Here in Ireland the concept of attending college or university is what the majority of leaving cert students’ world revolves around. From as young as 16 students are fiercely encouraged to begin thinking about their future career and which college course will offer the fastest track to obtaining their job of choice. With guest speakers from a litany universities and institutes of technology doing the rounds in schools and conventions like Higher Options there is no surprise that Irish workers are the most over qualified in the European Union. Last year The Irish Times reported that about one in three workers are at least one educational level above the international standard for the job they are working in.
Degrees are seen as the new leaving certificate and it’s not a bad thing that education is encouraged, but why is it that so little attention is put on alternative post-leaving certificate options. Around 60% of all Irish second level students progress to higher education and this is expected to increase to 70% within the next decade. However, it’s hard not to ponder on the idea of young people being pressured into college courses when they would perhaps flourish in the various apprenticeships available in this country. Why is it that there is still a stigma around the idea of someone opting to pursue a trade when countries like Germany have a much higher rate of students who choose to pursue apprenticeships which have a much higher status than over here.
According to official statistics in 2017, 6,200 (or one in six) students in Ireland are dropping out. Now this isn’t an excuse to generalise and state that all these students would be better suited to trades or apprenticeships but there are important lessons to be learned from this. Many students feel that college is the only option for them when school finishes and this can be attributed to a culture of snobbery which discourages students from pursuing alternative options and often leaves them wasting a year (or longer amount of time) and thousands of euro in fees.
It needs to be addressed that more often than not young people are overly sold the idea of attending third level education and are left severely ill-informed about other options which allow them to learn a skill while earning some money. Last year saw a surge in students opting to earn and learn as the number of apprenticeships increased by 25%. This is a positive change but one that must be maintained. Between 2010 and 2016 the numbers were steadily declining but there is no better time to consider a trade than now in a country that is growing faster than ever. In my 6 years of school I was given talks from countless universities and colleges and talked to career guidance about what I should apply to in my CAO. Not once were my year, which consisted of around 100 boys and 100 girls, given any information about the other options out there and perhaps we would not see so many people drop out and bounce from course to course as they feel more lost than ever.