What happens when you choose the road less travelled and forgo a full-time college course on leaving school? We chat to Craig Andrew about what he did instead.

The Leaving Cert can seem like the biggest thing in the world when you’re 18. It’s going to define the rest of your life. You’ve got to work hard if you want a job. You’ve got to work even harder if you want a well-paid job. And you’re just lucky if you enjoy it. That’s how Craig Andrew and many others felt when they were that tender age.

“It’s not like I didn’t try,” Craig says. “But nothing really spoke to me that much. So I applied for stuff I thought was relevant, with help from guidance counsellors, who I guess are looking at your mocks and the effort you’re putting in. But anyway, they put things on my CAO. Whether you want to do them or not is another thing.”

There’s people I could have chosen career paths for, out of my friends. Even in fifth year, they were already going for something that they wanted to do

Craig got his second choice, Business Computing in NCI. “At the time it sounded like the most boring thing I could do. And it turned out that it was,” he says with a grin. “I was only in there for about three months, and I’d say I attended six classes. I just felt extreme apathy, I didn’t care for it at all.”

This is painfully common amongst students who get into college with no real aim or purpose. “When you’re that age, I think it’s really hard to gauge what you want to do, unless…” he pauses. “There’s people I could have chosen career paths for, out of my friends. Even in fifth year, they were already going for something that they wanted to do. I was just one of those people who was just rushed into something I didn’t want to do.”

Photo courtesy 3fE

He never sat his Christmas exams and dropped out of NCI, still unsure of what he wanted to do. But he returned to education, taking a Fetac in media production and producing a portfolio for Visual Communications and Photography. “My portfolio just never cut the mustard,” he recalls.

He says a turning point came when he started to earn his own money. He got a job at Fitzpatrick’s Castle Hotel, in Dalkey. “When you start actually making money you realise the point of things a bit more,” he says.

Craig was working full-time and making good money, but also learnt that he was doing exactly what he didn’t want to do, though he does admit that he developed a strong work ethic and got some valuable life lessons out of it.

My dad would suggest the idea of sales through Audi, but as a 20 year old I never saw myself in sales. Which is kind of funny because that’s exactly what I do now

“I guess it taught me that I wanted to do something more personable, something in the same realm of the service industry, but something in which I could progress.” In hindsight, he proposes that maybe everyone should, at some point, have a job like that. Earning money at that age is addictive, he says. It gave him a sense of independence, which, he reckons, helped him find what he wanted in life.

Each job since then has brought Craig further away from education and closer to what he enjoys. “Not only did it take me further away from an ideal, education-wise, but when you begin employment at that age, you feel like that’s life. I had to pay rent, car insurance… Things like that. You develop expenditure by virtue of having a job, so it’s kind of a hole you dig yourself.”

From there, he took on a temporary job as a receptionist in the Ballsbridge Audi Centre. It was unfulfilling but the money and hours were social and consistent. “My dad would suggest the idea of sales through Audi, but as a 20 year old I never saw myself in sales. Which is kind of funny because that’s exactly what I do now,” he laughs.

Then he started work at The Beech Tree Cafe in Kilquade. “I’d learnt how to carry heavy plates at the hotel, so that was a big bonus!” he recalls. “I was also lucky that I was working for two extremely nice people.” They were Chris Flannagan and Siomha Guiney, and they introduced Craig to the world of coffee.

Craig Andrew – photo courtesy of Kate Hynes

It was a world he became obsessive about. “I’ve always gone through phases of obsession. Whether it’s photography, cycling, DJing or coffee…” he says. “Coffee was just a fuel for me before, but I became more quality-focused when I was working around it all the time at The Beech Tree.”

Stephen McCabe of McCabe’s Coffee noticed how interested Craig had become in coffee and put him to work as a trainer for McCabe’s. “He called it ‘barista auditing’. I’d train the staff and then give them individual feedback.” He also began working a number of part-time jobs with Roasted Brown and Bear Market. Craig was developing his skills in a niche community that was just taking off.

Having gained more valuable experience in the coffee world, Craig set up Fika coffee shop with Chris on Dawson Street. He sees this three-month period as a great learning experience in which he learnt about the running of a small business first-hand.

He also met a lot of people interested in what he was doing with Fika. It’s a central location with a lot of pressure. “I was the only one in there, so I knew everything that was going on. That was the most I’ve ever learnt, bar the job I have now.”

I met the right people at the right time. I’d say it happened more organically than if I’d gone to college, but it probably took a bit longer

He says the longer you’re in something, the more you care about it and, if you work at it, your progress accelerates. After a brief period in limbo following his stint at Fika, he found work as a manager at Love Supreme in Stoneybatter. He was asked to fill the role based on his experience in the coffee industry. “It was a perfect situation where they had nightclub experience and I’d just come out of a start-up cafe,” he recalls. “They really had a vision for it and it was exciting. I liked them, and that’s what was attractive: working, yet again, with people who I liked.”

Two years later he had an itch. “I was set on going to Canada, but then I was put in touch with 3FE, sort of by chance. I stumbled into Collin Harmon from 3FE and asked him for some coffee contacts in Canada.” Collin had never been to Canada, nor did he know any Canadians, but he asked Craig to apply for a position with 3FE.

“It definitely raised a brow. I would have been doing the same thing in Canada. The novelty was only in being in another country.” He chose to stay and continue learning. Craig took on the role of accounts manager with 3FE. “There’s a lot of charts, a lot of time in front of a laptop, but in equal parts, there’s time spent on the road or with other people, planning out their bars or cafes.”

Photo courtesy 3fE

He can now use his accumulated experiences from over the years in this new role, as well as learn more and more. It’s a widely recognised company globally, and one in which he feels he can move up the ranks and progress his career.

He considers himself fortunate. “I met the right people at the right time. I’d say it happened more organically than if I’d gone to college, but it probably took a bit longer.”

For anyone soon to sit their Leaving Cert, he says “you probably won’t find out if you like something unless you do it. Even if you think you’ll hate college, you should do it if you’re afforded the opportunity. But don’t do something you don’t want to do.”

The alternative isn’t easy though. “You need to work harder on those other options if you’re going to go down the alternative route.” he says. “Ultimately, if you find something you like and want to do, there’s probably a community out there for it.”

Patrick studied English, Media and Cultural Studies and now works as a freelance journalist. He writes about social and cultural issues, football and a bit of technology, as well as some fiction. He's confused by the world but finds solace in the smooth rhythms of Marvin Gaye.

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