Home » Future of Work » Making a way to effectively upskill and reskill employees across Irish sectors

Noreen Fitzpatrick

Employee Development Manager, Enterprise Employees and Skills,
SOLAS, The Further Education and Training Authority

Ciara Ní Fhloinn

Flexible Learning Manager, Enterprise Employment and Skills,
SOLAS, The Further Education and Training Authority

Businesses and employees are increasingly using upskilling programmes to ensure they have the right skill set to compete in an ever-evolving work environment.

Many of the 270,000 companies in Ireland are facing change at a rapid pace. While some of its workforce is highly educated, a total of 43% (CSO, Q3 2019) have only studied up to their Leaving Certificate. In addition, there has been a reluctance by companies to engage in Further Education and Training (FET), an area in which Ireland has lagged behind many other European countries.

Upskilling and reskilling to plug adult learning gap 

However, since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw an overnight transition to hybrid or remote working for many, there has been a huge upsurge in reskilling (learning skills for a potentially different career) and upskilling (developing skills in an existing role). This has included IT skills, developing online marketing techniques and management skills. 

Skills to Advance helps employers identify skills needs and invest in their workforce.

Collaborating with education and training boards 

At certain stages in life, employees might want the flexibility of blended or online learning. It is low-risk and an easy way to try new things. Meeting this need is ‘Skills to Advance,’ a nationwide initiative that provides upskilling and reskilling opportunities to employees in jobs undergoing change, to those working in vulnerable sectors or in emerging sectors such as sustainability and robotics.

They are funded by SOLAS, the state agency responsible for research, planning, funding and coordinating FET in Ireland, and delivered by 16 Education and Training Boards (ETBs). The ETBs help employers identify skills needs and invest in their workforce by providing subsidised education and training to staff. ETBs are responsible for the provision of 21st century. high-quality, learner-focused education and training to all adults across Ireland.

Flexibility is key for employees taking
part in learning, for example, being
able to do it in the evening.

Noreen Fitzpatrick

Flexibility name of the game 

Learning could be difficult to accomplish without flexibility. That’s why it must be offered in a way that benefits the employee and employer. “By having relationships with enterprise agencies and employer bodies, we have been able to design and develop new training programmes, which are micro awards,” explains Noreen Fitzpatrick, Employee Development Manager at SOLAS. This means learning in small chunks and geared to the needs of the business and employees.

“Flexibility is key for employees taking part in learning, for example, being able to do it in the evening. It should also suit the needs of the employer. That’s why courses are highly subsidised, especially for small businesses,” says Fitzpatrick. With employers recognising that upskilling increases innovation, productivity and retention, a total of 50,000 people have attended a Skills to Advance course since 2019.

Boosting provision for workplace education

Ciara Ní Fhloinn, the company’s Flexible Learning Manager, argues that people are increasingly encouraged to upskill in their current roles. This typically requires greater support than reskilling. “We have seen huge advancements in technology, so how people respond to the changes might impact their careers and jobs,” she says. 

Recognising that adult learners have busy lives and need to fit learning around their work or life commitments, the free online learning service ‘eCollege,’ was founded in 2008 by SOLAS. It now reaches around 25,000 per year, across a range of ages and employees operating in a multitude of industries, including pharmaceutical, construction and tourism.

“We offer courses that help people learn new skills to enable them to progress in their career, change careers or re-enter work after a break,” explains Ní Fhloinn. “It’s about helping people re-integrate into a learning space in a way they feel comfortable.” This includes a suite of IT courses, remote working support and courses on teamwork and office productivity.

With companies increasingly availing of FET and recognising the opportunities it provides for staff development, Ireland is beginning to plug the skills gap and, at the same time, arm its population with a lifelong commitment to learning.

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