Solas has been collaborating with Education and Training Boards (ETBs) to offer new upskilling and reskilling opportunities for people in employment and to support companies in develop their workforce in this challenging business environment.
Mary Lyons, director of enterprise employee and skills, SOLAS says Further Education and Training (FET) is working hard to support employees and businesses struggling to adapt to the new paradigm and is engaging at a local level to offer blended and online learning opportunities.
“We were doing a lot of work in anticipation of Brexit and then we pivoted in response to Covid. Our focus is on developing more agile learning opportunities for people who need to upskill or reskill,” she said.
“More than 9,500 employees participated in Skills to Advance training last year and in response to demand we are increasing the number of opportunities available in 2021.”
Skills to Advance is a policy initiative in Further Education and Training aimed at developing the skills of people in employment.
Developed in 2018 by Solas and the Department of Education and Skills (DES), it is being rolled out by the 16 Education and Training Boards (ETBs) around the country.
Skills to Advance enables targeted skill development for employees in the Irish workforce who are in lower skilled work and need more opportunities to advance in their working lives and careers, to sustain their employment and to avoid displacement or to avail of emerging job opportunities.
Equally SMEs benefit from assistance identifying skill needs and gaps. Research shows a 1 per cent increase in training days leads to a 3 per cent increase in productivity (CEDEFOP, 2007). Individuals and companies are often not aware of the highly subsidised, flexible training opportunities available to address skills needs which enhance employability and business growth.
Skills to Advance both anticipates and responds to skill needs. It targets those facing changes in their work due to technology advances, changing work practices and market diversification.
Further education and training opportunities offered through Skills to Advance incorporate digital, socio-emotional and technical skills development to enhance employee skills and support increased productivity in Irish SMEs.
Now more than ever, initiatives such as Skills to Advance are critical to allow us to respond effectively to external challenges such as those arising from the Covid-19 pandemic.
The structure of the Irish workforce has changed dramatically over the past few months and will continue to change and adapt as we progress to a changed business environment. This new climate requires a workforce that is highly adaptable and flexible.
To ensure that workers can achieve this agility, there is a real need for continuous upskilling and reskilling to not only perform their current tasks but to take on additional ones to sustain and grow businesses.
Developing leaders for hospitality and tourism
A key feature of Skills to Advance is its focus on sectors experiencing disruption or those with emerging opportunities. A recent example of a targeted sectoral approach is the Developing Leaders for Hospitality and Tourism Initiative.
To boost the retention and career progression of key talent, two dedicated programmes have been developed with the sector. Driven by the critical challenges now facing the industry, these customised programmes were developed by Solas and the Education and Training Boards in consultation with the Irish Hotels Federation, Fáilte Ireland and the Regional Skills Fora.
Providing highly subsidised training to upskill team leads and supervisory management staff, these programmes will maximise a hotel’s ability to deal with the new business environment, its challenges and opportunities.
In February 2021, Minister for Further and Higher Education, Simon Harris TD, launched these two national upskilling programmes for employees in the hospitality and tourism sector.
The hospitality sector, valued at upwards of €7.9 billion to the economy, has been severely impacted by the pandemic, with over 100,000 jobs at risk due to Covid-19 restrictions.
To boost the retention and career progression of key talent in the industry, the Developing Leaders for Hospitality and Tourism programmes provide highly subsidised upskilling opportunities, delivering critical team leadership and supervisory management skills to enable business recovery and growth.
Programme content includes operational skills management, customer care, people management, finance and controls, green/sustainability, strategic planning, communications, health and safety, promotions and sales and digital skills. Online training with tutor support is provided by ETBs nationwide with flexible delivery to suit employer and employee needs.
Speaking at the launch, Minister Harris said: “Covid-19 has hit the hospitality and tourism sectors and those working in them extremely hard. These two programmes offer an opportunity for employees and employers to upskill and will help staff deal with the new business environment, its challenges and opportunities.”
These highly subsidised, accredited programmes are aimed at hotel employees who are currently performing a team leader or frontline management role or are new to a supervisory role. They aim to equip employees in the hospitality sector with enhanced skills to lead and manage their teams effectively.
Benefits for employers include customised training to equip staff to lead teams effectively, increase staff motivation and retention and customised content to address skills gaps. For employees, benefits include enhancing skill sets, leading teams effectively, managing and motivating teams, developing digital skills and optimising career prospects.
Elaina Fitzgerald Kane, President, Irish Hotels Federation, who has led out on a series of roadshow events in collaboration with ETBs to highlight this innovative offering available through the ETBs, said: “I would like to commend Solas and the FET sector in their response to the impact of Covid-19 on the hotel sector. The proposed module content is very relevant and supports the development of the necessary leadership and management skill sets required to recover and grow our businesses.”
Frontline management skills
Highly successful regional initiatives designed, developed and rolled out through Skills to Advance include the Leadership and Management programme. It provides a new programme for companies across a range of sectors to equip them with the right skills for their frontline management teams.
Managing people now, while taking into consideration the challenges of working remotely, motivating teams to perform and leading the teams through change, poses a challenge for many businesses.
Skills covered by this programme include managing change, motivating staff, digital and remote working, which will maximise a company’s ability to deal with the emerging challenges and opportunities.
The Commercial Manager, Gary Connolly, Activ8 Solar Energies, confirms the effectiveness of the programme. “We have seen additional drive (from employees), as well as additional ways of thinking and ideas being brought to the table,” he said.
The Leadership and Management programme was developed by Solas and the ETBs in collaboration with companies and enterprise agencies including IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and the Regional Skills Fora.
A key outcome of this programme is the catalytic effect it has had in encouraging managers to invest in other training for employees. Team leaders, supervisors and frontline management are just one occupational category in need of upskilling and reskilling, to ensure they can manage and lead their teams effectively in this new business environment.
FET offers specific programmes for individuals looking to develop tech skills, including eCollege which offers free online courses in areas such as Microsoft Office, project management, computer programming, web and graphic design, explains Mary Lyons.
More than 33,000 people have availed of eCollege up to the end of 2020, compared with about 14,000 people in 2019. “To enable those impacted by Covid and also those engaged in remote working to avail of these opportunities and develop their tech skills, we opened it up in March,” said Lyons.
“Last year the majority of eCollege learners were unemployed. But now we have opened it up to all kinds of people in all types of employment and we are developing plans to expand eCollege into new sectors.”
The ETBs, which deliver further education and training programmes locally, also have a number of skills training courses relevant to remote working, Lyons adds. For example, Laois Offaly ETB, in collaboration with IDA Ireland, Solas and Grow Remote, have created new online national training to develop the capability and capacity of those wishing to become remote workers, as well as current remote workers and line managers nationally.
Developing skills to future proof our workforce in vulnerable occupations, businesses and sectors is the core mission of the Skills to Advance Initiative.
Recent events highlight that those in lower skilled work and in vulnerable sectors run most risk of displacement and need to be supported by their employers to engage in upskilling to retain employment and improve prospects in the workplace.
To avail of opportunities through Skills to Advance contact your local ETB