Skills anticipation activities comprise skills forecasts, assessments and foresight activities. In 1991, the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) developed occupational forecasting models in conjunction with the Training and Employment Authority (Foras Áiseanna Saothair, FÁS), and the organisations jointly produced Manpower Forecasting Studies between 1991 and 2007. The majority of Ireland’s labour market intelligence and skills data are produced by the Skills and Labour Market Research Unit (SLMRU) based in SOLAS. The SLMRU reports on a range of labour market indicators, such as vacancy statistics and occupational forecasts (taken over from the ESRI in 2008). It runs an employer’s survey and produces sectoral studies.
The aim of skills anticipation activities is to ensure that education and training provision is relevant to current and future labour market demands and skills needs.
A number of changes and restructuring, pertinent to skills anticipation, have occurred in Ireland since 2011 within the context of the economic crisis and a change in political administration.
In November 2011, the Irish government released the Public Sector Reform Plan which placed the EGFSN within the remit of the Department of Education and Skills (An Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna, DES).<[ii] The following year the government published a major labour activation strategy, Pathways to Work[iii] which set out a number of key actions and targets to address persistent joblessness. As a result, the Labour Market Council was set up, which supported the establishment of SOLAS and Education and Training Boards (ETBs). SOLAS was created in 2013 under the Further Education and Training Act as an Agency of the DES, replacing FÁS to build a further education and training (FET) ‘sector that is responsive to the needs of learners and the requirements of a changed and changing economy.’[iv]
In 2016, the DES and the Department for Skills, Research and Innovation jointly released Ireland’s National Skills Strategy 2025, which builds upon the 2007 strategy Towards Tomorrow’s Skills and aims to ‘support an increase in the supply of skills to the labour market,’ actively including educators and employers in the development of skills.[v]
Ireland’s skills anticipation processes are governed by the DES with the support of the Department of Enterprise, Trade & Employment (An Roinn Post, Fiontar agus Nuálaíochta, DJEI) and a variety of stakeholders. It works closely with a wide range of stakeholders including learners, employers, ETBs, government departments, state bodies, Quality and Qualifications Ireland (Dearbhú Cáilíochta agus Cáilíochataí Êireann, QQI), the Higher Education Authority (An túdarás um ard-oideachas, HEA) (which oversees tertiary-level education in Ireland), institutes of technology and representative organisations.
The role of stakeholders
Skills anticipation activities are well coordinated, with data collated from a number of official data providers and intelligence disseminated to intended target groups and policymakers. Data are collected by government departments and agencies and collated in the National Skills Database, which is publicly available and widely disseminated.
In 1991 the independent ESRI worked with FÁS to produce an occupational forecasting model and a series of Manpower Forecasting Studies. The responsibility for the occupational forecasting model has since been absorbed within FÁS and run by the SLMRU since 2008.[vi] The SLMRU consults with key agencies and employer bodies, such as Ibec and the ESRI, as a final integrity check on the occupational employment forecasts.
The EGFSN was established under the former Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment in 1997 and now sits under the DJEI and the DES,[vii] and informs the government on skills needs. The EGFSN was created to ensure that ‘labour market needs for skilled workers are anticipated and provided for.’[viii] The EGFSN operates under a social partnership model and comprises a range of experts and stakeholders, namely trade unions, businesses, employees, education, government and state agencies, voluntary organisations and career guidance providers. It advises the government on current and future skills needs of the economy and on other labour market issues that impact on Ireland’s enterprise and employment growth. Its role is to ensure that labour market needs for skilled workers are anticipated and met.[ix] This advice is achieved through a combination of:[x]
- Skills foresight and benchmarking;
- Strategic advice on building skills through education and training;
- Data collection and analysis on demand and supply of skilled labour;
- Influencing and monitoring of implementation.
The EGFSN is considered an effective group as it is representative of a range of stakeholders, and because it uses up-to-date labour market intelligence and occupational forecasting data. The EGFSN is a trans-ministerial committee, which includes stakeholders from social, further education and training and government sectors. It reports to both the Minister of Education and Skills and the Minister of Enterprise, Innovation and Jobs.
Management of the National Apprenticeship System, the European Adjustment Globalisation Fund (EGF), eCollege, Safe Pass and the Construction Skills Certification Scheme fall to SOLAS. SOLAS was responsible for the MOMENTUM programme[xi], as well, which is not active anymore.
The CSO, a statutory body, provides official statistics, which are used for skills anticipation research by the SLMRU and EGFSN (e.g. the Labour Force Survey). However, the CSO does not conduct research on skills anticipation.
Regional representatives also play a role in skills anticipation processes. In 2016, the Department of Education and Skills established a network of nine regional skills fora[xii]. Each Regional Skills Forum is made up of a Steering Group, comprising representatives of education and training (FET, including VET, and third level), business representatives and a manager who leads the activities of each forum. Each Forum is intended to form a single point of contact for employers who wish to avail of a range of services and supports available within the education and training system. Regional Skills Fora managers work with individual employers, especially SMEs, to identify their skills needs and explore how these needs can be addressed through the education and training system, if appropriate. Where appropriate, the Regional Skills Fora can serve as a platform for industry to input into curriculum design and course delivery.
Information and data from skills anticipation activities are widely disseminated to government departments, universities and ETBs. Wide-ranging and comprehensive information is also disseminated through high-profile events and web-based skills portals to reach target groups.
Summary information by occupation from the National Skills Database was published on the Department of Social Protection’s (An Roinn Coimirce Sóisialai) Career Directions website. This has since been replaced by SOLAS, which targets public employment service (PES) and career guidance officers. SOLAS summarises information from the Labour Market Bulletin and the SLMRU occupational forecasts. The objective is to help the PES in advising jobseekers, but there is a concern that PES and career guidance officers have limited understanding of the labour market and do not keep up to date with relevant publications. Labour market information (LMI) is publicly available on the SOLAS LMI website.
The EGFSN’s outputs are targeted at students, jobseekers and career guidance officers through websites, such as the Careers Portal, newsletters and the Institute of Guidance Counsellors (Institúid na gComhairleoirí Treorach, IGC). The websites are publicly available and can therefore be used by not only the target groups but also the PES and employers. The Careers Portal was created in response to a recommendation by the EGFSN for a single portal with labour market information and career guidance. It is supported by public and private organisations.
Enterprise Ireland runs a programme called ‘Spotlight on Skills’ (launched in December 2017), which also aims to train companies in identifying the skills needs of their companies over the short-medium term. Two persons are selected from each company to attend a workshop which aims to assist companies to identify and plan solutions to their skills requirements, within the context of their own business strategies. Following the workshop, interested companies may also avail of targeted engagement with their local Regional Skills Forum manager to address any education/training related skills needs.
These publications and outputs are intended for use by a range of stakeholders.
Funding and resources
SOLAS, the EGFSN and the CSO are funded by the government.