Workforce could be obsolete by 2015

4 Jul 2005

Some 80pc of Ireland’s workforce of 2015 are already in the labour force and the fact that 30pc of the current labour force hasn’t obtained a Leaving Cert means a potentially paralysing skills crisis is on the way, warned industry and economy expert Eoin O’Driscoll (pictured).

Speaking in his capacity as chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in Ireland, O’Driscoll — who also heads up the Government’s Enterprise Strategy Group — warned that Ireland’s skilled workforce will no longer be capable of meeting the demands of modern global companies if a looming skills crisis is not addressed.

He was addressing a 4th of July lunch attended by the US Ambassador to Ireland James C Kenny. Some 90,000 Irish-based people are employed in 570 US companies and US companies account for 65pc of all IDA Ireland-supported operations. More than a quarter of all US greenfield investment comes to Ireland.

O’Driscoll pointed to OECD figures indicating that Ireland ranks 15th out of 30 countries for the number of 25 to 64 year olds holding degrees.

O’Driscoll called on Ireland to take dramatic action on lifelong learning and training from those in employment, otherwise Irish employees will be left behind.

O’Driscoll warned: “The bar for international competition is being raised very rapidly and Ireland’s workforce is faced with being left behind in the new environment that is emerging.

“The nature and sophistication of the operations of multinational companies based here is changing. These changes are being driven by globalisation, the shift towards services, our cost base and the drive towards a knowledge economy. Unless we invest more heavily in education, many of the existing workforce’s skills will be obsolete by 2015. Our skilled workforce, which has been a key attraction for multinational companies locating here, will no longer be capable of meeting the demands of modern, global companies”.

O’Driscoll said if Ireland was to compete successfully for foreign direct investment in the years ahead, then the focus of the third-level education sector would have to change.

“Our universities and third-level colleges must invest in producing the best graduates. The system must change from one that is producer centred, to one that is learner centred. We must develop the potential of all employees to be flexible and productive in the face of the restructuring that will take place as we reposition to win in the knowledge economy. Industry and government must work with our third level sector to make this happen.”

O’Driscoll added there was also an onus of responsibility on employers to facilitate lifelong learning once people entered the workforce. “Knowledge should not be limited to within the four walls of an educational institution. Too many companies view education and training as a cost rather than as an investment. The evidence to the contrary is compelling. Lifelong learning enhances both the individual’s and the enterprise’s capability and competitiveness and creates better chances for survival against competition, both domestic and international. In the long term, this can only lead to economic growth and further employment.”

O’Driscoll said Ireland could rise to this challenge, as it had done to many others in the past.

“If we take leadership in this area, build on the technology infrastructure that exists within our member base, embrace the strong e-learning base of indigenous companies such as WBT, Thirdforce, Intuition, Servcast we can build new learner-centred models that can make lifelong learning a reality and thereby ensure that we have well educated, highly flexible, motivated employees that embrace change and look forward to restructuring and winning in the knowledge economy,” he concluded.

By John Kennedy