The census shows that between 2006-2011, the total number of post 15 year old students in the country has risen by 16.9% from 349,596 to 408,838 (figure 1).  This rise has occured despite the decline in the age cohort presently finishing school (there are 55,865 seventeen year olds, as opposed to 82,614 thirty year olds).  Given the present baby boom, numbers are set to grow even more strongly in the coming years which in turn will place enormous stress onto the third level sector to provide additional places, which will require a capital building programme and additional staffing given already very high staff-student ratios.

Figure 1

The data also shows a very clear relationship between the level of education attained and the employment status of individuals, with the higher the qualifications obtained the more likely the person is to be in employment (figure 2).  For example, the unemployment rate for people who had attained at most a primary education was 33.7% as opposed to 7.8% for those with a third level degree or higher.  This is reflective of the changing nature of the Irish economy as it becomes more dependent on high skilled manufacturing and services, and FDI investment, but is also reflective of the unemployment fallout of the present crisis with most jobs being lost in construction and the services sectors that require fewer qualifications.

Figure 2

In Census 2011, a new question on the main field of study of the highest qualification completed to date (excluding secondary school qualifications) was asked for the first time, extending a question that used to be directed only at third level graduates.  The data reveals the educational background and skills of people in the labour market.  Social sciences, business and law dominate, roughly three times the size of science, maths and computing.  Given the difficulties of recruiting in some sectors of the economy, such as IT, the latter seems to be one area that needs to grow.

Figure 3

The data in the three graphics above also provides some detail on gender.  Balance on the overall participation post-15 has improved slightly, with a growth in male participation.  Women in the labour force are more likely to be employed than males, regardless of qualification level.  There are notable differences in the fields of study taken by males and females, with males dominating engineering, manufacturing and construction, agricuture and veterinary.  Women dominate health and welfare, education, social sciences, business and law, and services.  This domination for some sub-areas of work is very stark, for example, women dominate child care and youth services (97.3%), secretarial and office work (96.7%) and hair and beauty services (96.3%).

Rob Kitchin

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