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Irish Independent
Irish Independent

Upskilling will ensure the ‘new normal’ is a better normal

As the economy reopens and thousands of businesses nationwide continue to welcome their employees and customers back, we are buoyed by a renewed sense of optimism, but also mindful that certain sectors remain under immense strain.

In reality, many businesses will not offer their pre-pandemic employment levels for some time a forecast which is expected to give rise to job displacement, skills mismatches and high unemployment levels in certain sectors.

However, right now we are seeing the greatest ever State investment in skills.

The public employment services, together with the further education sector and Skillnet Ireland, are well placed to identify and deliver the essential upskilling that unlocks re-employment prospects and new career opportunities for individuals.

The Government’s Economic Recovery Plan is framed around a jobs-rich recovery, that will see a record 2.5 million people in work by 2024. Skillnet Ireland looks forward to playing its fullest part in delivering this objective. One such example is our Future in Tech scheme, delivered through Technology Ireland ICT Skillnet. Offering pathways to help non-tech jobseekers quickly develop new digital skills and access new job opportunities, it is facilitating career recovery for those who have been hit hardest by the pandemic.

Some have referred to the pandemic as the ‘great accelerator,’ recognising how it has transformed the world of work as companies remodelled their business and ways of working. One obvious change has been the increased pace of digitalisation. At Skillnet Ireland, we have seen many businesses, particularly SMEs that traditionally have been slower to embrace digitalisation, achieve more in a matter of months than they might have once considered possible over a number of years.

The rapid rise in digitalisation also demands that we boost the supply of digital skills, not just to our SMEs, but to our thriving tech sector too. Skillnet Ireland plays a pivotal role in this, bringing together the higher education institutes and tech companies to develop cutting-edge programmes in emerging technologies spanning Data Science, AI, Blockchain, FinTech, Life Sciences and Bio Pharma. This year our organisation will deliver digital and emerging technology skills to about 12,000 workers across multiple sectors of our economy.

As economies get back to business, the challenge of climate action rightly reasserts itself on the agenda.

As businesses introduce sustainable practices, more change is of course inevitable, but our transition to a low-carbon and sustainable economy also offers immense new opportunities in terms of green jobs. To help businesses assess what climate change means for them and to determine their talent needs, we have developed Climate Ready – a new industry-led initiative that is helping companies develop the skills they need to thrive in the green economy.

We all know that talent plays an essential role in defending our open economic model and goes to the heart of our incredible success in winning FDI. However, in the face of growing international competition, talent is an advantage we can never cede. Skillnet Ireland will work with 1,200 multi-national firms this year, developing and growing their teams, delivering programmes that address future skills, and helping them to flourish in our country.

Our 2020 results, published this week, show we delivered supports to 21,695 businesses nationwide, marking a record level of participation by companies on our upskilling programmes. But we also saw companies match this ambition, and despite the challenges of 2020, employers co-invested €17.9m with us in our programmes. Over the next five years, we plan to bring our total investment in industry-led upskilling to €100m annually, reaching 100,000 workers by 30,000 businesses every year.

In striving for a return to normality, we should consider how that normality can be improved. At Skillnet Ireland we believe talent will be a driving force in the recovery and in shaping a 21st century economy even better than that which preceded the pandemic.

Paul Healy is chief executive of 
Skillnet Ireland

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