Rapid technological advances along with increasing investment in digitalisation by Irish industry is leading to the emergence of new skills gaps. “The needs of industry are changing constantly,” says Skillnet Ireland director of business networks Dave Flynn. “Companies have to react quickly to changes in the broader environment. This has implications for skills needs and the education and training required to meet them. Skillnet Ireland has an important role to play in facilitating partnerships between industry and higher-education institutions around the country to develop impactful training and education programmes and research projects which will help meet those needs.”
He points to the importance of the higher education system providing the skilled workforce required by industry. “The quality of our higher-education institutions and the calibre of the people coming out of them are among our key strengths when it comes to attracting investment,” he says. “Skillnet business networks across the country are working with higher-education institutions on the delivery of a range of programmes from diplomas right up to masters and PhD level.”
These programmes are vitally important for professional and career development. “Many people would have primary degrees but find that they now need to work in new and more technologically advanced areas,” Flynn explains. “For example, they might have an engineering degree but might now need a qualification in software systems as industry transitions to manufacturing 4.0.”
Advanced manufacturing is a case in point. “An important priority for Skillnet Ireland is to enable Irish-based FDI companies and indigenous manufacturers to accelerate the adoption of digital technologies into their supply chains and factory floors,” he points out.
“We do this by developing the expertise of manufacturing, mechanical and engineering professionals. For example, the Irish Medtech Skillnet in collaboration with the Atlantic Technological University has developed an engineering degree in advanced manufacturing. It has also developed a master’s in digitalisation of manufacturing with the Technological University of the Shannon. In 2023, Skillnet Ireland will provide even more support to leadership teams in manufacturing businesses, to help explore and realise the benefits of digitalisation, through multiple Skillnet business networks including Irish Medtech Skillnet, Cobotics Skillnet and the ICBE Advanced Productivity Skillnet.”
Technology adoption generally is also important. “In 2023, Skillnet Ireland will continue to enable industries to leverage the transformative power of technology,” Flynn continues. “For example, Technology Ireland ICT Skillnet will roll out a master’s degree in leadership, innovation and technology with TU Dublin, aimed at both IT and non-IT businesses. It will also roll out a master’s in fintech innovation with MTU which will support Ireland’s international financial services sector. These examples illustrate Skillnet Ireland’s commitment to facilitating partnerships between industry and education, partnerships which prepare Ireland for the future talent needs of our economy.”
The Skillnet business networks are also providing pathways for people who do not have degrees or other formal qualifications. “They are helping people to gain qualifications and build their careers,” says Flynn. “The retail sector is an example of this. The Retail Ireland Skillnet has developed a master’s in business innovation and leadership for people working in the sector. They don’t have to come in with advanced qualifications. They can gain qualifications through Skillnet programmes and move into more senior roles. This is an important means of attracting people into sectors like retail. It allows people to develop their careers and that makes them more likely to stay within the sector.”
Skillnet Ireland continues to play an important role in bringing the industry and academic worlds together. “Things can come and go very quickly in industry,” Flynn notes. “Needs can often be short term and transient. We can help higher-education institutions to understand that by bringing them together with our Skillnet business networks.”
Those needs extend beyond skills and include the development of new innovation capabilities within individual companies. “The convergence of medical technologies, pharmaceuticals and the technology sector is transforming healthcare by improving efficiencies, offering better patient outcomes and enabling patients to become increasingly involved in their own health management,” Flynn notes.
“Supported by Skillnet Ireland, the Connected Health Skillnet is currently developing a digital health innovation programme which will be rolled out in 2023. Focusing on the process of investigating and identifying digital health solutions to unmet clinical needs, the programme will develop knowledge in innovation methods and digital health. Developing this combination of know-how is critically important if Ireland is to capitalise on the rapid expansion of the digital health market globally.”
Industry-led innovation programmes such as this will play an increasingly important role in future, he believes. “We want to help companies navigate the innovation and sustainability challenges they are facing at present. Higher-education institutions are partnering with our Skillnet business networks in relation to this. They are collaborating to help industry solve problems and are helping companies to figure out where to start on their sustainability and innovation journeys.”