E-learning hub to launch Skills Passport

29 Nov 2004

The new e-learning centre at the National College of Ireland (NCI) is developing a training tool kit that aims to help ease Ireland’s transition to a knowledge-based economy.

The International Centre for Education and Learning Technology (ICELT) has started working with a group of five companies to develop a new type of learning product that combines the best of traditional learning methods with technology that enables the content to be delivered ‘any time, any place’.

The companies involved – Intel, Intuition, Servecast, ThirdForce and WBT – represent a mix of platform and content providers while the product itself would be accredited by the NCI and delivered via its national network of 40 off-campus centres, onsite educational centres and its online programme.

While the final content has yet to be signed off, the Skills Passport is being designed as a basic skills package whose appeal is as broad as possible, running across the spectrum of white- and blue-collar jobs. It will comprise four elements: business skills; introduction to technology and science; innovation and entrepreneurship; and computer literacy. In that sense it will differ from other more narrowly focused upskilling programmes such as the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) but, in common with the latter, it is felt that the Skills Passport will hold international as well as domestic appeal.

Prior to launch, the product is to be tested on 500 individuals drawn from 10 private sector firms, five government departments and 10 community groups.

Eoin O’Driscoll, chairman of the ICELT advisory board and former chairman of the Enterprise Strategy Group, said: “The Skills Passport is being developed in response to the changing needs of the Irish economy. Becoming a knowledge-based economy requires that the workforce be re-equipped to meet the demands of the new economic model and respond to constant change through a process of ‘lifelong learning’.”

In an interview with siliconrepublic.com, he pointed out that whereas previous skills initiatives targeted those out of work the lifelong learning agenda was about equipping Ireland’s 1.8 million workers with the appropriate skills needed at any point in the future. If action is not taken “there is a real danger that a lot of people will be left behind as the profile of jobs changes,” he warned. This would, he said, raise the unpalatable possibility of Ireland importing foreign workers to do the jobs that Irish workers could only do themselves if they were given the proper training.

Gerry Macken, director of the ICELT, noted that the scale of the upskilling challenge ahead could not be overstated given that “only 20pc of the workforce are educated to Leaving Cert level and just 6-7pc has a third-level qualification”.

Open since September, the ICELT cost upwards of €8m to build and was funded by the NCI, Enterprise Ireland and Dublin City Enterprise Board (DCEB). The facility aims to become the leading centre for the e-learning industry in Ireland. When fully kitted out it will offer 12,000 sq feet of incubation space for e-learning start-ups. It also plans to spearhead a strong research agenda in partnership with the e-learning industry and the NCI.

“The role of the ICELT is to apply technology to enhance the whole learning and teaching process,” O’Driscoll explained. “We want to find out if we can bring academics and industry together and do research that is of interest to academics and at the same time relevant to industry.”

Macken, a former CEO of the DCEB, stresses the importance of the link with the NCI, an institution that has had no choice but to embrace distance learning given the make up of its student population. “It is like a living lab for the e-learning companies.”

By Brian Skelly