Solas sets its sights on skills shortages

Further education and training body to invest €600m this year in courses for 360,000 people. Focus to switch to IT, business and other areas where career opportunities have been identified

In demand: theatre and other specialist nurses are in short supply. Photograph: Stockvisual/Getty

In demand: theatre and other specialist nurses are in short supply. Photograph: Stockvisual/Getty

 

Each year further education and training provides a gateway to employment for thousands of people who may have left school early or who have been unemployed for a long time. This year, more than €600 million is being invested by Solas (formerly Fás), the further education and training authority, to provide courses to more than 360,000 people around the country.

Solas was established two years ago and 2015 is the first year it is bringing together an integrated plan for further education.

This involves working with education and training boards (ETBs), voluntary secondary and community comprehensive schools, and State agencies and bodies. Solas is responsible for funding, planning and co-ordinating training and further education programmes while the other bodies deliver the courses.

Career opportunities

Skills shortages have been highlighted in areas such as business administration and management; the green economy; financial services; IT, manufacturing/ engineering; sales, marketing; and transport.

However, even though skill shortages have been identified; implementing new courses to meet with upcoming opportunities will be a slow process, says Ciarán Conlon, director of operational planning and stakeholder engagement with Solas.

“When talking about bringing on new courses, you can’t just throw out the list and bring in a new list every year. That wouldn’t be practical because the overhead cost of developing a course is quite significant when you consider all the research and curriculum design that has to go into it.

“You have to consider the skills of the teaching staff that you have and the continuing professional development requirements, so it is quite a task to change it. Therefore, you would expect to see a gradual and evolutionary change of your mainstream,” he says.

“Mainstream” courses are those which have been running for more than five years. Currently, there are 27,129 people enrolled in art, craft and media further education courses in Ireland, while 10,968 people are taking a course in hairdressing, beauty and complementary therapies.

In the future opportunities identified by the SLMRU however, these areas are not ones with skills shortages and employment in these area is broadly in line with national employment figures. Over time, Solas aims to reduce the number of people on such courses.

“If we have the SLMRU telling us, ‘look this area is really going down’, then an ETB comes back to us with their funding request that says they want to do more of it, we’d say: can you please have another look at that because there is a mismatch there,” says Conlon.

“It takes a bit of time to actually change that because we can’t change everything overnight, but you can have a strategic view over the long term.”

Area of concern

Education and Training Boards have the ability to contract within the private sector for any skills shortages or teaching experience required for new courses. “This can also be used as a way of continuous professional development,” says Conlon. “So you can test something out using a private contractor, then you can decide if you want to actually invest to develop your own staff in that particular area as well.”

Close co-operation between the training providers and Solas is a key part to implementing the strategy, he says.

“Around this time of year our colleagues in the SLMRU will go out to each ETB and will give them a skills profile of their particular area and discuss the micro and the macro position in terms of what looks like being required over the next period.

“The ETBs value that because it gives them a good steer as to the direction they should be going. But also, they have to marry that to their contracts with local business before making their decision. With the decision to develop [a course] you’re committing quite a bit of expense, so you do need to be fairly certain that you’re going to get a return on success and longevity,” says Conlon.

The largest number of people currently engaged with further education and training are those on what Solas categorises as “general learning” courses.

More than 160,000 people are on these programmes, which en-compass Youthreach (for young unemployed school leavers age 15-20); adult literacy pro-grammes; prisoner education; community education (which does not have a focus on labour market objectives); back-to-education; and ESCOL, an English course mainly catering for immigrants.

There are also more than 30,000 people on IT courses and business administration and management courses. These are two sectors that have been identified as having skills shortages. Many of the shortages in these areas, however, are for managerial or analyst positions.

Solas’s FET courses provide up to FETAC (Further Education and Training Awards Council) Level 6 qualifications, which is a level above Leaving Certificate and below bachelor’s degree level. The training, says Conlon, provides for entry level jobs and acts as a progression route to higher education.

Advantages

Other skills shortages identified include multilingual clerks and customer support, sales and marketing, tool-makers, welders, mariaculture (the cultivation of marine organisms for food), lorry and truck drivers, food processing operatives and scientists.

Another key aim of the FET strategy is to improve the “standing” or general view of further education in Ireland.

“Irish society values primary education, secondary education and third-level education, but the standing of FET isn’t seen as strong in society,” says Conlon. “Vocational education or second-chance education is not perceived as having the same value. One of the aims of Solas is to articulate the advantages, the requirement and the need for this broad church of provision.”

While the implementation of the € 600 million strategy is slow, Conlon is confident that by the end of the strategy period in 2019, FET in Ireland will be in a much stronger position.

“It’s true we and the ETBs are finding our feet, that’s certainly true. I came from the Fás side of it and working with colleagues in the ETB, I work with very committed people there who understand the nature of that provision, that act of inclusion, the nature of second- chance education. They also have a good grounding in terms of the labour market and the training provision, so there’s a very good mix coming together. But it is still very much a work in progress.”

FUTURE SKILLS SHORTAGES: WHERE THE JOBS ARE LIKELY TO BE

Mariculture Skills shortages in fish farming and research.

Art, craft and media No skills shortage identified. Employment will be in line with national levels.

Business administration and management Shortages in management consultants with expertise in takeovers; resource planning (ERP); performance management (Oracle and Hyperions, KPIs, dashboards); multilingual clerks (accounts payable, credit control).

Built environment Shortages in managers in non-wet trades; construction operatives; energy infrastructure management; water and waste management; residential building and repair.

Financial services Shortages in quantitative analysts (financial analysts, statisticians, economists, actuaries, risk analysts); accountants; multilingual financial clerks in credit control/debt recovery.

Food and beverage No skills shortages identified, but high turnover rates identified for chefs, waiters, kitchen assistants and restaurant managers.

Information technology Shortages in software development; databases/big data; specific product knowledge; IT security; technical support; networking and infrastructure.

Health, family, care and other personal services Shortages in GPs; non-consultant hospital doctors; specialist nurses (ICU, theatre, oncology, paediatrics, geriatric care); radiographers.

Hairdressing, beauty and complementary therapies No skills shortages have been identified, but high replacement and turnover rates have been identified for hairdressers.

Manufacturing and engineering Shortages in production and process engineering; quality and validation; product develop- ment and design; precision engineering; energy; telecommunications; project management and production planning; tool makers; welders.

Natural resources Shortages in renewables, energy efficiency, water treatment, waste management, green ICT, environmental consulting.

Sales and marketing Shortages in market research and product strategy; digital sales and marketing; B2B; multilingual customer support (Nordic languages, German and French).

Science and technology, animal science Shortages in scientists and scientific technicians in microbiology; product development; active pharmaceutical ingredients; pharmacovigilance (product validation; drug safety).

Transport distribution and logistics Shortages in multilingual supply chain and logistics managers; clerks with specific industry expertise (eg medical devices); foreign-language skills; heavy goods vehicle drivers (E+ and C1); forklift drivers.

Trade and export Shortages in international management; marketing (multilingual, ecommerce); sales (multilingual); customer service and support (multilingual).

Tourism and sport No skills shortage identified. Employment will be in line with national levels.

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