Should the mainstream education system be working more closely with business to ensure that it is providing training that delivers economically valuable skills? This is the key question to be addressed by a conference that will attempt to get behind the rhetoric of the skills shortages debate to a consideration of the relationship between education and business. Education is a transcending area of policy and our educational system encompasses important spiritual, ethical, cultural, personal development and social objectives, as well as economic ones.

There is a view, particularly from some sections of the system itself, that pressure to redefine education as a utilitarian handmaiden of the economy should be resisted. They argue that it is neither appropriate nor possible for the mainstream system to be continually adapted to serve constantly changing business needs. At the same time, many business leaders bemoan the continuing failure of the education system to develop the skills required for Ireland to make the transition to a competitive and innovation-driven economy.

The challenge of meeting future skills for those already in the workforce has also become a major preoccupation of policy-makers in most advanced economies. The National Skills Strategy report warns that if our aspiration to improve workplace skills is to become a reality, it will require the co-ordination of a wide range of stakeholders including universities, institutes of technology, vocational education committees, Skillnets, FAS and other development agencies and providers.

The conference will also consider if the Irish economy is paying a price for the apparent disconnection between our education and training systems. This conference presents an excellent opportunity for business, educationalists, trade unions, government and agency representatives to debate and engender a joint understanding of education and training policy in Ireland.

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