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Meeting the changing talent needs of Ireland’s financial services sector

IFS Skillnet helps Ireland to maintain its position as a leading global financial services hub by meeting the sector’s rapidly evolving skills needs

The talent needs of Ireland’s international financial services sector have undergone a quiet but fundamental transformation in recent years. Continuing growth driven by economic expansion and innovation has led to demand for talent across all areas of the industry while digitalisation has created a need for new and very different skills among both existing players and new entrants to the market.

IFS Skillnet works to maintain Ireland’s position as a leading international financial services centre through investment in the development and provision of the skills required by the sector. Promoted by Ibec trade association Financial Services Ireland (FSI) group and funded by its member companies and Skillnet Ireland, IFS Skillnet runs more than 130 programmes each year ranging from short courses in critical areas such as anti-money laundering right the way through to degree and masters level courses in emerging areas like fintech and systems modelling techniques.

“We provide training for financial services companies and the companies that provide services to them such as accountants and law firms,” explains IFS Skillnet network manager Donna Noonan. “We are industry led and we are in constant contact with our member companies. We can see the challenges they face and the skills they require to meet them. We use that knowledge to develop the programmes which will help companies address those challenges.”

Links to the industry through Financial Services Ireland are critically important. “Being promoted by Financial Services Ireland gives us great reach into the sector,” she points out. “It is a cross-sectoral body and includes banks, investment funds, insurance companies, fintechs and so on. We have people from all those sectors on our steering group and this offers deep insights into the skills needs of the industry.”


Those needs are far different than they were just a decade ago, as FSI director Patricia Callan explains. “There are now 105,000 people employed in the financial services industry in Ireland, between 55,000 and 60,000 of them in the international financial services sector. They are at the cutting edge of what they do, and they offer very rewarding careers for people here. Our “Financial Services in Ireland: Skills of the Future Report”, launched by Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris, last July, shows that the new skill areas include data analytics, artificial intelligence, blockchain, cybersecurity and so on.”

The great thing about IFS Skillnet is that it is completely industry led. It is continuously analysing the industry’s skills requirements and is constantly developing new programmes to meet our current and future needs.

The message is that graduates in these new STEM disciplines no longer have to look to the tech sector for careers. “They can build great careers here in Ireland and they can go abroad with international companies and come back later,” says Callan.

Attracting new talent is only one small part of the solution, however. “We are working with the industry on that,” says Noonan, who is also a member of the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs for Financial Services. “Part of that is to provide the learning and development opportunities that are so important to graduates and young people today. Training, development, and upskilling of existing employees is also critically important.”

“Our skills needs have changed greatly in recent years,” says Julie Toner, head of Integrated Talent Management at Zurich Insurance. “Competition for talent puts even more emphasis on creating a culture of continuous development and support for progressing careers. The IFS Skillnet is helping the industry meet changing needs by developing our existing talent with skills for existing and future roles. The great thing about IFS Skillnet is that it is completely industry led. It is continuously analysing the industry’s skills requirements and is constantly developing new programmes to meet our current and future needs.”

Programmes offered by IFS Skillnet are tailored to meet the needs of the sector and the circumstance of the people working in it. “Many people don’t have time to take diploma or degree programmes but still want to upskill,” says Noonan. “For example, we have partnered with DCU to create a series of micro-credentials in financial intelligence and technology. These micro-credentials are stackable and can build into a qualification. These programmes are helping to provide the expertise required to consolidate Ireland’s position as an international fintech hub.”

On the people development front, IFS Skillnet runs a highly successful Advancing Women programme. “FSI supports the Women in Finance Charter which underpins the industry’s ambition to see increased participation of women at all levels from junior management right up to board level.”

A new development is the creation of a suite of e-learning programmes. “This will be a free resource offering bite-sized learning to individuals as and when they wish to avail of it,” says Callan. “It will help get people started on the learning and upskilling journey. It will be particularly useful for SMEs who don’t have large training budgets or an inhouse training capability.”

At the other end of the spectrum, IFS Skillnet has worked with training partners to create the world’s first sustainable finance compliance training programme. “This is a highly complex area and a hugely important one for Ireland,” Callan adds. “Having the skilled talent here will help attract further investment in sustainable finance activities to Ireland. Ireland is already a leader in sustainable finance in terms of the funds we have under management and the products we have here. This will help consolidate that position.”

Regulation and compliance generally is a strong area of focus for IFS Skillnet. “There is so much of it that firms could exhaust their entire learning and development budgets on it,” Callan notes. “As new regulations come down the track, we in Financial Services Ireland will run seminars and provide information to members on their potential impact and when they become reality in law, IFS Skillnet will offer compliance training for the industry.”

The impact of change on people in the industry is also addressed. “We have developed the Skills Ignite programme for people who are being made redundant in the five pillar banks,” says Callan. “The programme has €1 million in funding from Skillnet Ireland through IFS Skillnet, along with contributions from each of the pillar banks, and the IOB. The aim is to get to people before they leave the sector and offer them micro-credentials to upskill in other areas of financial services, which may help them to stay with the bank or transfer to a different employer within the financial services sector. By end 2022, 800 people had engaged with the programme.”

Looking ahead, the goal is to continue to grow the number of people trained. “We delivered training to 2,000 people in 2022 and we aim exceed that this year,” says Noonan. “180 companies sent people for training with us last year. They recognise the excellent value represented by our subsidised training.”

To find out how IFS Skillnet can help you identify and meet your company’s talent needs visit