Time to upskill
Life-long learning is vital for the future of the economy
THE drive towards further education within the workplace has taken a determined and definite step forward.
Concerns about the future competency of the workforce have led to a new push from employment bodies such as FÁS and the Small Firms Association to encourage a system of life-long learning.
Recent statistics from FÁS indicate that 60pc of those people who will be working in 2020 may be unemployable if they do not upskill.
As such, the State agency has multiplied its investment in training by five times over the last two years to ?40m in 2007.
In the same sense, the Small Firms Association has launched a major new training system to tackle the large number of SMEs which fail due to a lack of management skills.
The 'SFA/FÁS centre of excellence for owner-managers' acts on a similar basis to the Irish Management Institute (IMI), but for smaller companies.
The moves by both of the bodies illustrate the importance which all in the economy, including the self-employed and SMEs, need to attach to future learning and education.
One of the most popular avenues for business people to go down when looking to upskill is the IMI, through which about 4,000 people per annum take part in courses.
"It tends to be someone who has been running their business for at least a couple of years," said Siobhan McAleer, who specialises in dealing with SMEs for the IMI.
Businesses looking to avail of help should contact Enterprise Ireland and their local enterprise board to see what financial help might be available.
"Microbusinesses or start-ups get a lot of help from the enterprise boards. You find that it is a few years down the line or ten years down the line that they want to grow their business or they have realised their own limitations - and so it is really looking for ways to help them do that with their business."
The majority of SMEs' owners that come for further education are looking for a "direct application" for their firm. "Relevance is a big issue for them. The way we look at it is that they are looking for something which can help them solve problems and we try to focus our development around that," said Ms McAleer.
"One of the issues is time away from the business, so they tend to prefer shorter programmes - but where they get the real benefit is from the longer ones."
As time is at such a premium in today's society, especially when working for yourself, there is a wide variety of flexible hours in which executive training courses can now be taken, whether from a few hours a week to the full-time college option.
Ms McAleer says that it is often the case that business owners realise their own limitations and, as a result, look for further education.
The benefits are clear. Recent research indicated that people achieving a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) can achieve a wage increase of 70pc within two years of completion.
Diploma brightens the horizon for web firm Red Sky's founderCase Study WHEN Keelan Cunningham took the step to set up his own business in 2001, he wanted some academic support to help him with his new venture.
Having already achieved a degree in agricultural science from UCD and a Masters in interactive media from DIT, Mr Cunningham looked for a business qualification to help with setting up web design company Red Sky.
"I was looking around for something which would give me some support. Starting your own business is high-risk as it is," he said.
"I wanted to do something which would give me a perspective into how to grow a business - starting is easy but growing is the difficult part."
Through an Enterprise Ireland incubation programme for high-potential start-ups, Mr Cunningham achieved a diploma in business development from DIT.
As a focused entrepreneur, he says he got more from the experience.
"I got a lot out of it because I wanted to get a lot out of it. I wasn't just there for the craic," said Mr Cunningham.
"I was running a business at the same time as getting myself educated, so it was a sacrifice on the business to actually work on the more strategic thinking side of things.
"There is a theory out there that the most successful businessmen in the world spend more of their time working on the business than in it.
"If you actually take time to stop and examine what you are doing, it wasn't just the academic, it was the peer group scenario as well in terms of thinking and whether it was going to work."
Red Sky has grown significantly since its beginning six years ago and now employs ten people. It has a turnover of just under ?1m per annum.
The additional education Mr Cunningham took part in made for good experience when hiring other people for his firm, he says.
"I like seeing it in people [additional education], as it shows that they have commitment," he said.
"I am certainly looking to branch out in the future and I would be a big fan in the life-long training plan."
A matter of course: how to get in training
* FUNDING: Consult with the local enterprise board to see what funds may be available to receive additional education.
* Timing: Time is always at a premium and, as such, many courses operate on a part-time basis and are flexible.
* Consult: Talk to the course provider and be clear of what you want from a course and choose as such.
* Stand back: Look at the future development of the business and where it is going, as well as concerning yourself with education for the day-to-day operation of the firm.
* Realise your limitations: know what you can and can't do and look to learn in the areas in which you have difficulty.