Reskilling for green economy is imperative, ICT leaders urge

4 Dec 2009

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ICT players Microsoft, Dell, IBM, Siemens, Eircom and Lionbridge have warned that reskilling and training are crucial to secure the 80,000 jobs outlined in the Government’s green strategy.

The companies who sit on the board of Fastrack to IT (FIT), an innovative programme now in its 10th year, focused on returning long-term unemployed individuals to the workforce, say that in one niche alone – wind turbine maintenance – as many as 1,500 jobs could be created.

Government announcement welcome

The group welcomed the Government’s announcement that 80,000 jobs could be created through the emerging green economy sector they but highlighted the point that these jobs are of no use unless Irish people have the skills to work in them.

FIT in partnership with industry, government, education and training providers, mainly FAS and the VECs, as well as with local development agencies, has successfully trained 8,000 long-term unemployed people over the past decade.

Today, FIT announced details of its pilot programme, ‘FIT ECO’, which will be rolled out in early 2010 across Ireland. Working with industry, FIT has identified the need to train people so they have the skills to work in the renewable energy sector – primarily supporting the installation and maintenance of wind turbines.

Job potential

Currently, there are 1,500 jobs in this sector with the potential for 1,500 more to be created in the coming years. The only thing preventing Ireland from benefiting from the wind turbine market is the lack of skilled employees.

“FIT has changed and evolved over the last decade to ensure that it maintained its relevance to all stakeholders and continued to deliver results,” said chair of FIT and HR director Microsoft Ireland, Fiona Mullan.

“The change in focus has accelerated in the past year as we continue to identify the new and emerging needs of industry, of unemployed people and of the economy and society as a whole. There are currently 2,000 people on FIT courses throughout the country – all acquiring technology skills which can be deployed in a wide range of industries.

“Despite the economic downturn, the fact of the matter is that IT now permeates across all industry sectors. It’s a time for upskilling and getting ready for the challenges ahead – the pilot programme we are launching today, FIT ECO, is just one of many programmes we plan to implement over the coming year. While we welcome the findings of the Government’s green report, we call on them to recognise the need for time spent on up-skilling Irish people so they can work in this emerging sector.

“By identifying emerging skills in the economy and then training people who are unemployed with these skills we are strengthening our chances of a return to economic growth. A smart economy needs skills at all levels - not just at degree or PhD level. Now is the time to put a strategy in place to ensure that we have the relevant skills in the economy so that we can build a competitive advantage for Ireland.”

Delegates at the FIT conference heard that for every FIT graduate who goes on to full-time employment the Government saves a minimum of €15,000 through savings on social welfare payments and tax payment contributions.

Mary

President of Ireland Mary McAleese.

Savings

FIT estimates that by training more than 10,000 people in the next decade it will save the State more than €60 million.

FIT, with its collaborators, helps to develop training programmes for the unemployed and, following graduation, helps them to find employment. The original ethos of the initiative, when it was first set up, was to help job seekers work with the IT sector.

FIT’s focus and mission has evolved over the years to meet the changing needs of industry and the economy. With the increasing pervasiveness of technology in all aspects of the economy and society, it is critically important that as many people as possible are given the opportunity to acquire these skills so that the smart economy can be an inclusive one. FIT plans to meet the needs of the country and develop the training programmes required to give people the correct skills.

“The achievements of the trainees are testimony to the success of FIT over the last decade and highlight the significant impact that a collaborative approach between industry, government, educational providers and local development agencies can have on people’s lives,” said the President of Ireland Mary McAleese.

“Just look at what can be achieved when a number of organisations and entities come together to achieve a shared goal! I look forward to watching the progress of FIT over the next 10 years.”

Conference panel discussion

As part of the conference, there was a panel discussion with key policy makers and opinion formers speaking on the topic of ‘Creating an Inclusive Smart Economy.’ An action plan will be one of the outputs from the conference.

The board of FIT is calling on the government to ensure it considers issues of education, training and inclusiveness in its policy and Budget discussions in the week ahead.

“I think FIT is a brilliant initiative and a great example of social innovation allowing people to rapidly adapt to change,” said Charles Leadbeater, leading authority on innovation and strategy.

“In fact, I would say that it is one of the best models that I have seen in Europe.”

By John Kennedy

Photo: FIT graduates Joan Connaughton, Margaret Twynan and Andrew Lennon representing the 8,000 FITs from the last decade.

Photos by Jason Clarke Photography.

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Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com