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Staying in business means having the right skills

Irish employers are investing to plug emerging skill gaps

Mary Connaughton: “Building an organisation where people learn continuously is not just about courses and online access, but about building a culture that promotes learning as part of the day-to-day.”

Mary Connaughton: “Building an organisation where people learn continuously is not just about courses and online access, but about building a culture that promotes learning as part of the day-to-day.”


The pace of change is so fast in workplaces in Ireland that skills and knowledge become obsolete very quickly. New technologies and game-changers such as Brexit are driving new products and services as well as new ways of working.

The ability of organisations, whether multinational or SME, to successfully adapt and grow is determined by their people. The ability to succeed in an uncertain economic environment is inextricably linked to the development and adaptability of individuals and for that to be a reality, learning has to be at the core.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has been researching and providing insight into how companies in Ireland are dealing with this. Data from more than 900 HR and learning-and-development professionals show employers are investing in their people to a greater extent than before.

For 37 per cent of those surveyed, learning and development was a top strategic priority for their organisation. The CIPD survey found that employers spent 3.8 per cent of payroll on learning and development in 2016. The priorities for investment included systems and technical training as well as broader areas such as culture change, performance-enhancement, coaching and mentoring.

This follows global trends. In its Future of Jobs report in 2016, the World Economic Forum identified the key skill areas that are emerging as core to the future of work as analytical and interpersonal, while functional and technical competence must also be strong. Specifically, employers need to invest in developing employees’ skills in complex problem-solving, critical-thinking and creativity, which will support insight, analysis and decision-making.

The second critical area is to grow capability in the management and development of people, and invest in the skills of people management, coordination and collaboration, and emotional intelligence. These skills are central to sustaining a learning environment and the ability to attract, retain and build the performance of employees.

The CIPD survey also found that 78 per cent of organisations in Ireland experienced skills shortages in 2016. These were not only in the commonly recognised area of IT, but also operations, finance, customer-service and sales.

Employers are taking action to close these skills gaps and are prioritising talent management and growing their internal talent pipelines. According to the survey, 63 per cent were engaged in up-skilling the current workforce and 57 per cent were increasing the number of development opportunities for employees. This represents a significant investment in people to ensure that skills are future-proofed and there are skilled resources for the future.

Attract talent

Nearly half of respondents were working on their employer brand to attract talent. Less than a quarter were realigning their current offering to meet candidate expectations, though this was much more common among SMEs (50 per cent). Positive for graduates and those with less experience was the fact that 42 per cent were offering work-experience opportunities and 34 per cent were recruiting more graduates as a way to grow their talent pipeline.

Building an organisation where people learn continuously is not just about courses and online access, but about building a culture that promotes learning as part of the day-to-day. Responsibility has to be shared by the learner and the organisation, and managers play a critical role as coaches in creating the environment where employees know continually adapting is core to success and feel empowered to try out new ideas.

Learning itself has not just gone through an evolution, but a revolution. This increased emphasis on learning is enabled by technology as we have moved from an era when the course was the default learning approach, to one where skills and capabilities are developed through accessible and agile methods. Learning can now be delivered in the flow of work, not just in a classroom environment.

Digital technologies facilitate anytime learning. The proliferation of online content has shifted learning design from sluggish creation to swift curation. This involves identifying and promoting suitable resources, whether it be Ted Talks or online modules, that match identified learning needs.

There is also growing interest by individuals in continuous professional development both at work and in their own time, with many sourcing self-directed learning solutions.

With an increasing pace of change and tightening labour market, learning is a key link to growth, innovation and motivation. Embedding learning into ways of working can enable organisations to innovate and respond faster to change while facilitating talent strategies that develop and keep the best people.

Mary Connaughton is director for Ireland at CIPD