Ireland’s Strong Global Skills Ranking: Room for Improvement?

World Economic Forum Future Skills

by Mick Lavin, Coach, Agile Coach, Mentor

The World Economic Forum’s Future Skills Report 2023 places Ireland as a leading country in terms of preparedness for future jobs and skills. The country performs strongly in all five key areas identified by the report: Human-to-Human (H2H) skills, Digital skills, Analytical thinking and innovation, Active learning and social skills, and Technology systems and infrastructure.

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While some may disagree with this assessment, in comparison to over 100 other countries, the objective scoring suggests Ireland is well-placed to compete and succeed in the near future.

What does Ireland’s Performance Look Like?

Ireland scores above average in H2H skills, with particular strengths in communication, negotiation, and management skills. In the future, as artificial intelligence automates more tasks currently performed by humans, a wide range of jobs will increasingly rely on these essential skills for success.

Ireland also performs strongly in Digital skills due to its strong technology sector and investment in digital infrastructure. This is a key area of focus for the Irish government, which has set a goal of making Ireland “a digital leader” by 2030. There remain challenges in this areas outside major population centres where there is scope for improvement.

It is also well-positioned in terms of Analytical thinking and innovation, thanks to a highly educated population and a focus on research and development. The country has a number of world-class universities and research institutions, and it is home to a number of multinational companies that invest heavily in research and development. Again, challenges remain in terms of STEM education and research.

Scoring above average in Active learning and social skills and demonstrating a good capacity for adaptability and teamwork puts Ireland in a strong position. These skills are essential for success in the modern workplace, where employees are often required to work on cross-functional & cross-cultural teams and adapt to new technologies and ways of working.

Technology systems and infrastructure are key strengths of Ireland. The country ranks high in internet accessibility and digital service availability. This makes it a good place to live and work for people who need to use digital technologies on a regular basis. But access to high-speed internet connections in some rural areas presents challenges for demographic distribution and equity across the island.

Opportunities for Improvement

While Ireland performs well in all five key areas identified in the report, there are a few areas where the country could improve. One area is in terms of providing more opportunities for lifelong learning and reskilling. The pace of change in the world of work is accelerating, and it is important for workers to have the opportunity to develop new skills throughout their careers.

Another area where Ireland could improve is in terms of promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace. A diverse and inclusive workforce is proven to be more innovative and productive.

In addition, Ireland should also improve in the following areas, addressing the barriers that prevent some industries from adopting new technologies: These barriers include a lack of digital skills and experience, tight margins and limited investment capital, legacy technology and processes, rural and remote location challenges, and cybersecurity and data privacy concerns.

  • Ireland has the highest rate of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) graduates in the EU, according to the IDA; however, there is still a need to:
  • Encourage more young people to pursue careers in STEM to create a strong pipeline of STEM talent and remain competitive in the global economy.

Start-ups are a key source of innovation and job creation. Ireland needs to create an environment that is supportive of start-ups and entrepreneurs in STEM areas

How can Ireland Accomplish These Improvements?

The Irish government can play a role in promoting lifelong learning and reskilling by providing funding for training programs and making it easier for workers to take time off from work to learn new skills. The government can also promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace by working with businesses and other organisations to develop and implement diversity and inclusion initiatives. Will they play a role?

Businesses can also play a role in promoting lifelong learning and reskilling by providing training programs for their employees and encouraging them to take advantage of these opportunities. Businesses can also promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace by creating a culture of respect and inclusion, and by hiring and promoting people from all backgrounds. Building this into a businesses’ DNA can be challenging but offers real benefits.

In addition, the Irish government and businesses can work together to address the barriers that prevent some industries from adopting new technologies. This could involve providing funding for training programs, developing new technologies that are tailored to the needs of specific industries, and providing support to businesses that are implementing new technologies. Will business or government agencies take the lead on this?

The government and businesses can also work together to encourage more young people to pursue careers in STEM. This can involve developing educational programs that promote STEM subjects, providing scholarships and other financial assistance to students who are pursuing STEM degrees, and creating internship and job opportunities for STEM graduates.

In 2022 the government launched ‘Impact 2030: Ireland’s Research and Innovation Strategy’ which puts research and innovation (R&I) at the heart of addressing Ireland’s social, economic and environmental challenges.

In addition to this, Ireland should also consider the following:

  • Investing in AI (Artificial Intelligence) and ML (Machine Learning) in order to remain competitive, as these technologies are transforming many global industries
  • Developing this national strategy and coordinating the efforts of government, businesses, and other stakeholders in preparing for the future of work
  • Monitoring and evaluating progress in terms of improving Ireland’s skills and competitiveness in order to identify areas where further action is needed

Finally, the government can do more to enhance a supportive environment for start-ups and entrepreneurs. This could involve providing tax breaks and other financial incentives to start-ups, creating co-working spaces and other resources for entrepreneurs, and providing mentorship and other support programs.

Conclusion

Ireland is a well-educated country with a strong workforce and a commitment to innovation. However, there are a few areas where the country could improve in terms of preparing for the future of work. By providing more opportunities for lifelong learning and reskilling, promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace, addressing the barriers that prevent some industries from adopting new technologies, encouraging more young people to pursue careers in STEM, and supporting the development of new businesses and start-ups, Ireland can ensure that its workforce is ready for the challenges and opportunities of the future. On a more positive note, in 2021, Ireland produced the National AI Strategy, which looks to “embrace the opportunities of AI—adopting a human-centric approach to the application of AI; staying open and adaptable to new innovations; and ensuring good governance to build trust and confidence for innovation to flourish, because ultimately, if AI is to be truly inclusive and have a positive impact on all of us, we need to be clear on its role in our society and ensure that trust is the ultimate marker of success.