Tuesday, September 07, 2021

Students gather at Gaelcholáiste Phort Láirge to celebrate their Leaving Cert results.

As I See It: Catherine Drea’s fortnightly column as published in the Waterford News & Star


I’VE been asking young people heading off for college, what they are going to study. It ranges from traditional courses in nursing and medicine to courses I can’t even visualise, tech this or digital that. As I chat to them I wonder how they will navigate the new world of work in the future.

None of the young people I have been asking mention apprenticeships or manual work. In day to day life I notice that these are some of the areas where there is a massive labour shortage. Now if a group of young women got together and learned the skills, there are openings for DIY angels who will come and fix all the broken stuff in our homes and do it tidily and with pazazz.

Some of them have been telling me that more and more jobs will be done by computers and what they call AI or Artificial Intelligence. It sounds like we are about to have a second industrial revolution where machines are refined and finally out class humans.


‘I could never have foreseen any of my working life ahead, the day my English teacher threw my copy back at me and brought the word failure into my life’


In education, medicine and retail, we have already experienced the switch to online classes, form filling, shopping and even consultations with our GPs. We have had a taste of technical support, online maintenance of our phones and systems. There will be much more of this in the future.

How different things are now, to when I did my Leaving Cert and walked around Dublin trying to find an Art College I could sign up for!

While I loved English at school, apparently I couldn’t answer the sample exam questions without going off into “irrelevant flights of fancy”. The crux of it was that the teacher was afraid that I was going to fail the exam so she came down heavy on my writing.

“This is trite,” she muttered as she threw my homework back at me. “If you keep this up you will FAIL.”

So sadly English became a trial and although I got my honours in the Leaving Cert, and a place in college to study it, she had put me off studying and writing about dead poets. That was going to be the end of me and writing.

On the other hand my art teacher was kind. She wore tweed skirts and thick socks. She loved paint and mess and was quite at home with chatting in class and even wandering around the room. Art was relaxation and our teacher didn’t really rate exams as a judge of our abilities.

My intensifying love affair with art began to cause friction when I suggested to the careers teacher that I might go to Art College. That place is a “den of iniquity” she said, surely a commercial course to learn typing and shorthand would be a safer option “for a girl.”

Adults including all the elders in the family tried to advise me to not waste my time, and to find something I could do “until I got married.” They began to suggest other good options for girls; applying to the ESB or maybe the Bank, becoming a Domestic Science teacher, maybe have a career in nursing?

I’m not sure where I got the determination to follow my instinct. But I always think about the unusual path I followed, when I see the kids nervously going to college at this time of the year. I wonder how they will make decisions about what direction to take in life.

The main thing I have learned from my less conventional path is that creativity is an important element in life and work. So don’t, at your peril, turn away from imagination and innovation.

I eventually found the Art College in Dublin, and ended up spending six years immersed there. I sought out the departments where teachers were the most chilled and encouraging; the Print Room, Photography and Textiles. These classes reminded me of my grandfather’s cabinet making workshop and I felt quite at home.

Art training led to education, teaching art and creativity, first at second and then at third level. Teaching led to developing skills in group facilitation and leadership, which moved my work to the wider community. This innovation led to the setting up of a non-profit organisation which developed a whole swathe of projects across the country. After undertaking a Masters in Entrepreneurship that led to a Post Graduate training in Psychotherapy.

After the crash of 10 years ago I began working from home, picked up my art practice again and finally started writing. Through it all, I managed to stay open in spite of many closed doors. So don’t waste time knocking on any, just dream, imagine, play.

I could never have foreseen any of my working life ahead, the day my English teacher threw my copy back at me and brought the word failure into my life.

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By Catherine Drea
Contact Newsdesk: 051 874951

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