Small Business Column: Still gaps between education and needs of business

With state exams in full swing, Kehlan Kirwan from the Small Business Show examines why there are still skill gaps between what education provides and what businesses need to fill positions

I watched the debate on RTÉ’s Prime Time last Tuesday night, which focused on third-level institutions and — yet again — a simple debate turned to farce on the national airwaves. An integral part of the debate was missing. Small businesses, which will be looking to hire postgraduates, were absent from the panel.

The gap between the skills of graduates and the skills required by the business community is still noticeable. Time and time again we’re listening to stories about Irish companies being forced to look outside the country to find the right skills.

In my second-ever column for the Irish Examiner I made the argument that small businesses don’t influence social circles around them enough. Included in that was education. It is one of the most important aspects to the future of business in this country and how it will develop over the next 20 years.

Last week, I attended a business bootcamp for the winners of The Student Enterprise Awards at the Nexus Centre, at the University of Limerick. While there, I interviewed the students, most of whom were no older than 17.

It was an incredible eye-opener. These students had created businesses that had no reason not to go on and be successful. But what was apparent from the people talking to them from the Nexus Centre was that they needed to think differently. This wasn’t school and, so, they needed to challenge not only themselves but what they were listening to. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, you’ll never ‘look stupid’.

My favourite teacher, when I was in school, was my English teacher, Mr Grimes from St Caimin’s in Shannon. He made us challenge assumptions of what Shakespeare and Friel were saying with their works. It is something that I would like to think I have held onto.

That, ultimately, is what the education system should be. An experience of learning rather than an over-exorbitant explanation of something found in a textbook. Anyone can read a book, but the need for students to challenge what they read is lacking. Technology has allowed students of all ages to see another world of learning. One uninhibited by the old styles of education and it changes on a daily basis. With new ideas comes new learning.

Small businesses now need to challenge universities and schools to raise the bar to their level. We can no longer have an argument about education without looking at businesses and start-ups and asking what they need. Working more in tandem with each other, SMEs and the education system can build up the right people for the right jobs. Then, and only then, can the education system be the right requirement for students and business.

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