Skillnet Ireland aiming to prepare businesses and workers for the future
Organisation’s new strategy reflects need for Ireland to have an agile workforce
Paul Healy, Skillnet Ireland CEO
Skillnet Ireland’s new five-year strategy sets out ambitious targets which will see the organisation increase its engagement with business and industry, double the numbers participating in talent development programmes and bring increased focus on the challenges of digital transformation and climate change.
The strategy seeks to increase the number of businesses supported by Skillnet Ireland to 30,000 annually by 2025. The organisation will also provide supports to 100,000 workers a year and double the investment in upskilling the Irish workforce to €100 million a year by the same date.
“At Skillnet Ireland we are building a world-class, enterprise-led organisation to prepare businesses and workers for the future of work,” says Brendan McGinty, Skillnet Ireland chairman. “The experience and expertise we have gained over the last 20 years and models we have developed will support us in helping business to recover, transform and grow. We are proud of the work we do to support businesses, the majority of which are SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises].”
The new strategy reflects the need for Ireland to have a highly skilled and agile workforce, he says. “Skillnet Ireland will drive that agenda, both in terms of increasing numbers of businesses supported and expanding into new areas. We are doing this by setting ourselves ambitious targets focused on the three key themes of workforce design, people development and strategic innovation.”
Workforce design is the process of analysing the workforce, determining its future needs and identifying the gap that exists between what the organisation needs now and what it will need in the future, says McGinty. “The need to have the right people with the right skills and tools in the right roles at the right time is more critical now than ever.”
People development is essential to meet the challenges presented by more complex working environments. “People development helps businesses to improve through talent development and enables workers to learn and to grow,” says McGinty. “It results in better business outcomes, improved staff engagement and greater career opportunities for workers. Strategic innovation is at the core of how enterprises manage change and adopt to changing circumstances. It places businesses ahead of the curve by boosting creativity, ideation and productivity and helps workers adapt to the new world of work by future proofing their skills.”
Skillnet Ireland is ideally placed to assist Irish industry to innovate, according to chief executive Paul Healy. “Skillnet Ireland operates at the intersection of government and [the] business sector and plays an important role in the innovation ecosystem,” he says. “We work with the Government, educational institutions and industry groups to help businesses identify their training and skills needs. Skillnet Ireland is at the centre of this triple helix which enables collaboration and expedites the development of new initiatives that meet business needs. We bring the stakeholders together to collaborate on meeting the complex challenges of today’s workforce.”
This is an area in which Skillnet Ireland excels, he says. “We help industry become more competitive by giving companies access to the skills they require, and we help workers take advantage of new opportunities by enabling them to retrain and upskill. Our activity over the next five years will deliver a fourfold increase in innovation-themed workforce development projects.”
These projects will address both the digital agenda and the challenges of climate change. “We look forward to working with businesses to support the talent demands for building a low-carbon and sustainable economy through our enterprise-driven climate action upskilling initiative,” says Healy. “We will also work with our partners to address the need for greater digitalisation of processes as we all move towards a more digital future.”
Skillnet Ireland is already helping the workforce deal with the challenges of digitalisation. Healy points to the customer experience sector as an example of this. “Ireland is a centre of excellence for this industry,” he says. “The sector has been undergoing transformation in recent years with the introduction of AI artificial intelligence] and automation technologies. Skillnet Ireland has done research into what this means for skills and we are using that to provide new training programmes for people in roles which are vulnerable to those changes. This will allow those people to move into more knowledge-based roles or into other sectors which require their skills.”
The healthcare sector provides another very topical example of an innovative Skillnet Ireland programme. “One of our partners is the Leading Healthcare Providers Skillnet,” says Healy. “We worked with them and University College Cork on a postgraduate certificate in infection prevention and control, designed to stop the spread of infection in nursing homes. This was a direct, rapid response to the spread of Covid-19 in the private nursing home sector.”
“We are helping Irish businesses to be more innovative, resilient and adaptable to a changing world,” says McGinty. “For example, we have been working with the Government to help businesses prepare for Brexit by delivering the Clear Customers initiative. This online programme will train up to 2,500 workers in customs clearance by the end of the year. That will turn out to be very significant for the country’s Brexit preparations.”