'I had unfinished business' - Inspiring dad-of-two (41) who left school at 16, passed with flying colours later in life
Alan Hand (41) was in the library one day when he saw a sign on the notice board asking: ‘Are you over 21? Are you in receipt of social welfare for six months? If so, you may be entitled to do your leaving cert.”
This was an eureka moment for Hand, who’d left school at 16 to work and earn money, and had become unemployed for a total of two years.
The father of two, from Dublin tells Independent.ie: “I was the eldest of three boys. The reason I left early was I had to work; I’m from a working class family. At the time it wasn’t viable for me to stay in school. So I got a job in the retail sector from the age of 16 or 17.”
“From that point I would have always worked. I found myself unemployed and with the downturn and the crash in 2008/ 2009 onwards, you could see that the employment opportunities weren’t as they were in the boom.”
“At one point you could pick up the Evening Herald and there were two or three pages of jobs. Then all of a sudden work was thin on the ground.”
“In 2013/ 2014 I found myself unemployed and I thought I’d have to upskill. I basically enrolled in a two-year leaving cert programme to get back on the horse, and have a purpose to get up every morning and have somewhere to go when the economy turned again and I could send my CV out again.”
“Then hey presto, within a couple of weeks I was in a classroom. All the books were supplied by the college, we just had to get studying and make sure we were there every day.”
Alan joined a class of 14 other adults to study his leaving cert with the vocational training opportunities scheme (VTOS).
“While you’re doing your study you get a payment equivalent to social welfare, and you get a travel allowance as well. An awful lot of people don’t know about it but it’s been there since time immemorial.”
“It was daunting. You’re asking yourself ‘will I be able? Will I have the skill set?’ But there was no issue, I took to it like a duck to water. There were people in their 20s and people in their 50s and 60s, who hadn’t been studying in a while. Once you get off the blocks and get started, it all fell into place.”
“In VTOS the classes are generally small. That’s another advantage of going to do the leaving cert later.”
Alan sat six subjects, three higher level and three ordinary level: art history, history, biology, Irish, English and maths.
“Obviously you’re studying and working hard, but there’s great camaraderie as well. For biology we took a field trip to a bog to study biodiversity and habitats, and as part of our English course we went out to the theatre to see a Shakespearean play.”
“It’s life changing, without a doubt. Many people in my class kicked forward - some people went on to university, some people got jobs.”
“Just by doing the leaving cert, it was a confidence builder that enabled me to start applying to institutions and sending off applications and going for interviews, and you just have to be persistent. I went for interview after interview and that’s what you have to do, you have to be persistent.”
“What I was able to show employers was that I had a track record of employment, and I was able to show that when there were no jobs, I was able to look at other options like going back to do my leaving cert.”
Alan was hired as a temporary clerical officer in the Department of Social Welfare. Now he has a full-time permanent role with Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council. In time, Alan hopes to pursue evening study.
“[Getting the leaving cert] felt like a sense of achievement, it felt that I’d caught up on lost time. By not doing the leaving cert, I felt I’d unfinished business so by going back and completing it, it was a way of saying, I can draw a line under it now and have it done.”
“I would advise anyone that hasn’t done their leaving cert to get down to your local Education and Training Board (ETB, formerly VEC). A lot are free, and some even have a payment.”
AONTAS is Ireland’s national adult learning organisation and they provide information to adults who are looking to return to education and training. For information on options in your area Freephone: 1800 303 669 or visit www.onestepup.ie