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There's a 'national obsession' with the points race, says Harris highlighting CAO changes

The new enhanced CAO website now includes Further Education and Apprenticeship options.

THERE IS ALMOST a “national obsession” with the CAO points system, according to Further Education Minister Simon Harris, who urged people to look around the new enhanced CAO website which now includes Further Education and Apprenticeship options for school leavers.

The CAO website went live today at 12pm.

Speaking this morning, the minister said “it’s nearly this national obsession we have with the points race, filling in the form, and the anxiety and mental health impact, I mean, quite horrific the stress and strain we put on our young people at 17 years of age,” he said.

Harris said young people are told to ‘fill out this form and tell me what you want to do with the rest of your life’, which he said puts a lot of pressure on students.

“Of course, that’s not the way it is. I’m not intending to be flippant, that’s often the way it comes across to 17 year olds,” he said. 

“I mean, it’s okay not to know with great certainty what you want to do. And what’s the harm in saying I want to take a year of trying to find out and from a cost point of view, from a location point of view, the benefit of ETBs [Educational Training Boards] is they’re in every town and village in Ireland.

ETBs offers education and training programmes around the country.

“You can actually take the year and say – Cavan College, I think I’d like to do law. I’m going to do a year of pre-law and sample it, and then see if it’s for me,” he said. 

Harris agreed that there is a need to tackle the sort of stigma there may be in schools and among teachers who might not see a PLC course or an apprenticeship as an option for their students.

The minister said there is a huge need for a skilled workforce that will help deliver the housing and climate targets set by the government. 

He said politicians in the Dáil and around the Cabinet table talk about housing but “none of us are going to build any… none of us are going to retrofit your home”.

“So who do people think are going to do these things? It’s going to be the talented people in this country, who are passionate about wanting to solve housing, who are passionate about our climate,” he said.

While he said he would absolutely never tell anybody what they should do after school, he would encourage young people to explore the many opportunities that there are, and to get involved in both the construction sector and the green economy.

New apprenticeships are coming on stream, he said, stating that they recently launched the country’s first apprenticeship in wind turbine maintenance, something he said wouldn’t have been seen as a viable job in Ireland only a few years ago.

New apprenticeships in roof cladding, scaffolding and quantity surveying are also due to be announced.

“Sometimes we think of a very narrow view of what apprenticeships are. But you can actually do a Masters through an apprenticeship. So you could be working on a building site today and you could decide, ‘I want to keep going here, maybe I need to keep going, I need to keep bringing in an income, but I also want to upskill,’” he said.

When put to the minister that some young people might choose to emigrate when they qualify, the minister said his message to any young apprentice qualifying is “we really need you”.

“I suppose this is a national call, for all of us to step up and do everything that we can to solve what are probably the two biggest crises, apart from Covid, in our time – housing and climate,” he said.

Harris said the guarantee the government can give to young people is there is a pipeline of projects planned and the largest ever amount of funding committed to public investment in housing.

“You won’t be idle, and you won’t be out work,” he said. 

CAO applicants should get their application number and submit any additional information required of them in advance of the 1 February at 5pm.

All applications for further education and apprenticeships will continue to be made through the traditional channels, though applicants will be able to navigate to these channels from the CAO website.

The freephone number available for guidance on apprenticeships is 1800 794 487 and will go live today. It will be open 12pm-6pm Monday-Friday.

To apply to CAO go to and click on ‘Apply’. 

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