Careers in IT come with great salaries, exciting opportunities, and growing demand. All of that – and much more – is available to you. Whatever stage you’re at, there are pathways for you to build your career in IT.

Employers in Northern Ireland and further afield are looking for people with the IT skills they need. There is a skills gap: many high-growth businesses in industries such as cyber security, software development and artificial intelligence (AI) struggle to find enough people with relevant skills to fill all the jobs they would like to create.

There is no ‘right’ way into the IT sector. Whether you leave school after your GCSEs or follow an academic path all the way through to a master’s degree, you can build a successful career in IT. You could get an apprenticeship, join an employer’s school leavers scheme, or change your career path completely through an Assured Skills Academy. It’s just about finding the path that’s best for you.

  • After your GCSEs
  • Post A levels and other Level 3 Qualifications
  • Post Degree
  • Changing careers & returning to work
A-levels are still the best-known pathway towards an IT career after your GCSEs, but they are by no means the only route. There are lots of qualifications you can choose, including:
  • A-levels: STEM subjects are sometimes encouraged, depending on what you want to do next in IT.
  • BTEC Diploma: You can take a BTEC Diploma (equivalent to two A-levels) in a range of subjects, including IT, games development, creative media production, software development, networking and IT infrastructure and cyber security.
  • BTEC Extended Diploma: You have the same options as the above, but the extended diploma is equivalent to three A-levels.
  • OCR Level 2 Diploma in IT: Gives a solid foundation in a range of IT skills and an understanding of the core skills needed to progress to higher level qualifications.
After completing your A-levels or another Level 3 qualification, your next step might involve studying for a higher-level qualification or combining your IT studies with work. Your options include:
  • Level 3 or Level 5 apprenticeship in an IT-related subject: Level 3 and Level 5 IT apprenticeships are available if you’re aged 18 or over and employed by a participating company. An apprenticeship will give you the opportunity to work towards a recognised IT qualification, while also earning and building your practical experience in a real job.
  • Foundation degree or Higher National Diploma in an IT-related subject: If you’re interested in getting both the qualifications and experience you need to get started in the IT sector, a foundation degree is a great option. Foundation degrees are delivered by the Open University and the six Further Education Colleges in Northern Ireland
  • Full-time or part-time degree in an IT-related subject: Studying a relevant subject at university is a well-established way of building your IT knowledge before pursuing a career in the sector. In Northern Ireland, Queen’s University Belfast offers a variety of technology degrees, including in computer science, software and electronic systems engineering and software development. Alternatively, you can study computer science, interactive computing, games design, business information technology, artificial intelligence and other IT courses at Ulster University.
  • Employer sponsored degree or employment programme: Some IT employers in Northern Ireland offer school leaver programmes, including; AllState, Deloitte, Kanos, and PwC.
  • Professional qualifications at an FE college
  • Graduate Traineeship
  • Graduate employment from IT non-IT related Degrees
  • Assured Skills Academy: If you’re unemployed, underemployed or want to change careers, the Department for the Economy’s Assured Skills training programme offers pre-employment training to get the skills you need for the job you want. You’ll get a weekly training allowance, childcare and travel allowance, and 8-12 weeks training with a company that is recruiting. At the end of the training, you’ll be offered a job interview with the company. Employers involved in the programme are exciting, high-growth companies looking for people with drive, a positive attitude and determination to succeed.
  • Master’s degree in an IT related subject
  • Masters conversion course

Careers in IT are open to everyone, even if you’ve spent years working in another industry or out of the workplace entirely, there are opportunities for you. Here are some tips on maximising those opportunities.

  • Build industry contacts

    See what is happening on platforms like Meetup and Eventbrite so you can start to network with NI’s tech community

  • Start upskilling

    Online courses, such as those provided by Coursera and the Open University’s free Open Learn platform, offer great opportunities to start building the skills you’ll need for your IT career. Explore accredited courses at your local college or university, too.

  • Use transferable skills

    Your experience in a totally unrelated sector might have equipped you with transferable skills that will be useful in your new career. Teamwork, problem solving, and communication skills are among those that are important to IT employers.

  • Return to work schemes

    Some larger employers offer schemes aimed at people returning to work after a career break.

  • Apprenticeships, master’s degrees, conversion courses and more

    These options are not only available to school leavers and university graduates. Apprenticeships, master’s degrees and conversion courses are all great options for sparking a career change. Or you might consider the DfE Assured Skills training programme delivered through your local College.

Pathway Partners