Ibec is leveraging its position as Ireland’s leading business organisation to deliver finely targeted training and education programmes aimed at meeting current and future industry skills needs. “We have for a long time recognised the importance of bridging the gap between education and industry to boost our talent pipeline and build stronger businesses,” says Ibec director of members services Sharon Higgins.
"For many companies, their future success and ability to compete is critically dependent on access to skills and talent," she adds. "At a time of a global war for talent and rapid changes in technology and consumer behaviour skills, availability is a key issue. Ibec has been leading in these areas for the past 30 years when we started providing management training for our members. We have also been providing training programmes supported by Skillnet Ireland since they set up over 20 years ago."
The organisation provides a variety education programmes ranging from short training courses in particular industry skills areas, full apprenticeships, to graduate-level management education. “Everything pivoted to an online-only format last year but the programmes have still been going from strength to strength,” Higgins says. “We provided training to 5,000 managers trained in 2020 and 315 of them attended graduate-level programmes with our third-level education partner TU Dublin. We also offer more than 500 grant-funded industry-led education programmes engaging with over 2,000 companies in a variety of different sectors.”
Management programmes cover areas such as leadership skills, teamworking, health and safety, employment law and so on, while the Ibec Skillnet Networks work closely with the different trade associations to identify skills needs and design bespoke programmes to meet them.
“We have Skillnet Networks covering different industry sectors including biopharma, medtech, financial services, technology and engineering,” she explains. “We have 70 people working full time only on training through these networks. That allows us to be very agile when it comes to delivering relevant programmes for industry. There is constant feedback between the Skillnet Networks and the industry associations.”
The industry-led apprenticeship programmes enable employee upskilling through a blend of in-company and offsite training. “The new apprenticeship model is very effective,” says Higgins. “We now have apprenticeships in areas like financial services where they wouldn’t have existed traditionally.”
The strong links with industry are key to the success of the different training programmes, according to Ibec medtech and engineering skills programme manager Anne O’Connell. “We have four Skillnet Networks covering the medtech and engineering sectors and we deliver programmes that are both sector specific and cross-sectoral. Connected Health, for example, covers medtech, pharma and technology. These are all areas in need of skills training.”
The trade associations also offer Springboard training programmes targeted at people who are unemployed as well as those in work. The Springboard upskilling initiative in higher education offers free courses at certificate, degree and masters level leading to qualifications in areas where there are employment opportunities in the economy.
“We focus on areas like quality and regulatory compliance,” O’Connell notes. “We are now looking at the advanced manufacturing area as well. These programmes help unemployed people get the skills to find new employment opportunities and help employers to upskill their people and move them up to the next level in the organisation. We have places for female returners as well. They get mentored by people in the industry and a number of them have been able to go on and get positions in the medtech sector as a result.”
Each of the Ibec Skillnet Networks is guided by an industry steering committee, O’Connell explains. “We aim to deliver the type of skills companies and sectors are looking for. When we are asked for something we go out and engage with universities and private training providers both here and overseas to see what’s there and what’s going on in the area. We recently had a request for sterility training in Ireland. Those skills are key for the pharma and medtech sectors and they told us they needed a fit for purpose programme in the area, so we designed one.”
Flexibility is also important. “We did a training needs analysis the medtech sector and we found that companies didn’t always want long programmes. We now have everything from micro modules to masters programmes running from as short as a single day to three years in duration. We are very agile and flexible in the design of our programmes. People can opt to do just a single module from the masters programme if they wish and pick up on others as they go on.”