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Developing skills to thrive

How Skillnet Ireland training helps businesses capture opportunities in challenging times

The recent OECD Skills Strategy Ireland report, published in May, highlighted the fact that globalisation, digital transformation, green transition and demographic change are all combining to modify and increase the skills needed for Ireland to thrive.

Unfortunately it found many adults here do not have the skills required to succeed in the economies of the future, while participation in lifelong learning here lags behind Europe’s top performers. “Skills imbalances in the labour market are also relatively high, and workplaces could be better designed to stimulate the use of workers’ skills,” it found.

Skillnet Ireland, the business support agency responsible for workforce development, is on the case. It aims to increase participation in enterprise training by businesses in the belief that training and upskilling are key elements in keeping businesses competitive domestically and internationally. In 2020 alone Skillnet Ireland supported skills training in 8.3 per cent of all SMEs in Ireland.

“Skillnet is the government agency spearheading workforce development in Ireland,” says Dave Flynn, director of business networks at Skillnet Ireland.


It works with businesses of all sizes, across all sectors, helping them to solve workforce challenges from the need to digitalise their business processes, to their need to decarbonise them. “We work with around 23,000 businesses and 90,000 workers a year,” says Flynn.

Currently there are around 70 Skillnet business networks around the country. “Our business networks operate throughout Ireland and help sectoral or regional businesses by engaging with them, helping them to identify challenges and future goal ambitions, and figuring out the skills and talent piece needed to help them get there from here to there,” says Flynn.

That can include undertaking a skills assessment to identify the skills gaps holding a company back. In other cases a company will approach its Skillnet network manager with a clear view of its skills deficits. In each case the requisite training programmes are identified and put in place.

Membership of a Skillnet Ireland network is free so all the company has to do is pay for the training it receives. Government funding helps subsidise the cost, while the fact that network members share training initiative reduces the cost even more. “It makes it more affordable,” Flynn says.

Each Skillnet business network is a collection of private sector businesses that collaborate to address the skills needs within their sector or region. A single sector network works with businesses in specific sectors, developing bespoke solutions to meet existing and emerging skills needs within those sectors.

Multi-sector networks work with businesses in specific regions, developing bespoke training solutions to meet the needs within its region.

In all there are more than 70 distinct Skillnet business networks nationwide, including, for example, food drink Ireland; green tech; engineering; farm business and cobotics Skillnets. Regional Skillnet networks exist right across the country from the Border counties to south Kerry.

In recent years businesses have faced a series of challenges in quick succession, including Brexit, Covid and now inflation.

“There have always been challenges facing business but the frequency and pervasiveness of change has increased, particularly in relation to digitalisation and climate,” says Flynn. “These are creating conditions in which companies have to move much more quickly and yet still be strategic.”

Ideally they must respond to such challenges not just to survive, but to also seek out and capture the opportunities that disruption inevitably brings.

“If you take climate alone, as well as having to deal with new reporting requirements and the need for companies to help meet national goals there are also opportunities to carve out new markets and to augment and build the profile of your company as well,” says Flynn. “That’s because it is those companies that make the green transition that will attract good staff and customers.” Increasingly such businesses will be the ones to attract finance and investment too.

Realisation of the importance that skills building can play in such an environment is partly why he believes that despite the current difficulties fewer enterprises are cutting back on training budgets in a way they might have in the past. “Right now one of the key challenges is attracting and retaining people, and investing in training is a key part of doing that. Attitudes have changed,” he says.

Sandra O'Connell

Sandra O'Connell

Sandra O'Connell is a contributor to The Irish Times