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We will lag behind until education matches industry needs

How to tackle Ireland's skills deficit has become a familiar refrain amongst Irish employers and across media.

How do we bridge the gap between the skills associated with the bulk of our third-level graduates and skills that are practically required by industry?

It is no secret that Ireland needs to produce more technology graduates, more software engineers and, overall, better business leaders to support economic renewal.

A recent report by the ESRI highlighted the catastrophic effects the recession has had on the under-45 segment of Ireland's workforce.

In an extremely difficult economic climate, Ireland needs to keep its employed working and help those unable to find work to develop new skills valued by employers.

The Government is undoubtedly making progress in tackling the mismatch between education and the labour market.

In addition to reforms relating to the maths syllabus in schools and the CAO system overall, the recent Action Plan for Jobs outlines plans to implement reskilling and conversion courses in the workforce.

Programmes like JobBridge have real merit.

But while these initiatives have validity, additional immediate and practical action can close the gap between the worlds of education and work.

The onus resides on both educators and on companies themselves. Emerging evidence illustrates how educational institutions can work more directly with industry to significantly develop workforce capability and ultimately company performance.

The concept of "customising" education to meet industry's precise skills needs is not particularly new. Germany's long-established system of vocational schooling and apprenticeships has been connecting skills to industry for many decades.


Britain is also currently re-shaping its technical education to better fit its economy's needs, as is Singapore. 'Meister Schools' in South Korea are working with multi-national power houses such as Samsung to ensure candidates emerge with expertise and knowledge that is specifically valued by industry.

There is also an emerging awareness of the possibilities in this respect in Ireland, but we are behind the curve.

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Prompted by the cries of skills deficit from the likes of Google, PayPal, Microsoft and LinkedIn, I would strongly argue that we have a clear opportunity to use the expertise that resides across the Irish educational sector to help industry integrate tailor-made development programmes into organisations for mutual benefit.

Evidence is fast emerging of how organisations in Ireland of all shapes and sizes can benefit.

The Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) recently won an Irish Institute of Training & Development (IITD) national award for its accelerated management development programme.

The programme, designed and delivered by the Irish Management Institute (IMI) in collaboration with the DAA, is entirely customised to the unique needs of the DAA and is part of its strategy to build a high-performance culture amongst employees.


Such initiatives are underpinned by two critical kernels of truth: firstly, customised education fast-tracks skills development and good management practices in companies.

Secondly, good management really matters. IMI, building on empirical work done by McKinsey and the London School of Economics, found that Ireland has the capacity to quickly add €2bn to business competitiveness by improving day-to-day management practices.

Executive education feeds management strategy and the operational aspects of company performance. Management matters to productivity.

Irish companies and industry do not have to go abroad to find this type of training support and business education.

Customised education offerings in Ireland are growing, but industry-education links need to be intensified.

Once again, IMI was named last week as the only Irish business school to be globally ranked among international providers of customised executive education in this year's 'Financial Times' executive education rankings.

By collaborating with industry, academia can help companies develop the business and leadership excellence that companies require from their staff.

Companies need to approach employee development more proactively, consistently and strategically.

By forging closer relations between companies and educational institutions, Ireland's workforce can better meet industry's needs and simultaneously reduce the hiring-firing cycle.

Simon Boucher is chief operations officer of the IMI

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