By 2020 an additional 500,000 people in the workforce will need to progress by at least one level of educational attainment above their current highest level, the Council of Directors of the Institutes of Technology warned yesterday.
The council advocated that the regional development mandate of the new €184bn National Development Plan (NDP) should reflect this reality.
The institutes of technology welcomed the NDP investment in physical infrastructure, which it says will provide a high-quality platform from which the institutes can take further steps to increase national skill levels.
However, the insitutes said that the NDP’s aspirations must be met on the ground, pointing out that commitments made in this area 14 months go have seen limited activity to date.
Dr Richard Thorn, chair of the Council of Directors of the Institutes of Technology and director of IT Sligo, said that the ambitions of the NDP must be matched by meticulous delivery and annual performance and that the capacity of Government departments and State agencies must be strengthened.
Dr Thorn said that investment in science, technology and innovation must be accompanied by as much attention to a people strategy.
“Upskilling and continuing learning for their staff is the only way Irish companies will be able to stay competitive as their cost base grows,” he said. “In the midst of Ireland’s current success, key facts about our workforce cannot be ignored: a high percentage of our labour force has only lower secondary education or below; we have low levels of adult literacy; we have poor participation in ongoing education and training.”
He said that by 2020 an additional 500,000 people in the workforce will need to progress by at least one level of educational attainment above their current highest level. “The institutes of technology, with their unique regional development mandate, will be core providers of the education and training needed to achieve this.
“Uniquely, there is an institute of technology in each of the eight new gateway cities announced in the plan. The institutes can play a central role in underpinning the growth potential of each. The innovation fund announced for each gateway must be drawn down early, spent wisely and have its value for money measured if it is to offer meaningful hope for regional development.”
Thorn said that Ireland’s ability to compete in the global marketplace over the lifetime of the NDP will be determined by the speed and flexibility with which we can upgrade the knowledge base of our workforce.
“Cradle-to-grave education and a highly skilled workforce will be needed at all levels if Ireland is to continue to enjoy its current prosperity,” Dr Thorn said.
By John Kennedy