course. The cost of that 10pc contribution could be between €250 and €600, depending on the course.
"Technology-based courses tend to be a bit more expensive - averaging between €4,000 to €6,000 [for the total cost] - and so that would equate to a student cost of €400 to €600 [if the applicant is in employment]," said Dr Vivienne Patterson, head of skills and engagement at the Higher Education Authority (HEA). "Other more business- or arts-based courses can cost between €2,500 and €4,000 - so the cost to the student would be €250 to €400." It's worth asking your boss if they will cover the cost of the 10pc contribution - your employer may be willing to do so if the skills you acquire will benefit the business.
There are four levels of Springboard+ courses - ranging from Level 6 to Level 9. The higher the level, the higher the qualification. A Level 9 course, for example, could be a postgraduate diploma, Level 8 could be an honours bachelor degree, Level 7 could be an ordinary bachelor degree, and Level 6 could be a higher certificate.
Level 6 courses are free for everyone, whether you're in employment or not. Level 6 courses are also available to anyone, regardless of educational background - whereas you usually need to have certain qualifications or meet other requirements to be able to apply for the higher-level courses.
Is it worthwhile doing a Level 6 course though?
"There are many reasons for doing a Level 6 course," said Patterson. "For example, you may already have a higher-level qualification but require some additional skills in a specialist area - such as digital marketing or project management - which may help you to boost your skills in your current role. Level 6 qualifications are in demand in the manufacturing sector in areas such as pharmaceuticals or medtech."
The HEA hopes to provide over 8,000 Springboard+ places on courses nationally this year. Details of Springboard+ courses for the upcoming academic year will be announced on springboardcourses.ie in the coming weeks. The HEA expects to start taking applications in June.
"Priority for a place is given to those in receipt of a social welfare payment if they meet the academic requirements," said Patterson. The course providers may also use RPL (recognition of prior learning) to assess whether you are suitable for a course. RPL may include learning on the job as opposed to academic attainment.
HCI Pillar 1
HCI Pillar 1 courses are Level 8 and 9 higher and postgraduate diplomas. Like Springboard+, those in receipt of social welfare are given priority for a place on a HCI Pillar 1 course - and the course is free for such applicants. Recent graduates and those in employment pay a 10pc course fee. "Springboard+ and HCI Pillar 1 courses are designed in consultation with local and national enterprise," said Patterson. "This means that courses are provided in areas where there is a clear identified skill need in a region or nationally. A significant number of Springboard+ and HCI Pillar 1 courses are in disciplines where there is an emerging skill need for the future world of work such as cybersecurity, machine learning, artificial intelligence and robotics."
Apprenticeships typically involve a mix of on-the-job training and classroom-based learning and they usually run for a number of years. Although apprenticeships have traditionally been geared at school leavers and those in their early twenties, in recent years there has been an increase in the number of older workers embarking on apprenticeships.
"Apprenticeship is open to all ages," said Maria Walshe, spokeswoman for the further education and training agency Solas.
"We are seeing an increase in individuals starting apprenticeships across all age categories, particularly in some of the newer apprenticeships such as the financial services apprenticeships - including accounting technician, international financial services and insurance, biopharmachem and also IT apprenticeships.
"The opening up of apprenticeships in recent years has also seen the introduction of apprenticeships that are at honours degree and masters level which can be attractive for individuals wishing to build on existing education."
There are some apprenticeships - such as craft apprenticeships - which are typically taken up by school leavers. "Some apprenticeships, however, have apprentices who want to change careers; some are attracting employees in the industry who want to upskill," said Patterson.
"The industrial electrical engineer apprenticeship is open to apprentices who are qualified electricians - so generally these would be apprentices in their late twenties onwards."
Statutory apprenticeships (the ones which Solas and the Higher Education Authority are involved in) are paid. However, if you have just lost your job or are seeking to change your career, the salary you earn as an apprentice could be a lot lower than your previous pay - particularly if you've been a number of years in the workforce. This could be an issue if you have a family to provide for or a mortgage to pay.
The starting salary for the accounting technician apprenticeship, for example, is around €20,000, according to Walshe. With some apprenticeships, the starting salary is higher; with some, it can be much lower. "Apprenticeships that are at honours degree and masters level tend to have higher salaries," said Walshe.
Be aware that if your apprenticeship includes some college training, you are likely to have to pay the student contribution charge - or a portion of that charge (depending on how long you are in college in a given year).
An apprenticeship however is much more affordable than having to foot the entire bill for a college postgraduate or full-time undergraduate course. Fees for a postgraduate course for example could cost several thousand euro a year or more, depending on the course and college.
For more information on apprenticeships, visit apprenticeship.ie.
eCollege is an online training facility which is funded by Solas. These courses are temporarily being made available free of charge as an additional support to those affected by Covid-19 containment measures. "There are some great courses available [through eCollege] which enable people to develop skills for a range of industries including computer programming, data science, IT professionals, business, web and graphic design," said Walshe. "All courses can be completed online, are tutor-led and are certified."
For more information, visit ecollege.ie.
All 31 local enterprise offices offer training programmes to help people learn the skills needed to start a business. One such course is the 'Start Your Own Business' training programme - which is free. For more information visit localenterprise.ie. Last month, a new online training hub - known as the Digital School of Food - was launched for anyone interested in setting up their own food business. The hub is free and all materials can be accessed online.
For more information, visit digitalschooloffood.ie.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT COURSE TO SUIT YOUR ASPIRATIONS
Draw from your skills and experience
“Be self-aware,” said Joan O’Reilly, career guidance counsellor with Springboard HEA. “Know your style of work and how you have worked in the past. For example, do you like working on your own — or do you like working with people? Are you a procrastinator who prefers to work in a more structured way with deadlines to meet? Or do you work better in a supervisory capacity? Write down every skill that you have. Think about everything you’ve done in your past roles.”
Once you have identified your skills, examine how they can be transferred to different roles — and decide how to address any skill gaps.
“For example, you may have worked in retail or a bar or restaurant and have good customer-facing skills,” said O’Reilly. “If these jobs are no longer available, you could work in online customer-care roles where you’re customer-facing on the telephone rather than face-to-face. You may identify a gap in your IT skills when applying for such roles — and decide to do a computer course or something else to address that gap. When you go to apply for jobs, you may see where your skills gaps are — you can fill those gaps through education, experience and so on.”
Do your research
“Find out about the field you’re interested in by talking to someone working in that area,” said O’Reilly. “Ask the person about the good — and not so good — things about the job. Find out what skills are most necessary for the job.”
For those considering an apprenticeship, look at the range of apprenticeships available and consider what industry you would like to work in, advised Solas.
“It is possible to make a jump into a completely different line of work,” said O’Reilly. “We’ve had examples of people who’ve worked in engineering and who have transferred project management, health and safety, process management or IT skills they used in their engineering job to go into the pharmaceutical industry.”
Be realistic though. “Look at where you are at the moment and find out what you need to do to get to where you want to be — whether that’s a further education course, a Springboard+ course, an apprenticeship and so on.”
Choose a course with a work placement as it’s often easier to secure work afterwards.
Do what you like
“It’s important to like what you do,” said O’Reilly. “Have an aptitude and interest for the area you’re considering going into. Ask yourself if you’re committed to investing the time and work required to get to that career path.”
For those interested in Springboard+ courses, there will be a free helpline open in June where you can get guidance on various courses.
Sunday Indo Business