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How can the Irish education system help address skills gaps?

Aug 24, 2016

Ireland is recognised as having a world class education system and a highly educated population. Recent years have seen the introduction of many positive changes to our education and training system; however our economy still has significant skills gaps which risk impeding our economic growth and future job creation. The current skills mismatches and gaps must be addressed as a priority, while also ensuring that the skills needs of the future will be met.

Additionally, our education system is facing demographic challenges across all levels of education. According to the figures published by the Department of Education, the upward trend of previous years in numbers of learners at all levels of the education system will continue for the period 2015 to 2017 and beyond. Pupil numbers in primary schools are projected to increase by 25,000 between 2015 and 2018 to 569,000. Projections for second level are for an increase of 12,000 pupils over the same three year period to 350,000.

At third level, numbers of full time students will increase by almost 9,000 over the next three years to 174,000 and will continue to increase until at least 2028. This occurs in parallel to the ongoing underfunding of third level education. Since 2008 the higher education capital budget has been reduced by 85% while student numbers have increased by 25%.  With the first round of CAO offers out this week, it is important that students are fully informed of their full range of options when it comes to further education and training post-secondary school.

Earlier this year the Government launched Ireland’s National Skills Strategy (NSS) 2025, which is set to increase the number and scope of apprenticeships on offer. One of the aims of the NSS is a reform of the apprenticeship system, with a view to expanding participation and industry input. This is a welcome move for Ireland’s education system. However, the expansion and delivery of ambitious targets for increased numbers participating in apprenticeship programmes will need substantial funding.

As part of our submission on Budget 2017, we recommend that the following steps are taken,

  • It is imperative that Ireland’s apprenticeship programmes receive the funding necessary to enable them to succeed and become a preferred option for school leavers in the longer term. 50,000 places by 2020 is an ambitious target, but supporting this strategy will pay dividends into the future.
  • We must increase the provision of training targeted to the long-term unemployed and early school leavers in order to increase overall employment levels and negate the risk of entrenched unemployment. This will help address the high incidence of jobless households in Ireland.
  • Educational facilities have deteriorated considerably and have not kept pace with the specifications required for education in hi-tech and innovative disciplines. The capital allocation to the Department of Education and Skills must address the issue of investment in educational facilities to cater for increasing student numbers, a growing diversity of learning modes and upgrade of equipment within laboratories.
  • Funding and subsidisation for flexible training and education courses should be increased to allow for the ongoing professional development of those inthe workforce. Lifelong learning must be supported in order to enhance the productivity of our enterprises. The National Training Fund should be refocused in light of decreasing unemployment figures to provide flexible management training to support productivity in businesses, particularly SMEs. 
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