Further education and training courses need to be made more responsive to labour market needs and develop closer links with employers, according to two reports.

More than 32,000 students take part in the courses annually.

Known as Post Leaving Cert courses, they are Ireland's largest provider of full-time further education and training.

An evaluation by the ESRI has found that the courses lead to positive outcomes for students but could be more tailored towards industry demands.

The body that oversees further education, SOLAS, has made a number of recommendations with a view to addressing this and Minister for Education Richard Bruton has agreed to the recommendations. 

The recommendations include ring-fencing 500 PLC places annually for new "pre-apprenticeship" courses in order to bolster apprenticeship training.

A number of additional measures are to be introduced to align other PLC courses more closely with skills gaps and job opportunities, including on a regional basis. 

More than half of all remaining PLC places must have a specific focus on particular jobs.

It was recommended that all PLC courses include structured work experience and there should be improved coordination between PLC providers at a regional level. 

Funding for PLC courses in areas where there is an oversupply of labour should be progressively reduced and PLC providers will also be required to offer more flexibility to learners by offering courses in non-traditional ways such as online.

SOLAS has also recommended that courses be made available on a year-round basis from next year.

Currently, PLC courses follow the traditional September to June academic timetable. 

As the name suggests, PLC courses are especially popular with students who have just completed their Leaving Certificate.

However, they are also popular with adults returning to education and courses typically run for one year.

Many PLC courses are focused on preparing students for entry to higher and other further education courses, while others train students directly for the labour market.

The courses are mostly run by the 16 Education and Training Boards. 

The ESRI evaluation found that PLC learners were 16% more likely to end up in employment, and 27% more likely to progress to higher education, compared to people with similar characteristics who left education after the Leaving Certificate.

The evaluation found that PLC learners were also more likely to be from less educated family backgrounds, were more likely to be older and have children, and had a higher incidence of special educational needs compared to Leaving Cert students who went directly on to higher education. 

The study found that the greatest single difficulty facing PLC students was financial, largely because of less financial support from their family, and because they were more likely to have caring responsibilities that restricted their employment opportunities.