DESC Careers Information, Advice and Guidance Service

What are my options?

You may have come across terms like academic and vocational options or learning at school but what does this mean? Broadly speaking, you will need academic qualifications for professions (law, accountancy, teaching etc) while trades will require a particular set of skills. Be aware however that doctors and veterinarians also have specific skills though and many teachers would describe themselves as having a vocation.

A good rule of thumb however is that academic learning and qualifications are subject based. You will be in a classroom to do your course and likely will have an exam toward the end of your studies to test what you know about what you have been taught.

Vocational learning or training is more about developing specific skills for a specific job. This may be through college or it could be on the job training in the form of an apprenticeship. So which is better? That depends on you and the way you learn best! Often there is a feeling that A levels are better than a vocational course at college but that isn’t necessarily so and will depend on how you learn best and what you want to go on to do. It is perfectly possible to do a level 3 vocational course at college and still go on to Higher Education if you want to but you will need to choose the right course for you.


Sixth Form

Choosing to study ‘A’ levels will widen your knowledge and can increase your opportunities. You already know your abilities in certain subjects; the trick now is to choose the most appropriate combinations that will achieve your objectives of going to university or finding a better job. Sixth forms are attached to each secondary school. There are advantages and disadvantages to this. If it is the school you have already been at, you will feel comfortable and know your way around. Some people can find attending a completely new school a bit scary because many people there will already know each other.

Sometimes sixth forms on the Isle of Man work in collaboration to make the most of the A ‘Level and BTEC qualifications that are available across the island. A levels tend to be similar to traditional lessons at school. Often you will do some coursework in the year, with exams at the end of the year. A levels are more ‘academic’ than GCSEs, which means they normally involve a fair bit of written work and research. Choosing A ‘Levels can keep your options open to different types of careers in the future as you choose to study three or four different subjects. Find out more about choosing A ‘Level subjects using this guide Which A'Levels?

University College, IOM

If you can’t find the right mix at your school it could be possible to transfer or even combine your studies with courses at another school or at UCM. Going to College allows you the flexibility of work and study on a part time or full time basis. College is separate from school, so everyone turns up on their first day as a new student. University College, IOM offer A levels, BTECs, NVQs, Diplomas and Foundation Learning. College courses tend to focus on a vocational subject area for example engineering, health and social care, information technology to name a few. Courses are available at different levels; entry level, Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3. University College, IOM also offers degree level courses in some subject areas. Find out more about different types of courses at University College, IOM.


An apprenticeship or vocational learning means you would be working for an employer, earning a wage (at least £5.85 per hour in summer 2019), and studying for a qualification (often an NVQ or City and Guilds) at the same time. You could be linked to University college, IOM or a specialist training provider to make sure you get all of your work done for your qualification. Combining practical work experience and training, apprenticeships will enable you to qualify in a wide variety of areas - engineering, construction, catering, hairdressing, information technology, childcare to list a few. This practical way of learning is very popular - ‘get paid as you train’. Some people prefer this option to continuing in education on a full time basis but it is a big commitment and not a decision which can be taken lightly. For more details visit apprenticeships or talk to a Careers Adviser.


The job market on the Isle of Man is uncertain at the moment, although not possible to predict, you may find it difficult to find a job after you leave year eleven. It may be wise to keep your options open through applying for Level 2/3 qualifications at sixth form or college – you can always cancel if you change your mind, when you receive your GCSE results, if you find suitable employment.

Start looking at the job market and the type of vacancies that are being advertised, the qualifications, skills and experience employers are currently looking for. You may notice that employers can often advertise for positions that require a higher level of qualification than Level 2 (GCSE equivalent), certain types of experience and specialist skills. You may be successful in gaining a job in the short term but you do need to consider the long term implications of this.

Some professional researchers forecast that whilst the future cannot be entirely predicted more employers will be seeking higher levels of education in the future and qualifications could be considered as a type of ‘insurance’ in ensuring your employability in the future. That said you may find a job with the right employer who offers you the opportunity to train and gain qualifications on the job and be successful on this pathway. This could be very dependent upon the opportunities that are advertised when you leave school.

The types of jobs opportunities which are likely to likely to be available to you after leaving year eleven are ‘entry level jobs’ these positions are most likely to be available in Hospitality and Catering, Retail and offices. Employers will advertise ‘School Leaver’ jobs on the Job Centre website. You can start to search vacancies on this site here to see jobs as they become available.

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