Thursday 14 December 2017

Katherine Donnelly: Not enough students heed tech message in CAO applications

Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

So the Leaving Cert class of 2017 have spoken. Well not entirely, as 9,707 CAO applications came from mature students, down 573 on 2016.

They have shown that they, or perhaps their parents - usually mothers - are keeping a close eye on where the job opportunities are, or will be when they graduate.

There has been a further growth in interest this year in disciplines such as business, law  and construction, continuing a trend that emerged once the worst of the recession was behind us. These areas are the ones traditionally associated with a strong economy, so no surprise they are back in fashion with a bang.

But there are, and will be, jobs aplenty too in careers that were not around in mother’s day and for which there is a crying need for more candidates.

An overall 5pc drop this year in applications for courses in engineering / technology will be met with disappointment because of huge shortages in, and demand for, such graduates if the country is to sustain its economic ambitions into the longer term. Despite that, it is interesting that some courses in this field, those with a more direct career focus, have seen strong demand this year.

Recent figures from the Higher Education Authority showed how, among the graduate class of 2015, the discipline with the highest proportion of honours degree holders working in Ireland nine months later was information and communications technology (ICT), second only to newly-qualified teachers, and ahead of those with a health / welfare qualification. ICT graduates also tend to be the best paid.

The reasons why CAO applicants are shunning such opportunities are complex. Some students feel they don’t have the required aptitude, some may not understand the career pathways. Or perhaps their mother, who research shows has a strong influence on CAO choices, does not.

There is also a big job to be done at school level in helping students lay the foundations for new, 21st century jobs.  Many are still not confident around, or sufficiently proficient in, maths, while a Leaving Cert subject in computer science is only now being drafted.

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