Building skills and boosting employability through further learning

Further study can develop your skillset and provide the training needed to help you achieve your career goals

While the disruption experienced by students during the Covid-19 pandemic may tempt some to focus on joining the workforce instead of continuing with their studies once they graduate, others will look to further and higher education as a way of boosting their skills and helping them develop an edge in the jobs market.

Research shows that higher levels of education increase the employability and earning potential of graduates.

Central Statistics Office research on higher education outcomes found that graduates with level nine awards (master’s degrees and postgraduate diplomas) earned €655 per week in 2019 while those graduating with an NFQ level 10 qualification (doctoral degrees) had the highest weekly earnings of €815 per week.

This compares with NFQ level seven award holders (ordinary bachelor’s degrees) who earned €470 per week and NFQ level eight graduates (honours bachelor’s degrees) who had median earnings of €555 per week.


About 29 per cent of those who graduated in 2019 had re-enrolled in higher education the following year, an increase from 26 per cent for the 2018 graduation cohort, but still down from 33 per cent for the 2010 cohort.

Whether attained through full-time or part-time study, earning potential is certainly boosted by higher levels of education and employers will also often look for critical thinking and problem-solving skills in job candidates.

In addition to meeting new people, extending their network and learning for learning’s sake, most people on a “fourth-level” degree are there to develop these skills.

So, just what skills can you expect to develop on your course, and is this professional development really worth the time, money and effort?

1. Technical skills

First and usually foremost, students on postgraduate courses are there to develop the technical knowledge needed to work in a particular area.

For instance, they may have a general business degree, but want to develop specific skills to work in banking or fintech. They may have a good grounding in science, but want particular technical skills that could get them a job in the robotics industry. Or they may be looking to pivot to a very different area, such as from a law degree to digital marketing.

As well as gaining the technical know-how needed to work in a particular industry, a postgraduate also signals to an employer that you’re committed to developing your career in a chosen area.

2. Soft skills

They’re often referred to as “soft skills”, but they’re far from soft: these are the skills that toughen us up for life – both in the workplace and outside.

These are the skills like research and analysis, teamwork, written communication, oral presentations, critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, interpersonal skills and leadership.

A good postgraduate course should involve a good mix of projects and coursework that makes you work alone and as part of a team; they should require you to do research and look at problems from a range of different angles and they should, ideally, involve more than just essays but also require you to, for instance, give a presentation of your findings.

Whether or not you go on to work in an area directly related to your postgraduate degree, these skills will make you more appealing to any employer – or, indeed, put you in good stead to work for yourself.

3. Working at a different pace

Postgraduate courses aren’t just at a higher level of complexity; they also happen at a much faster and more condensed pace.

“It’s like being promoted to the Premier League,” says Ruairí Kavanagh, editor of “There’s a different pace and a different level of assimilating knowledge: you may be learning in one year what, in an undergraduate course, you might do in three.”

With this in mind, any postgraduate course will help students develop stamina and time management skills, and show employers that they can commit to a job.

4. Networking

In Ireland, like it or not, our relatively small size means that everyone knows everyone and, as a result, a lot of jobs come through our networks. On a postgraduate course, students meet with people interested in their specific career area. Over the long term, this means they can see how they’re progressing compared to their peers, be in the loop about job opportunities and earnings and simply have a support network for any tough times in their career.

Kavanagh says the range of skills developed by graduates who continue with their education from an undergraduate level eight degree to a level nine master’s or level 10 PhD greatly increases their employability.

When deciding what course will deliver the skills they need Kavanagh advises potential students to research their courses and to talk to alumni about the skills they acquired during their studies.

“It’s a good idea to look at the skills that alumni of your chosen course have,” he said.

“What are the alumni doing? Do you want these jobs? What is the structure of the course and how will it help you develop these skills? You don’t need to use espionage to find out: the information will be readily available on the course’s webpage, or through a careers adviser.”

College careers advisers provide a free and valuable service, and are usually available to graduates for a year or two after graduation. Some third-level institutions, however, may allow graduates to use the service for longer or, indeed, for life.

My MBA skills

* A lot of postgraduates are very specific and focus on a particular area – corporate finance, accounting and finance or marketing, for example – but the MBA is a more general business qualification which gives you a grounding in lots of lots of different disciplines.

* MBAs have a focus on entrepreneurship and leadership, which is especially useful for those who might want to start their own business, or have already done so.

* It was a hugely valuable learning experience, with a focus on academic business skills, strategy, corporate finance, entrepreneurship and marketing, and you gain an ability to think strategically and think of business problems in a different way and with a broader perspective.

* There was a big focus on data, as well as the ability to really interrogate a problem based on the evidence, which requires a lot of critical thinking and analysing. I feel I have the tools now to approach problems in a different way.

*MBAs are a good way to gain a network of contacts with like-minded people who are generally in very senior roles, which has been really valuable.

– Michael Bulman is alliances director of Kyndryl and president of the MBA Association of Ireland. He studied for his MBA in DCU.

Éanna Ó Caollaí

Éanna Ó Caollaí

Iriseoir agus Eagarthóir Gaeilge An Irish Times. Éanna Ó Caollaí is The Irish Times' Irish Language Editor, editor of The Irish Times Student Hub, and Education Supplements editor.