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Award Winning Careers Guidance and Support at Northern Regional College



Northern Regional College offers award winning careers guidance and support to help students – and their parents - navigate a way through the myriad of education, training, and employment options. Una O’Kane is a member of the College’s dedicated careers team. She explains that they offer a professional and confidential careers guidance service to current and potential students so they can make an informed decision about that next important step.

“With so many options out there, it can be overwhelming. We can advise on progression pathways and the potential for work placement, employment, and possible careers when students complete their course. Armed with this information, it’s easier for students to decide what’s best for them.

“We don’t tell anyone what they should or shouldn’t do. We simply make them aware of the different options open to them.”

With the economic crises starting to bite, Una expects that more students may decide to study at their local campus so they can cut back on their living and travel expenses.

“The grass may seem greener on the other side of the fence, but the most suitable course could be closer than they think at one of the College’s campuses Ballymena, Ballymoney, Coleraine, Magherafelt and Newtownabbey.”

Una has worked as a careers advisor at the College for the past 11 years and says it is an enjoyable and fulfilling role. 

“I studied A level Business and, since marketing was my favourite subject, did a marketing degree and didn’t think beyond university.”

After graduating, Una worked with Education, Recruitment and Marketing (ERM), a County Antrim company which focusses on targeted recruitment campaigns for the education sector. This brought her into regular contact with careers teachers and she was impressed by the interaction they enjoyed with their students. This in turn prompted her to do a postgraduate diploma in careers guidance at Ulster University’s Magee campus and, when Northern Regional College subsequently advertised a vacancy for a careers guidance advisor at its Ballymena campus, she jumped at the opportunity for a career change.

Professional development is an important part of her role and Una is a member of the Career Development Institute (CDI), the professional body for careers advisers and a member of Northern Ireland Schools and Colleges Careers Association (NISCA).

“Education, training and employment options are continually changing, so being an active member of bodies like CDI and NISCA helps keep on top of all the charges.”

The Careers Guidance team at Northern Regional College focus solely on offering careers advice and support to students. Una says this gives them a distinct advantage over their counterparts in schools who may have to juggle teaching commitments with offering careers support, making it more challenging for them to keep abreast of changing requirements and new education, training, and employment opportunities.

Una explains: “For example, a number of years ago, when students were applying to university, there was a big emphasis on personal statements. Some universities have now moved away from using personal statements and rely more on interviews and/or results. It’s important that students know what to focus on.”

Encouraging students to make the most of the College’s careers guidance service, she says it’s important that they do their research to find out what will work best for them. She also advises that they should keep an open mind and consider all options.

The College offers Apprenticeships in vocational areas, such as Brickwork, Carpentry & Joinery, Catering and Professional Chefs Civil Engineering, Electrical Installation, Engineering, Hairdressing, Motor Vehicle, Plumbing and Railway Track Engineering as well as traineeships in Brickwork, Carpentry & Joinery, Childcare, Computing, Engineering, Hairdressing, Health & Social Care, Hospitality and Tourism Team Leader, Motor Vehicle, Plumbing and Professional Chef.

“Demand for the apprenticeship and traineeship programmes is high so it is very competitive securing a place.  I have helped many students who were unsuccessful with their first choice to make an alternative plan.

“For example, I have encouraged students, who didn’t meet the entry criteria for the apprenticeship or traineeship programmes to consider applying for a Level 2 course at the College. This way, they can work towards getting an accredited qualification equivalent to GCSEs in their preferred vocational area and improve their English, Maths and IT skills and get Essential Skills qualifications which would put them in a much stronger position to apply for an apprenticeship or traineeship the following academic year.”

Una points out that the careers guidance service offered by the College is not just for school leavers, but for all current and potential students:  “If you’re already in employment but need an accredited qualification to help with career progression, we can identify different options. We can also discuss setting goals and different courses that would help with retraining, upskilling, or developing employability skills.”

Careers guidance is one of the services offered by the College’s Student Services team, which has been awarded the Matrix Quality Standard for Student Services, the gold standard certification underlining the College’s commitment to providing exemplary support to all students. The Matrix Quality Standard is the international standard for ensuring the quality of delivery of high-quality information, advice, and guidance. The latest Matrix accreditation review of Northern Regional College noted that the College’s Student Services Team continues to ‘punch above its weight’.