Francis O' Toole Author – Careers Ireland

Students' embarking on their career journey – Is Féidir linn

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Archive for January, 2018

Subject Choice

Posted by Francis O' Toole on January 26, 2018


“I often ask people what they want to do, and I find it interesting that they reply: ‘I’ll tell you what I don’t want to do’,” says Ronan Kennedy, an independent careers coach based in Dublin. “If they say they don’t want to work with computers or numbers, I might reframe it by asking: does that mean you want to work with people. If they can find what it is about a job that they don’t like, it may bring them closer to what they do. People will often want to do courses based on what their interests are and what they are good at – and, often, their interests and likes are interchangeable.”

Deciding what you don’t want to do can spur the process of elimination and this is useful, says Bernadette Walsh, Guidance Counsellor with and  These websites provide profiles of 33 prominent industry sectors with viewpoints from various sector experts, with the aim of helping students to pick further or higher education courses as well as apprenticeships.

“We always encourage students to start broad and not to overlook the level six and seven options on the CAO form. These are valuable in their own right but also have links into many of the level eight programmes.”

Students who struggle with maths may also struggle with the content of some courses, including engineering and physics. “They do require some aptitude, so students who are not comfortable with maths should do their research and see how much is involved,” Walsh advises. “That said, there will always be a module that the student may not fully enjoy but they will get through it. Each year there will be a number of different modules, overall the student should like at least 80 per cent of them. highlights the 10 tasks associated with every job we profile; if, for instance, you don’t like four of thesetasks, is it the job for you?”

Source: Irish Times Article December 2017: click here

The importance of Subject Choice

Choosing which subjects to study occurs in both Junior Cycle and Senior Cycle. The choices made should reflect the interests and ability of the students, and take consideration of the possible career aspirations he/she may have.

In general, the Irish education system is not geared towards specific occupations or career pathways (the exception being the Leaving Cert Applied) – its aims are to provide a more fuller, rounded education. Therefore, for the most part, students can choose anything from the curriculum in order to gain a respectable and internationally recognised qualification.

The following are some general tips and factors to consider when choosing subjects:
  • Ability & Aptitudes: All students have different strengths so consider their abilities in different subjects and choose subjects in which the student is likely to get good grades.
  • Interest: Choosing subjects in which the student has a genuine interest in means they are much more likely to study them and do well.
  • Career: There are some subjects that are essential for some college courses and careers. It is important to check out these subject or entry requirements with a Guidance Counsellor or the course provider.



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Going to College: Missing the February 1 CAO deadline can have serious repercussions for your college application

Posted by Francis O' Toole on January 26, 2018

Guidance counsellor Aoife Walsh1
Guidance counsellor Aoife Walsh

There are two weeks left to the most important deadline of the CAO – February 1. Applicants must complete a number of essential tasks by this date. If any of these task are missed, it can have serious repercussions for the application and potentially the individual’s future.


February 1 is the standard deadline for registering with the CAO. The CAO does however offer a discounted rate (€30)for students who register before January 20.

Once an applicant has paid the fee, they will receive their CAO number. They can then continue to work on their application until February 1 .

Anyone who registers for the first time after February 1 will be considered a late applicant and will be restricted in the range of courses for which they can apply. Therefore all applicants should register with the CAO before 5.15pm on February 1.

Mature Students

As mature students are judged on criteria other than points and Leaving Cert grades, they must ensure that the CAO application is as close to perfect as possible by the February 1 deadline. Mature applicants are likely to be required to participate in testing or interviews to achieve a place at third level. Therefore, many institutions will not take applications for courses after this date. While mature students can reorder their preferences during the ‘change of mind’ period, they will find there are few courses that can be added at that time. Some colleges require mature applicants to submit an extra application to the admissions office – if this is required it must also be submitted by February 1.

Restricted Entry Courses

Restricted entry courses require applicants to complete some element of assessment, other than points, to gain entry. This may be a portfolio, audition, test or interview. These courses are often in the fields of art, music or drama but also include medicine, some architecture courses and others. These courses are clearly marked in the CAO handbook. They must be listed on the CAO by February 1 so colleges can make arrangements for applicants to participate in these assessments. Restricted entry courses can be rearranged and removed from the applicant’s preference list during the change-of-mind period. They may not be added at that time.


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Six ways to find a new career no matter what age you are

Posted by Francis O' Toole on January 23, 2018


Key things are to talk to people, make a financial plan, experiment, and get over yourself

Judge Jules, the DJ, retrained to be a solicitor.

Judge Jules, the DJ, retrained to be a solicitor.

Does your career feel like an old suit, tailored to a former version of you? Perhaps it never felt right, and you just wanted to fit in with your peers?

Over the past few months, as part of a series for the Financial Times, I have followed five people switching careers, seeking the working life that fits them now. The youngest is 33, the oldest 51. One former forex trader is training to become a costume designer, for example. Another is a stay-at-home mother turned City lawyer.

All five reinforce the oddness of deciding on a career in your twenties and continuing on that track until the day you retire – if, indeed, that day ever comes. Priorities change, tastes too. I know this: at 21, I had a big perm.

I will continue to track the career changers’ progress until July. But for now, here are six things I have already learned from them (with a partial debt to Herminia Ibarra’s book Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career) that might help you, if you want to find a new working life that fits.

Talk to people – but not to the wrong kind. Co-workers can be the absolute pits. They may say, however bad it is in here, it is much worse out there. This is all about them. Your departure will force your colleagues to re-evaluate their own working life. It is similar to a married couple announcing plans to divorce, setting off relationship anxiety among all their friends.

Avoid recruitment consultants, who may try to talk you into a role much like the one you are in. Instead, find people outside your usual work circles, and attend lectures and events. Talk to people of different ages.

These things may be easier than you remember – generational boundaries are increasingly blurred. Judge Jules, the electronic dance DJ (who retrained as a solicitor), told me about his discomfort at 18 when his dad came to his gigs. Now, he says fortysomethings would not be out of place. At least that was what he told himself.

Be prepared to experiment

Can you take an evening class, like Reny Morsch, who fitted costume-making classes around her financial services job? Or maybe follow someone as they do their job? Organisations such as ViewVo can arrange shadowing.

The gig economy may offer opportunities to dabble in new types of work rather than commit to a different full-time career.

Understand it takes time

For some, inspiration strikes like a lightning bolt. More often a whirring Catherine wheel that flies off in the wrong direction and is reignited later, only to fizzle out before rising again. Bad metaphors aside, a career transition can take a long time and run into problems and setbacks.

Make a financial plan

Be realistic about how much money you need to live on while you make the switch. Save up enough to see you through the hiccups.

Get over yourself . . .

Making a career shift can catapult you into no man’s land. You have lots to give: experience gained elsewhere is invaluable. But also much to learn.

That is not just a difficult adjustment for senior executives to make. I was surprised to hear Richard Alderson, the founder of Careershifters, an organisation that helps professionals switch, say twentysomethings can be more status-conscious than thirty- and fortysomethings. The ones who adapt best are those who are not overly preoccupied with status.

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Employment rates for graduates return to boom-time levels

Posted by Francis O' Toole on January 19, 2018

ICT graduates earn most while those who hold arts degrees have lowest incomes

Employment rates for graduates have returned to levels last seen during the economic boom, according to a new report.

A survey of more than 18,000 graduates from the class of 2016 shows that 70 per cent of all graduates are in employment. Most were in Ireland (60 per cent) or overseas (10 per cent).

Of the remaining graduates, many went on to further studies (31 per cent), while smaller numbers were seeking employment (5 per cent) or unavailable for work (3 per cent).

The Higher Education Authority report is based on data collected nine months after graduation.

Overall, it finds the general upward trend in improved employment prospects for graduates has held up and the proportion of graduates now finding work in Ireland is back at pre-recession levels.

It finds that graduates in the education sector – such as teachers – had the highest levels of employment (85 per cent), though many find it difficult to secure permanent positions.

ICT or technology graduates had the highest average salaries with 38 per cent of graduates earning €33,000 or more.

By contrast, arts and humanities graduates were the least well-paid and had lower rates of employment. A total of 15 per cent of graduates were earning less than €13,000.

Honours degrees

Overall, as expected, salaries for graduates rose in line with their education levels. For example, a total of 40 per cent of honours bachelor degree graduates earned under €25,000.

At doctorate level, about 35 per cent earned more than €45,000, compared to 18 per cent with higher diplomas and 3 per cent for honours bachelor degree graduates.

Employment rates, too, are much higher for those with college degrees.

The unemployment rate last year for honours bachelor degree holders was 3 per cent, compared to 9 per cent for those with an upper-secondary education and 13 per cent for those with a lower-secondary education.

Dublin and Cork are where most Irish university graduates found employment.

While 42 per cent found work in the Dublin region and 17 per cent in the Cork-Kerry region, just 4 per cent ended up in the southeast, 3 per cent in the Border region and only 2 per cent in the midlands.

Regional jobs

The study does not include graduates from the Institutes of Technology which are significant players in regional development.

Nevertheless, there is concern more university graduates are not being employed in the regions.

Dr Graham Love, chief executive of the HEA, said: “The evidence continues to point to a higher education qualification meaning that you are less likely to be unemployed and tend to have a higher starting salary.

“There is a challenge, however, for us to create more graduate employment opportunities outside of Dublin and Cork in order to ensure better regional development.”

He said the planned development of technological universities was one way of addressing this.

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CAO countdown: Advantage of Hear and Dare schemes Supports available for applicants with a disability or from disadvantaged backgrounds

Posted by Francis O' Toole on January 17, 2018


The Dare scheme has moved away from the exclusive use of medical criteria towards a holistic one. Photograph: iStockphoto

Third-level admissions schemes can play a crucial role in providing access to college for students with disabilities and those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

Most colleges allocate reserved places to be competed for at reduced CAO points by those who are deemed eligible.

The two main access schemes are the Disability Access Route to Education (Dare) and Higher Education Access Route (Hear), for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Whether you secure a Hear or Dare place depends on the number of applicants to each programme. If there are four Dare places for example, and four qualifying applicants, all will secure a place on reduced CAO points.

If on the other hand there are 40 eligible applicants, the four with the most CAO points among those who do not secure a place within the mainstream CAO system secure the places.

While most colleges participate in Dare and Hear schemes – about 20 in all – not all do.

However, colleges outside of these schemes still offer a range of supports including disability support services. Whether you get a place through Dare or not, you are still entitled to avail of disability-related supports once you have a verified disability. A list of participating colleges is available on


Disadvantaged students who apply through Hear must meet a combination of financial and social indicators.

On the financial side, your total family income (gross income before tax and PRSI are deducted) for 2016 must be below €45,790 (there are higher income thresholds for families with more than four dependants).

Add €4,670 to the total income for every sibling/parent enrolled in a full-time college, university or Post-Leaving Certificate course. Applicants must also meet a combination of at least two of five other indicators, ranging from whether a student’s parents are medical card holders or welfare recipients.

Susi maintenance grants are there to assist applicants from low income backgrounds, many of whom may not necessarily meet the full Hear criteria. Applicants to Hear should also apply to Susi.


Students with disabilities who are applying to the Dare scheme need to meet two criteria relating to evidence of disability and educational impact.

The scheme has moved away from the exclusive use of medical criteria towards a holistic one which recognises the impact that having a disability can have on a student’s experience of second-level education.

The educational impact criteria involve both an applicant and school statement. This details how the applicant may have been educationally impacted because of their disability in secondary school.

For students applying on the basis of dyslexia or dyscalculia, applicants are required to submit a full psychological assessment report of any age in which their diagnosis is clearly outlined.

Applicants will also be required to submit attainment scores, either from school-based testing or from testing administered by a qualified psychologist, which have been carried out within the previous two years.

As with all other disability categories, an education impact statement must be included in the application to Dare.

Application dates

If you are interested in applying to the Dare or Hear schemes, you must apply to the CAO by February 1st and complete the online application in the “my application section” of your CAO application by March 1st. You need to post the required documentation by registered post to the CAO by April 1st.

For anyone interested in applying to Dare or Hear, advice clinics are being held nationwide on Saturday, January 20th, see for more information.

According to the Association for Higher Education Access & Disability (Ahead), approximately five per cent of students attending higher education in Ireland are registered with disability support services.

For further information about access and the supports available contact the colleges you are interested in attending.

Brian Mooney – Irish Times

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5 Things to do with the CAO

Posted by Francis O' Toole on January 17, 2018

1. Register for the CAO. If you haven’t already registered for the CAO, do so immediately. Many applicants delay this step as they feel they are not ready to complete the application.

However, no applicant will be at a disadvantage for completing this step early. Applicants can continue to work on their application until the deadline of February. The CAO offers applicants a discounted rate of €30 to register by January 20. The application form is very straightforward and allows applicants to save their work and return at any time. The most difficult part of the CAO process is deciding which courses to apply for and the order in which to place them.

2. Read over course descriptions and CAO student resources

It is likely that applicants have been reading course descriptions and attending open days since September. At this point, it is possible that all that information is starting to merge. Choosing courses is not a light-bulb moment, rather a gradual process. It is prudent to remind yourself of the details of the courses you are considering – this will help with placing them in order of preference at a later date. Applicants should also revisit the student resource section of the CAO website to ensure they have a clear understanding of the CAO process.

3. Check eligibility for HEAR, DARE and SUSI

Applicants may be familiar with these two access schemes and the SUSI grant, but all too often students who should qualify are unaware of their eligibility and don’t apply. For example, DARE stands for Disability Access Route to Education, but often students who do not identify as having a disability are covered by this scheme. Double check the criteria, especially the income thresholds for HEAR and SUSI, and indicate your intent to apply on your CAO form where appropriate.

4. Place courses in order of preference

All CAO courses should be listed in order of preference only. In my experience, applicants often have a small number of courses, which will be at the top of their preference list, but after these, things become less clear. It can be helpful to return to the order of preference list a number of times as the process of trying to order courses in itself can force applicants to drill down into the slight differences between courses and colleges. Do this early and revisit often.

5. Make an appointment with your guidance counsellor

This is a very busy time of year in schools. It is likely a large number of sixth-year students will also wish to meet the counsellor before February 1. The counsellor can help in a number of ways: suggesting extra courses based on what you have already found; discussing the pros and cons of your courses; challenging your ideas and helping clarify your order of preference list. Rushed appointments are no help to anyone, so book one early and prepare well for it.

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


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CAO countdown: Alternative career routes for school leavers

Posted by Francis O' Toole on January 11, 2018

Post-Leaving Cert courses, apprenticeships are a valuable alternative to the CAO

There has been an increase in the number of new apprenticeships offered to students across a wide range of industry sectors in recent years. Photograph: iStock

Even though most of the focus for college choice is on the CAO system, it’s important to remember there are a wide range of other career routes.

The further-education sector has opportunities for students who are gifted in specific subject areas or who may not secure the points they want through the CAO, but who may do very well in a post-Leaving Cert (PLC) course in the area they want to study.

In the past two years there has been an explosion in the number of new apprenticeships offered to students across a wide range of industry sectors, including financial services.

These “earn and learn” opportunities include paid work placements of up to €20,000 per year, combined with study in a further education college or institute of technology. These can result in academic awards ranging from higher certificates (level six) to honours degree (level eight).

Students who opt to pursue further education, provided they secure distinctions in all eight modules of a PLC programme, have a very good chance of securing a reserved place in their preferred CAO course for 2019.

In the past the links between further-education programmes and third-level were largely confined to courses offered within the institute of technology sector, but last year the university sector expanded its engagement with colleges of further education.

This trend is being driven in part by the realisation that students who excel in a particular discipline in further education are likely to progress successfully through a similar programme at third-level.

A database of such linked programmes is available on The most comprehensive source of all CAO and PLC course information is /

Practical skills

PLC programmes also offer opportunities to gain practical skills for employment in a trade or craft, such as auctioneering, hairdressing, beauty, or fire and ambulance services. For many, a practical skill acquired within the further education sector is a passport to a well-paid, secure job.

Those interested in a course offered through their local PLC colleges should visit their websites and explore their course offerings.

Places in further education courses are offered through an online application process on each institution’s website, as there is yet no central application process for the further-education sector. There may be a small application fee at that stage.

All applicants are called to interview to determine suitability. If candidates are deemed suitable, places are offered on a first-come, first-served basis in most cases, making it very difficult or impossible for new applicants to secure places later in the year.


Apprenticeships are also bouncing back, after the number collapsed during the recession.

While most of us are familiar with craft-type apprenticeships, there are many new programmes appearing.

These include apprenticeships in insurance practice, industrial electrical engineering, polymer processing technology, manufacturing technology and apprenticeships for manufacturing engineers, accounting technicians, commis chefs, and those in international financial services and ICT.

Further new apprenticeships are to be submitted for validation to Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) shortly and, subject to successful validation, are expected to get under way this year. For more information, visit

Construction is also a big growth area. There is now a dedicated website managed by the Construction Industry Federation ( for young people interested in registering their interest in a particular trade. Prospective employers can contact them directly through this site.

Apprenticeships are going to be a big growth area. There are currently about 12,000 apprentices with 4,900 participating employers and there are plans to expand those numbers dramatically by the end of the decade.

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Time to start preparing for life after the Leaving Cert

Posted by Francis O' Toole on January 9, 2018

Don’t be overwhelmed by the challenge of choosing what to do after you leave school

Consider the evidence - decide what criteria you should factor into your decision. Photograph: iStockphoto.


Life is a journey of exploration and discovery. Any adult reflecting on their own career journey since leaving school realises that expecting a young person to have decided on their occupation for life in sixth year is completely unrealistic.

Nobody, including myself at 63, knows what the next three to five years will bring. Both you as an 18-year-old and I at 63 go through the same process to determine our future career path. We both look at our life experiences, our interests and aptitudes, likes and dislikes, opportunities, what our financial and personal circumstances offer us.

The only difference between us is I have more clues buried in my life journey than you have. You will probably engage in this reflection and decision-making process at least 15-20 times between now and when you are physically incapable of meaningful career activity – which may be 70 years away, in your case.

Career choices will recur many times over your lifetime. The options at the end of second-level education are the first significant career choices you will make, but they are not life-determining.

Therefore, don’t get anxious or distressed by this decision-making process now, as you’ll face it again throughout your life. The decision about next September will simply determine what you will commit to for next year, or, with college choices, three to four years. It is perfectly normal to tell your guidance counsellor you have no idea now what to do after the Leaving Cert.

The clues to your future are buried in your past


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College abroad: learning to deal with the culture shock

Posted by Francis O' Toole on January 9, 2018


For Irish students studying abroad, heavier workloads, less spoonfeeding and more independent learning can be a jolt to the system, but also a rewarding experience

Rising numbers of Irish school-leavers are opting to study abroad in countries such as France, the Netherlands and Denmark. Photograph: iStock

The fees are cheaper. College accommodation is easier to get. Entry requirements are less demanding. Their universities rank higher than in Ireland.

It’s little wonder, then, that so many Irish school-leavers are opting to study abroad.

While achieving a degree from a European university is undoubtedly a great opportunity in fostering confidence and independence, many students are in for a shock.

Workloads are typically much heavier. There’s little or no spoonfeeding of lecture notes to students. There is no culture of teaching to the test. Instead, students are required to become independent learners and solve problems for themselves.

Coming from a Leaving Cert system dominated by “teaching to the test” and rote-learning, this can come as big jolt for many Irish school-leavers.

Guy Flouch of Eunicas, a Clare-based company which facilitates the transition to European universities, says while Irish students benefit from a high standard of teaching, the learning challenge can be daunting.

“The culture of independent learning or problem-based learning can be a bit of a shock to Irish students and takes a few weeks to get used to,” he says. “As can adjusting to a new culture and lifestyle and indeed a heavier workload. Some will miss the ‘craic’ as friends who stayed at home appear – through social media – to be having a great time.

“But this will become less important as time goes by and they forge ahead and start to enjoy new ways of living and thinking.”

More than 2,200 Irish students are currently studying in colleges across Europe.

Tom Finn from Co Kildare, a second-year international business student at Maastricht University, found it difficult to adjust to college life in the Netherlands during his first few months abroad
Tom Finn from Co Kildare, a second-year international business student at Maastricht University, found it difficult to adjust to college life in the Netherlands during his first few months abroad

Tom Finn from Sallins, Co Kildare, a second-year international business student at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, is one of them. He agrees that the first few months can be very difficult.

“I didn’t really know what to expect before heading to Maastricht,” he says. “I certainly didn’t think I would be so responsible for my own learning as students here run the tutorials themselves with presentations, reports and debates, while a tutor supervises, to ensure we stay on topic.


“This is a big change from secondary school, but it does give greater independence and responsibility to us, the students, which I have come to appreciate.“Also, the workload was much bigger than I was expecting and it took some getting used to. And living away from home was tough. I still miss my family and the home cooking from time to time and I’d love to be able to bring my washing home on the weekends too. But it does get much easier after a while.”

The 19-year-old says the best way to settle into college life abroad is to make a big effort to socialise.

“Starting university is a very different experience, especially when it’s in a foreign country where most things are unfamiliar,” he says.

“I’d recommend getting out and meeting people as the first semester can be lonely if it’s your first time living away from home, so socialising and making new friends definitely helps to overcome this.

“Joining a sports team, club or association is a really easy way to meet people and helps to settle in quicker.

“Overall, studying abroad is a completely different experience and an opportunity to try something new, and I am actually really glad that I did it.”

Molly Fitzmaurice from Wexford, who graduated recently from Amsterdam University College with a liberal arts and science degree. She felt homesick initially but went on to make good friends
Molly Fitzmaurice from Wexford, who graduated recently from Amsterdam University College with a liberal arts and science degree. She felt homesick initially but went on to make good friends

Molly Fitzmaurice had a similar experience. Just graduated from Amsterdam University College with a Liberal Arts and Science degree, the 21-year-old experienced a lot of loneliness when she first arrived in the Dutch college.

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Careers News

Posted by Francis O' Toole on January 9, 2018



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