Engaging employers in skills development
by Tony Donohoe, Head of Education and Social Policy, Ibec, and Chair of the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs

Last month’s inaugural meeting of the National Skills Council (NSC), under the chairmanship of the Minister for Education and Skills, marks the final stage in the establishment of a new structure to encourage deeper business engagement with the education and training system. The Council will advise on which skills needs should be prioritised and how they will be delivered, and report on the response of providers to these priorities. The members of the Council are drawn from senior levels in the public and private sector.

Active employer participation in the development and utilisation of skills is one of the main objectives of the National Skills Strategy 2025. This can happen through a number of channels such as influencing the skills development of graduates by means of work placements and curriculum review, upskilling existing staff and supporting knowledge transfer between education institutions and enterprises. While there are pockets of good practice, this engagement is not sufficiently widespread and systematic.

The Department of Education and Skills has also established a network of nine Regional Skills Fora which are designed to provide a cohesive structure for employers and the education system to work together in building the skills needs of their regions. They should help employers better understand the full range of services available across the system, and enhance links between providers in delivering programmes, reduce duplication and inform national funding decisions.

Some degree of misalignment between the supply and demand for skills is inevitable, particularly in the short run. However, the costs of persistent mismatches and shortages are substantial. For individuals, skills mismatch has a negative impact on job satisfaction and wages. For firms, it reduces productivity and increases on-the-job search and turnover, while shortages increase the cost of hiring and hinder the adoption of new technologies.

Training interventions can only be as good as the information about skills needs that underpins them. Therefore the new structure builds on the strengths of the existing arrangements for identification of skills needs. Under a revised mandate, the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs (EGFSN) will continue to carry out research, analysis and horizon scanning in relation to emerging skills requirements at thematic and sector levels. It will report to the NSC. The Skills and Labour Market Research Unit in Solas will provide statistical input and analysis.

Ireland has a well-developed skills forecasting architecture. The main challenges have centred on linking this analysis to effective policy interventions. The recent establishment of the National Skills Council and the Regional Skills Fora are a welcome first-step in seeking to address this deficit.

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