Saturday 24 August 2019

Worthy college alternatives if you don't get enough CAO points

There are plenty of other routes which can lead to successful careers, writes Louise McBride

There are plenty of other routes which can lead to successful careers. Stock photo
There are plenty of other routes which can lead to successful careers. Stock photo
Louise McBride

Louise McBride

With just over a week to go until this year's Leaving Cert finishes up, the countdown for exam results will soon be on. Many of today's school-leavers will be relying on those results - due out in mid-August - for a place in college. Those concerned that they have not done as well in their Leaving Cert as they had hoped should note that college is not the only path to a successful career.

There are plenty of opportunities for school-leavers who either don't secure enough points to go to college, or who can't afford - or have no interest in - third-level education.

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Apprenticeships typically involve a mix of on-the-job training and classroom-based learning.

"The on-the-job learning that comes with an apprenticeship really suits some people," said Maria Walsh, communications manager with Solas, the further education and training agency. "Some people can really flourish in apprenticeships."

You can typically expect to have two to three years of work experience behind you when you finish an apprenticeship - and that experience could stand to you more than a college degree would when seeking a job. Furthermore, statutory apprenticeships (the ones which Solas and the Higher Education Authority are involved in) are paid and this is often appealing to school-leavers.

Traditional apprenticeships (typically those developed before 2016) include electrical, plumbing, carpentry and motor mechanics. "These are trades where people would typically end up working," said Walsh.

The ESB has a long history of offering apprenticeships. The latest apprenticeship from ESB Networks is a four-year paid programme. Under that apprenticeship, the annual pay in the first year is about €10,500 - and this increases to €17,000 in the second year, €23,000 in the third year and €27,000 in the fourth year. Should you secure a permanent network technician job in ESB Networks after completing this apprenticeship, you can expect a starting salary of about €35,000, according to an ESB spokesman. That should increase the higher up the career ladder you move. The average salary of an ESB employee was €77,900 in 2018 - and that rose to €88,300 once expenses and overtime were included. Although the deadline to apply for the latest ESB apprenticeship has passed, the next recruitment drive for ESB apprentices will be in February 2020. Successful ESB apprentices become qualified electricians - and this qualification is recognised around the world, according to the ESB spokesman.

"Successful apprentices also become qualified network technicians - which is a sought-after qualification, particularly in Australia and Canada," added the spokesman.

Aircraft maintenance is another example of a traditional apprenticeship. "All of the major airlines - including Aer Lingus, Ryanair and Stobart Air - take on apprentices each year," said Walsh.

Dublin Aerospace offers a four-year aircraft mechanic apprenticeship programme. The annual pay in the first year of this apprenticeship is €12,000 - and that salary increases in each of the next three years of the programme, according to Susan Gorman, head of human resources with Dublin Aerospace. You could get a job as an aircraft engineer after completing this apprenticeship. The starting salary for a qualified licensed aircraft engineer is €42,000 in the first year - but the salary can be higher if you have more qualifications, For example, approved engineers earn more than licensed aircraft engineers, according to Gorman.

It is too late to apply for Dublin Aerospace's 2019 aircraft mechanic apprenticeship but it will start to recruit for its 2020 apprenticeship programme in early November. The aircraft mechanic apprenticeship programme includes on-the-job training and college training. "A qualified aircraft licensed engineer can become an approved licensed engineer, team leader and can even progress to senior management - or to owning their own aviation company," said Gorman. "The apprenticeship gives a great base to build upon and many ex-apprentices move on to senior roles in the airline and aircraft leasing industries, while others use their experience to move into roles in different industries."

For those interested in engineering or manufacturing careers, there's a big demand for people who have completed apprenticeships in instrumentation and electrical instrumentation, according to Walsh. (Instrumentation engineers plan, install, monitor and maintain control systems and machinery within manufacturing environments.)

A number of new apprenticeships were launched over the last few years - including in cybersecurity, ICT, original equipment manufacturing (OEM - an apprenticeship designed to meet the evolving skill set requirements of engineering and manufacturing companies), auctioneering and property services, butchery, and international financial services.

"These new apprenticeships were specifically tailored to where there are skill shortages," said Walsh.

The starting salary of those taking up these newly developed apprenticeships is often at least €20,000 a year. For example, the starting salary of the Level 6 international financial services associate apprenticeship is around €23,000 a year, while the starting salary of the follow-on apprenticeship - the Level 8 (honours degree) international financial services specialist - is about €32,000 a year, according to Walsh.

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).

Be sure to choose an apprenticeship which interests you. "Get a bit of work experience in an area you're considering - and see if you like it," said Walsh. "If you are doing a four-year apprenticeship, you need to have a passion for it."


There are two main streams of Post Leaving Certificates (PLCs): those designed with progression to third-level education in mind - and those designed with employment in mind.

"PLCs are a good option as a route into a career or into college," said Walsh. "Some of the PLC courses designed for progression into third-level education include nursing, pre-university law, pre-university networking technologies and art portfolio courses. PLCs are also a good option for school-leavers who are unsure what they want to do. Furthermore, some of the PLC colleges are embracing the apprenticeship model."

Both the Ballsbridge College of Further Education and the College of Commerce in Cork for example offer the apprenticeship in auctioneering and property services.

PLCs are significantly cheaper than college - there is no €3,000-a-year student contribution charge though the bill for other fees (PLC fee, student services charge and materials) could run to €500 or more. There are a wide range of PLCs available - covering areas such as animation, computer science, childcare and tourism. Should you be considering a PLC as a route to a job offer, choose an area where there are likely to be job opportunities. A recent ESRI report found that too many people undertaking a PLC were enrolled in areas where there are too few jobs.

Straight to work?

Another alternative to college is simply to go to work straight after leaving school. Your career opportunities are likely to be limited if you take this approach though. Some careers are more suited to on-the-job training than others - but having an apprenticeship or qualification under your belt should always stand to you. "We all need to be continually upskilling - and learning to be on top of our career," said Walsh. "Being very aligned to education throughout our whole career is very important - people need to take whatever opportunities they can to do so."

The decisions you make after leaving school are likely to have a big impact on your career prospects, so make those decisions carefully.

Private colleges and traineeships

Private college

Getting enough CAO points for a course in some of the bigger colleges can be a struggle - last year for example, many of the degree courses in UCD and TCD required over 500 points.

Private colleges - also known as independent colleges - are often an option for Leaving Cert students who don't get enough points to study their preferred course in the bigger colleges and universities.

Some of the more well-known private colleges include Griffith College, Dublin Business School, Independent College Dublin and Dorset College.

"In many cases, Griffith College offers a number of courses that require less points than the likes of UCD or TCD," said a spokeswoman for Griffith College.

The free-fee arrangements in place for undergraduate courses in universities and institutes of technology don't apply to private colleges however. Private college fees vary but tuition fees are typically around €4,000 to €6,000 a year for a full-time undergraduate course - with 20pc tax relief available on those fees. For example, a typical year at Griffith College will cost a student between €5,000 and €6,000 - not including the student's learner fee, administration fees and other charges. Griffith College also has a number of business courses which cost €3,500 a year.

Bear in mind that as the student contribution charge for the publicly funded third-level courses in the likes of UCD and TCD is €3,000 a year, a private college might only work out a few grand more expensive than a university. A private college could even work out cheaper - if its location allows the student to continue to live at home and thereby save on rent.

You can often apply directly to a private college for certain courses rather than go through the CAO system.

Some private colleges also have schemes in places for those who want to earn while they study. Griffith College for example has an 'earn and learn' initiative - which gives school-leavers the opportunity to work full-time with a partner company of the college's, earn a wage and study part-time at Griffith College to earn their degree.


Traineeships are an alternative to college and apprenticeships. One of the main aims of traineeships - which provide a mixture of on-the-job training and off-the-job learning - is to make people more employable by equipping them with the skills they need for a job. Traineeships are often shorter than apprenticeships. Like apprenticeships, traineeships cover a wide range of areas including engineering, hospitality, ICT and retail.

More information

Visit or (for details on apprenticeships and traineeships); (for details on PLCs and private college courses).

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