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CAO – Check All Options – Education is key

Link Blog | August 14, 2019

Education and Employment in Ireland

August has rolled around again, and while for some that will mean evening strolls, and spot of gardening, for close to 60,000 students it means Leaving Cert Results and the CAO gauntlet. Many will now be reflecting on how lucky they are not to have to go through that time again, and others will opine that “They are only exams”. It’s true; the Leaving Cert is not the single deciding factor in a person’s life. Receiving bad results does not equate to doing badly in life. However, the fact remains that a good education is instrumental in enhancing opportunities for employment and earning potential within work as well as being a tool for personal growth, so we should encourage as many people as we can to stay in it.

Before going any further, I should say that a good education does not necessarily mean completing an undergraduate degree and perhaps doing a Masters. Once people have the foundation that the Leaving Cert provides it can mean learning a trade, learning new languages, learning how to code or training to be a fitness instructor. Whatever route is chosen, the point remains the same: those who engage in education and up-skilling, benefit from increased employment opportunities and higher salaries.

The well-known US think tank, the Pew Research Centre has published a reports in the past supporting this theory strongly. Their research found that college graduates aged 25-32 who are working full-time earned in the region of $17,500 more annually than their counterparts who only held a high school diploma. This pay gap has widened in recent years. What’s more, those surveyed with a college education were more likely to be employed full time (89% to 82% for high school graduates) and less likely to be unemployed (3.8% to 12.2%). The same holds true in Ireland. Graduates are much less likely to be unemployed here and command higher wages when in work. The last downturn also showed that jobs requiring a higher level of education were more recession-proof and less likely to be subject to redundancy or sent offshore. While all areas of employment were hit, those in less skilled jobs were hit harder. Graduates also benefitted when the upturn came. in 2013, 86% (50,000 out of 58,000) of jobs created were filled by those with a third level education.

The good news for Ireland is that more and more people are choosing to stay in education. Around 90% of students complete the Leaving Cert each year, while around 50% will go on to complete third level study (this compares very favourably to the rest of the  OECD). One of the big reasons for this decision to continue studying is that education has become more and more accessible. For current second level students looking to move to third level, but without the financial means to do so, there are grants available as well as access programmes for most universities in the state. For those slightly older than school uniform age, the mature student programme waives fees for people over 23 who have not already completed an undergraduate degree through the free fee scheme. State programmes like “Springboard” ( are providing millions of Euro for job seekers looking to participate in higher education and furthermore, some of the most renowned universities in the world, from Harvard to Oxford, offer MOOC (Massive Online Open Courses) to the world at large at absolutely no cost. The accessibility of further education for all should be a top priority for government and should continue to be made easier for those seeking to learn and to progress their careers.

Those receiving Leaving Cert results should forget about books for at least a short while! It really isn’t the end of the world if students don’t get 7 A1s (or H1s or whatever they call it!). As I have said not performing fantastically in the Leaving Cert doesn’t mean students won’t go on to have a fantastic life – not by a long shot. The current education system does not suit everyone, and many will not want to pursue a University degree, however, the ample opportunities that exist to pursue further education inside and outside of the classroom should be grasped. As a country we should promote those opportunities to learn not only as a means to opening doors in the world of work but to aid in the creation of a more vibrant, engaged and healthy society.

Cormac Spencer

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