Internationalisation of skills required for Irish labour market

As the National Skills Strategy nears its final two years of implementation, the economic context in which it was published is vastly different to the current circumstances, with further changes in the labour market having been catalysed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

In 2016, the Department of Education published the National Skills Strategy, with the aim of upskilling the workforce in the State. Ireland’s economy was in recovery mode from its descent into recession. Indeed, the strategy was published just three years after the Troika relinquished its influence over the economy.

Currently, the strategy falls under the aegis of the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science.

No progress report has been published, meaning that its success rate will not be on the public record until at least 2025. The report’s predecessor was successful in reaching targets for people with Level 4-5 qualifications, education progression rates, and the number of learners completing senior cycle at second level, with the number of people aged 20-24 achieving a Level 4-5 qualification at 94 per cent in 2014.

Across all sectors, there is a common demand for people with language skills, pointing to a need for a higher emphasis on foreign languages in the education system. This process began with a pilot in primary education in 2021 as part of the Foreign Languages Strategy 2017-26, which Education Minister Norma Foley TD stated was a “success”. The Department of Education has stated that this will be a requirement in future curricula.

Additionally, an OECD report estimates that the 65 and over population in the State will rise to over 43 per cent of the population by 2030, meaning that almost half of the adult population will require some form of state support and will not be able to contribute to the labour market.

The manufacturing sector, according to the strategy document, requires experienced scientists and engineers. The medical sector, meanwhile, emphasises the need for upskilling among mechanical, automation, and validation engineers; polymer technicians; software engineers; quality engineers; and regulatory compliance experts.

The ICT sector will require more skilled workers in core technological skills such as software development, cloud, security, networking, and infrastructure, with further requirements of a combination of technical skills with business, analytical, and foreign language skills as the job requirements become more complex.

The freight, transport, and logistics sector has growth potential in Ireland. With export revenues having increased by roughly €60 billion since the publication of the strategy, there will be further need for graduates in management, planning, and ICT, as well as skilled warehouse staff and HGV drivers.

As the economy continues its dynamic transformation towards more digitisation with further requirements to ensure that climate change is being tackled, the National Skills Strategy provides a broad-based foundation from which Irish workers can adapt to their ever-changing surroundings. However, given the changes that have occurred due to the Covid-19 pandemic, more in-depth measures will need to be taken given the effect of the pandemic on industry throughout the State.

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