"We’ll have another day at the fair"

Alan shared his experience of returning to learning at the National Adult Learner Forum in February 2016. He has taken part in a number of high profile media interviews throughout the year and will represent learners at the European Commission’s Adult Skills Conference in Brussels during the European Vocational Skills Week. Adult learners are now being represented and influencing policy at local, national and European level.

I left school early at sixteen. As the eldest boy in the family, I always found work plentiful, you could open the Evening Herald any night of the week and there would be two or three pages of vacant jobs. However, at the age of thirty seven I found myself unemployed and you have to make calls in life, you have to try and plot the best road map, a new way forward. In my case I decided to visit my local Education and Training Board (ETB) in Abbeyleix, County Laois. 

Alan Hand
It was a dedicated centre for adult learning and I signed up to the Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme (VTOS), which offered me the opportunity to receive my job seekers payment for doing a full time course. It gave me somewhere to go every day, plus it allowed me some time to plot my next move, whether that be third level, employment or further learning.

“Adults are not taking their situations lying down”

There has been a quiet revolution going on around the country in the field of adult education. Adults the length and breadth of this country are going to their local ETBs, they’re putting their names down for courses, they’re looking at their options. Adults are not taking their situations lying down, they’re upskilling, they’re getting new qualifications and they’re preparing themselves for future employment opportunities. There’s an old Irish phrase and it goes like this: “Beidh an lá eile againn ag an aonach” which means “we’ll have another day at the fair” - essentially a second chance.

“How many people at sixteen or seventeen knew what they wanted to do?”

People from underprivileged backgrounds have found themselves in situations where it has been tough to access education for a variety of circumstances. At sixteen or seventeen years of age many people in this country have to make a decision about their future. How many people at sixteen or seventeen knew what they wanted to do?

It’s a very tough decision to put on young people and inevitably people fall through the cracks, people slip through the net. For those of us that do slip through the net we do get a second chance. I’m sitting the Leaving Certificate in June through VTOS and I would certainly encourage people to avail of it. If there are any adult learners trying to decide whether or not to do it, I would say go and do it. It’s the best decision you’ll ever make. It’s empowering, it will boost morale and people’s self-confidence.

If you have an inspiring learner story that you would like to share you can contact Leah Dowdall, Learner Advocacy Officer by email:, call 01 406 8220 or you can fill out our short learner story survey here: