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Improving tech skills vital for many homeworkers

Solas offers range of courses and supports to boost online skills

94 per cent of decision-makers admitting that technology glitches have impacted their employees and businesses while working remotely

94 per cent of decision-makers admitting that technology glitches have impacted their employees and businesses while working remotely

 

The great remote working exodus happened almost overnight last March and the latest figures from the Central Statistics Office suggest that in response to the pandemic, about 20 per cent of the workforce has moved to primarily working from home. Thousands of employees are now tethered by technology to their empty workplaces, but for many it’s been a baptism of fire.

With no IT team on hand, employees have had to step up to the plate when it comes to tech issues, and for some it’s been a step too far. Issues such as cloud computing and cybersecurity are common bugbears, and a recent report saw 94 per cent of decision-makers admitting that technology glitches have impacted their employees and businesses while working remotely. Given the predictions that a significant chunk of the workforce will remain working from home for the foreseeable future, it’s a sobering statistic.

Fortunately, there are many options for those seeking to improve their proficiency online and to make their work lives easier by having enhanced tech know-how.

Solas, the State agency for further education and training, is one of the first places businesses go when they and their employees need to upskill or reskill.

Its Skills to Advance programme provides upskilling and reskilling opportunities to employees in jobs undergoing change, and to those currently employed in vulnerable sectors. Working closely with small and medium-sized enterprises, Skills to Advance helps employers identify skills needs and invest in their workforce by providing subsidised education and training.

Solas also has a number of programmes for individuals looking to develop tech skills, including eCollege which offers free online courses in areas such as Microsoft Office, project management, computer programming, and web and graphic design, explains Mary Lyons, director of enterprise, employee and skills at Solas.

Lyons says Solas is working hard to support employees and businesses struggling to adapt to the new paradigm and is engaging at a local level to offer both blended and online learning opportunities. “We were doing a lot of work in anticipation of Brexit and then we pivoted in response to Covid. Since then our focus has been on developing more agile learning opportunities for people who need to upskill or reskill.”

More than 33,000 people have availed of eCollege up to the end of November this year, compared with about 6,000 people in 2019.

“To enable more people who are engaged in remote working to avail of these opportunities and develop their tech skills, we opened it up in March,” says Lyons. “Last year it was just 6,000 people, the majority of who were unemployed. But now we have opened it up to all kinds of people in all types of employment and we are developing plans to expand eCollege into new sectors.”

The Education and Training Boards (ETBs), which deliver further education and training programmes nationally, also have a number of skills training courses relevant to remote working, Lyons adds.

For example, Laois and Offaly ETB, in collaboration with IDA Ireland, Solas and Grow Remote, have created two new online national training programmes that develop the capability and capacity of those wishing to become remote workers, as well as current remote workers and line managers nationally.

Resilience

Just one company that saw its entire staff become remote workers overnight is Fidelity Investments Ireland.

Sharon Walsh, vice president of technology management, proudly describes the company’s resilience, saying a longstanding commitment to flexibility meant that quickly pivoting its workforce to work from home was an almost seamless transition.

“We had a percentage of our workforce who have worked remotely on occasion so from a technology and infrastructure perspective we were well prepared. We have well-developed preparedness plans and a cross-disciplinary team that are always ready to address a range of issues, including a working from home model,” she says.

Walsh acknowledges the practical problems associated with working from home, including the need to create a work environment within the home and to balance the integration of work and home lives. “Ensuring our teams had the right set-up at home was extremely important and we arranged for extra equipment as needed to enable them to successfully work from home and provide a seamless, uninterrupted process for our customers,” she explains.

Walsh says workforce skills development is a priority and Fidelity offers many virtual programmes focused on employee professional development such as time management, virtual working, and virtual facilitation.

“As part of our leadership development, we offer programmes like engaging your virtual audience, and executive virtual presence. The new world of work requires people to continuously hone their skills to stay relevant and improve their employability, which in turn supports the objectives of the business,” she notes.

She says that IT proficiency is necessary for all businesses “to transform their workforce to drive productivity, innovation, and growth”.

“Providing our employees with upskilling opportunities also enables us to ensure we have industry-leading talent that is current with the best practices in the technology. We regularly identify what skills will be needed for the future of our business and which of those our workforce currently process. This allows us to develop more thoughtful, continuous skilling programmes to effectively develop those abilities in our workforce. This also supports our strong commitment to a culture of continuous learning,” says Lyons.

Employees are offered dedicated learning days so they can undertake any of several digital skills courses, including cloud, cybersecurity, agile and/or analytics. Lyons says this ensures they have the time and space to maintain and grow their skills.

“The urgency of work can invariably take priority over the luxury of learning, so by creating dedicated learning days, we aim to make learning part of the way we work. Through the use of leading-edge learning technology, we can offer our employees solutions and experiences to make learning almost invisible in their jobs.”