Opening up more courses to workers through links between employers and training agencies forms part of a plan to help businesses adapt to changing times.

The provision of new avenues into programmes, traditionally reserved for full-time students, will be one of the ways of meeting a target of getting 40,000 workers engaged in State-supported upskilling by 2021.

The policy developed by further education and training agency Solas will particularly target low-skilled and older workers but also those in jobs or business sectors at risk from new technologies and changing economic demands.

Despite having the EU’s highest-qualified people aged 30 to 34, around 43% of employees in Ireland are qualified no higher than Leaving Certificate or equivalent, and significant proportions have low literacy, numeracy, and digital skills.

‘Soft skills’ such as being better able to learn and perform non-routine cognitive and interpersonal tasks are also targeted by the new policy.

It is designed to help the country’s small and medium enterprises, in particular, to respond to Brexit and other challenges like rising business costs and more demanding consumers.

Changing technologies and demands for services for an ageing population are also key drivers of the strategy, as well as work to deliver effective regional development.

Structured partnerships between businesses and providers of education and training will be needed, including further expansions of apprenticeship and traineeship schemes.

The policy was created as a target of Education Minister Richard Bruton’s 2018 education action plan, and developed by Solas in consultation with stakeholders from business and education.

The minister said Ireland is behind in the area of worker upskilling and it will be a major challenge for enterprise and the education and training sector to develop and nurture talent already in the workplace.

Both business and the education sector need to substantially step up their efforts to meet the very ambitious target we have set of at least 15% of adults participating in lifelong learning by 2020,” said Mr Bruton.

Solas reported that 15,000 employees engaged in up-skilling last year, including those on adult and community education programmes and those accessing training through their workplace.

The policy aims to see 7,500 to 8,000 extra participants each year from 2019 to 2021, bringing workers involved in training or education to 40,500.

The biggest area of increase would be through programmes in which employers partner with a local education and training board (ETB). The number of workers on such courses would rise from 2,300 in 2017 to nearly 18,000 in 2021.

Around 3,000 people a year would also access training through their employer as a result of a particular identified regional skills development initiative. Such moves will require ETBs to improve their own capacity to work with employers to identify their own skills needs.

The Solas policy will also see more than a 50% rise in employees directly accessing further education and training in ETBs.

This will see the number of workers availing of training on an individual basis reach 19,600 by 2021, nearly 7,000 more than last year’s figure.

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