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Going to College: Why it's worth looking beyond the CAO to see what apprenticeships have to offer



Guidance counsellor Aoife Walsh

Guidance counsellor Aoife Walsh

Guidance counsellor Aoife Walsh

Making decisions about what to do after school is a process. Thankfully, there are more options available for school leavers than there have been in many years. Young people can progress through the CAO to further and higher-level education or pursue training courses and post Leaving Cert (PLC) courses at further education institutes in their locality.

For those who wish to focus on learning on the job, there is a plethora of wonderful apprenticeship options available in a wide variety of areas, and the world of work is once again becoming an option with real prospects.

At times, school leavers and guidance counsellors have a tendency to over-focus on progression via the CAO.

This is understandable. Before the financial crash in 2008, I found that around two thirds of my Leaving Cert students wanted to go straight to higher-level education, while one third were interested in exploring and pursuing other options.

When asked the same question post 2009, 100pc of my students responded they were interested in further or higher-level education (this may be different in other schools). In reality, there were few other opportunities for those young people at that time. Going to college for four years and hoping the employment situation had changed by the time they graduated was the only option.

Additionally, the CAO system is quite straightforward. There is a clear set of criteria to gain admission to college and this provides a certain amount of security to a young person who has never before had to put themselves out there to fight for an opportunity.

It is, however, important to explore all avenues, even those that may seem like the road less travelled. There are 52 separate apprenticeships available, with a large number in development.

Apprenticeships are no longer restricted to the construction industry or traditional craft roles. They are also available in areas such as auctioneering, finance, insurance, biopharmachem, logistics and more.

For young people who may be interested in exploring this route - and it is essential that any young person who is interested in a career with an apprenticeship route do so fully - there are a number of useful starting points.

A great place to begin researching these options is on the Solas website apprenticeships.ie. Here you can find information on all of the current apprenticeship programmes. You will also find information on new programmes as they move out of the development stage. The website also outlines the stages of training, training allowances, entrance criteria and much more.

Another Solas website, thisisfet.ie, helps students explore all further education and training options, including apprenticeships.

Careersportal.ie is another great resource where you can check out the work of the different trades. The website is jam packed with videos of apprentices and professionals explaining everything you need to know about their role. You can also take interest tests to help focus your research and assist in deciding which trade is right for you.

Apprenticejobs.ie advertises current apprentice opportunities. More opportunities will be posted in the spring and summer, as this is when most companies recruit apprentices, however there are opportunities available here all year.

Many larger companies with well-established apprenticeship schemes, such as ESB, Dublin Bus and Aer Lingus, recruit around February and March. It is a good idea to have your CV, personal statement, etc ready to go, so opportunities can be jumped on when they arise.

Aoife Walsh is a guidance counsellor at Malahide Community School, Co Dublin

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