The webinar was chaired by Neasa Quigley who introduced the speakers and shared the aim of the webinar – to invite a conversation and discuss solutions to job creation and upskilling the economy to recover from Covid-19.
Richard began the conversation by introducing WorkPlus, a membership network connecting businesses, employees, apprentices and young people with training and retraining. Within NI there are seven priority sectors: tech sector, creative and digital media, agriculture food sector, business and financial services, advanced manufacturing and engineering, renewable energies and recycling, and health and life sciences. These are the areas that were noted as needed more upskilling and growth. Richard looked at the different qualification levels that are needed and pointed that you don’t necessarily need people who have degrees to enter the workforce. He shared different approaches to entering the workforce whether that be through the undergraduate or apprenticeship route. There are a variety of different skills pathways that you can take such as on-the-job learning, undergraduate study, apprenticeships, assured skills and more.
Mary introduced Manufacturing NI’s focus areas; aligning skills to industry demand (current and future), industry upskilling, and facilitating access to best practice. In a recent survey, almost half of respondents said that they were finding it difficult to recruit those with the right skills to meet demands, compared to 20% in the previous year. Mary stressed the important of addressing skills gaps by encouraging more women into manufacturing – campaigning for gender balance. She also looked at the use of technology in overcoming the challenges brought by Covid-19. Digital skills were clearly paramount to the success of the NI manufacturing sector’s response to the crisis. Nevertheless, upskilling and retraining more widely, are of critical importance to manufacturers across the board. According to the World Economic Forum's Future of Jobs Report, 50% of all employees will need reskilling by 2025, as adoption of technology increases. What can Government and industry do to futureproof recovery? Protect jobs, upskill and retrain workers to be digitally fluent, and harness the power of young people to embrace digitalisation.
Lastly Nic drew from his experience at CBI, examining the skills issues from an early age, formal education, and adult reskilling. Every job is going to change in some way as 90% of the workforce will experience changes in the next 10 years. Most people will need some form of upskilling, a gradual change that is not drastic but there will be some that need to be retrained, which will require drastic changes. To meet the demands of an increasing digital economy, it is crucial that we invest in reskilling businesses, governments, as well as individuals. Individuals can play a large role in investing in themselves and in their future. By continuing to learn and adapt to new ways of working and technologies, they can better prepare themselves for the challenges that lay ahead.
The webinar ended with a Q&A session where audiences asked questions to the panel. We discussed best ways to upskill employees, best practices that we can be learning from other countries such as Singapore, whether governments are putting enough financial support during the period of pandemic recovery, and more.
During the webinar, we conducted a live poll and asked the participants what the most important sectors are for Northern Ireland’s economic recovery. Our participants ranked cyber security, artificial intelligence technology and renewable energy as being the most important sectors and cited employer support as being the biggest barrier to upskilling/reskilling employees.
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