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Conference Highlights Need To Learn From International Experience

Date: 23 October 2007 

Experts in skills arena addressed Irish prospects at the FÁS Conference ‘Future Skills Needs: Comparing International Perspectives’

A clear message was issued by international skills experts regarding the future of the Irish, UK and US economies, emphasising that future economic success and competitiveness is reliant upon raising skills levels throughout the workforce.

Speaking at the FÁS conference on Future Skills Needs today (23rd October 2007), Dr. Ray Marshall, former Secretary of Labor under President Carter, stated that “all routine jobs in America are under threat as they may be replaced by machines or cheaper labour from low-cost countries. Only creative businesses, employing innovative people, will succeed.”

This theme was echoed by Martin Shanahan, responsible for the preparation of the Expert Skills Group’s report on a National Skills Strategy published earlier this year. He noted that Ireland’s development will see a shift to employment in services with three out of every four employees in Ireland working in the services sector by 2020. The Skills Strategy vision is that by 2020 nearly half of the workforce should have a third-level qualification or equivalent and 93% (now 72%) should have at least Leaving Certificate qualifications.

Opening the conference, Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Micheál Martin, T.D. stated “the development of management skills is a key issue for Ireland, as in all countries, and SME’s are the key drivers of innovation and economic growth.”

Summarising the UK Leitch Review of Skills, reference was made to the challenging targets for up-skilling the workforce, including addressing literacy and numeracy needs and the aim to increase the number of apprentices by 500,000 by 2020. The Leitch Review also considered implementation and recommended that the system should be demand-led.

Dr. Pete Lunn, ESRI, noted the common ground between the Irish, UK and American reports. He argued that while forecasts are never perfect they still provide useful information to policy-makers. He also identified the issues around whether skills needs are best identified by Government, employers or individuals.

In responding to the presentations, Rody Molloy, Director-General of FÁS, emphasised the importance of implementation, saying “We need to move on from visions of the future to concrete steps to achieve them”. He particularly identified the difficulty in up-skilling lower skilled persons in the workforce and drew attention to the present position where a graduate employee is five times more likely to receive training than someone with a Junior Certificate.

FÁS has developed a number of programmes and supports to up-skill people with low qualification and skills levels through initiatives such as Paid Learning Leave, Individual Learning Options and literacy and numeracy programmes under One Step Up.