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Skills for the future: Does Ireland have the appetite to advance?

12 Sep 2023

The Government is focusing its energies on raising awareness of the various subsidised skills schemes it already runs. Is this enough?

“We have an incredibly educated and highly skilled population in Ireland, but we can no longer treat knowledge as a fixed asset – nor can we assume that what we learned in three or four years of study is sufficient to last a lifetime.”

These words were spoken by Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris, TD, to coincide with the launch of yet another Government-affiliated report on Irish people’s skills and our population’s preparedness for the workplace of the future.

The desire to learn is there…

The report in question was published yesterday (11 September) by Amárach Research, and it claimed that the vast majority of Irish people have a desire to learn new skills. The research was commissioned by the Government and carried out in early September on a sample size of 1,100 adults over the age of 18. Those polled were asked about their attitudes to upskilling, reskilling and learning. According to the survey, 90pc of respondents said that they want to learn a new skill in the future.

While these findings are obviously positive for the future of workplaces, they should be viewed through a realistic lens, not least because the Government needs to show that its work on adult upskilling programmes as part of the European Year of Skills is paying off.

You might recall that in May of this year, an OECD Skills Strategy report for Ireland yielded some concerning results in terms of Irish people’s preparedness for the ongoing digitalisation of our working lives. The OECD Skills Strategy report for Ireland claimed that we could find ourselves falling behind other European countries due to automation. Our workforce’s participation in lifelong learning programmes, while higher than the EU average, was lower than many of the top performers. These negative findings aside, we are performing reasonably well and this latest research shows that there is at least an appetite for learning.

Of the respondents to the Amárach poll who said they had recently learned a new skill, 90pc said it improved their mental health and made them feel more confident, while 62pc said they did it to develop themselves as a person. Of course, the desire to upskill is not just confined to adults. A recent survey commissioned by BT Ireland revealed that 67pc of secondary school students want to learn more about pursuing a career in STEM in Ireland. The telecoms company polled 500 secondary school students to coincide with the open call for applications for the 2024 edition of BTYSTE.

…or is it?

However, even the Amárach poll indicates that Ireland is not performing as well as it perhaps should when it comes to continuous learning. Only one in four people are slightly confident they have the skills to advance in their current jobs, while just one in five are very confident they have the skills for the job they want in the next five years. The Government says it is overhauling its attitude towards skills in line with the European Year of Skills and OECD recommendations. Harris previously said that his department may need to consider a new Skills Act.

For the moment, it seems as if the Government is mainly putting its energies into raising awareness about its various subsidised skills initiatives, such as the Springboard programme, the Apprentice Ireland portal and longstanding courses by Skillnet Ireland.

Will another ‘rallying call’ cut it?

“Today is about telling people of all ages and all backgrounds that there are countless opportunities available in this country to learn a new skill,” said Harris. “The world is changing at a rapid pace and it means skills have a shorter shelf life than ever before. So yes, I’m determined to drive the skills agenda in order to help support the economy, and what the research carried out last week by Amárach also shows is that the benefits of lifelong learning go well beyond a monetary value.

“So today I am again issuing a rallying call for us to this year collectively rise to the challenge of arming ourselves with new skills, for everyone to take advantage of all the opportunities available, and help drive both our economy and societal wellbeing.”

To answer the question of whether Ireland has the appetite to advance, we might say that it has all the good intentions – both from the Government and from the wider population. But it might need a little bit more work to execute our ambitions and turn them into a reality.

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Blathnaid O’Dea
By Blathnaid O’Dea

Blathnaid O’Dea worked as a Careers reporter until 2024, coming from a background in the Humanities. She likes people, pranking, pictures of puffins – and apparently alliteration.

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