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A-levels: Informed decisions imperative to career planning

Minister for Employment and Learning Dr Stephen Farry urges all those receiving results to avail of assistance.

Employment and learning minister Stephen Farry

THE importance of making an informed decision following exam results is imperative to effective career planning. This milestone often presents a crossroads in a young person's career development and I would encourage students, unsure of their next step, to take advantage of professional careers guidance to make well informed decisions.

My department's Careers Service provides impartial, advice and guidance on a range of career related issues, including further and higher education, apprenticeships, training, employment and voluntary work opportunities. A comprehensive guidance service is available for those hoping to progress into post 16 and 18 opportunities at this time.

Young people and parents can also access a wealth of useful information through the Careers Service website - www.nidirect.gov.uk/careers - which also contains contact details of all the careers advisers throughout Northern Ireland.

Alternatively during this exam period you can call our dedicated career helpline on 0300 200 7820 to speak directly to a careers adviser.

Whatever your circumstances when you get your results, options are available.

If you have not been offered a place on your chosen course, you may be able to find a place at university on a similar course using UCAS clearing. Your results may also cause you to re-think the courses you have already applied for.

Foundation Degrees (FDs) are professional and technical higher education qualifications, delivered by colleges but awarded by universities, which integrate academic and work-related study.

FDs were primarily developed to respond to the needs of employers and industry with the intention of increasing the supply of highly skilled technicians and associate professionals. They offer an alternative progression route from A-levels into higher education and articulation to a bachelors degree is one option for successful FD students. However, FDs are first and foremost stand-alone qualifications in their own right and, given their vocational focus and the heavy emphasis on the development of skills in the workplace, a FD will assist successful students to gain suitable employment.

Further education colleges offer a wide range of full time and part time qualifications, including FDs, throughout Northern Ireland. The high quality of education and training provided in colleges is geared towards preparing learners to enter the world of work in their chosen area with the skills and knowledge that today's employers want, in settings that prepare the learner for the workplace.

Professional and technical qualifications delivered by colleges have been developed in conjunction with employer bodies and are a strong first step in accessing your chosen career.

My department's apprenticeship programme will give you the opportunity to earn while you learn - to be in paid employment and achieve nationally recognised skills and qualifications in a variety of occupations. Apprenticeship training is delivered at your local further education college and by a number of other contracted training suppliers.

Apprenticeships are changing. My department recently published the new Northern Ireland strategy on apprenticeships entitled Securing our Success.

From 2016, Northern Ireland will introduce a new system of apprenticeships to grow and realign the economy, meet the skills needs of employers and offer young people the opportunity to develop skills that will be rewarded. Higher Level Apprenticeship pilots, at level 4 (equivalent to HNC) and above, are already underway in five sectors - ICT, professional services, engineering, life sciences and accountancy.

These will be extended from this September into other sectors with the FE colleges and universities working in partnership with local employers. As new HLAs are being agreed on an ongoing basis, careers advisers will have a complete and up-to-date list of what is available. Those interested in exploring the opportunities provided through a HLA can also contact their local further education college.

I would also like to take this opportunity to remind all readers that careers guidance is equally valuable to everyone, including those in work who are considering further education or training, or a change in career direction.

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