John Fitzgibbon, Director of Further Education and Training at CETB. Photo: Jim Coughlan

Real options after the Leaving Cert

John Fitzgibbons

Ireland has, perhaps uniquely amongst our European Union countries, a preoccupation with going to college on the completion of post primary schooling.

The CAO points race, the ‘league table’, the conversation amongst parents at a GAA match, Feis or other event more often than not comes back to what college course sons and daughters aspire to, and the points required for entry.

One has to ask is this healthy, indeed if it is fundamentally flawed? Does every 17 or 18 year old know exactly what career they want to embark on? What if despite their best efforts they fail to achieve the required points? What if they are not ready for college, or if financial circumstances don’t support a college degree, or what if they want to start work after finishing school?

And bearing in mind that the current generation will have several careers before they reach retirement age, are their other options that allow a young (and not so young) person explore careers and opportunities outside the CAO/College system?

Thankfully, there are real, viable alternatives. Further education and training programmes, delivered nationwide by the Education and Training Boards, provide a range of options for people wishing to progress their education towards employment, or to enter into paid training for employment.

Funded by SOLAS, the further education and training agency, Ireland’s apprenticeship system has been reinvigorated, with an expanded range of options available for young people.

While the so called traditional craft apprenticeships remain strong (for construction related roles as electricians, plumbers, instrumentation technicians, etc.), they have been joined by a range of new apprenticeships in fields as diverse as property services, accounting technician, chef, insurance, cyber security to name but a few of these new “earn and learn” options.

All lead to a recognised qualification and involves both on and off the job learning opportunities.

Cork ETB’s Cork College of FET has at its core the principle of ensuring that all learners are provided with the opportunities and supports necessary for their personal and educational development and growth, that the options available support the economic development of the region, and that the pathways for learning and development provided by Cork College of FET support a truly lifelong learning experience.

FET courses provide another valuable avenue to further study and employment. The range of courses (generally of 1 or 2 years duration) is diverse, ranging from furniture design to veterinary nursing, from childcare to laboratory science.

For a school leaver who maybe is unsure of their preferred career path, or who did not gain the points required for college entry, PLC courses allow them to gain a qualification that provides opportunities to progress to employment or enter college.

Many of these courses have direct links into higher education programmes, both in Ireland and abroad, and the experience of many learners who have studied at this level before going on to college is that the intermediate step has made the transition to college life and study easier.

Learners in Cork are probably better catered for with more alternatives than anywhere else in the country. Cork College of FET delivers a wide range of courses that can cater for almost any ambition. Details are available at

So, if you are unsure about going to third-level, there is no need to panic. There are other options - no one option is intrinsically better than another; each learner has to choose what is right for them.

Cork Education and Training Board prides itself on providing a pathway for every learner, so move forward on the pathway to your future with us. Our motto is ‘One College, Seven Campuses, One Vision’.

John Fitzgibbons is the Director of Further Education and Training at Cork Education and Training Board.