Skills for Work (SFW) is a national initiative funded by the Irish Government to support the educational workplace training of adults in employment. The fact that SFW funding is directly allocated to those already in the workforce is unique. Over the years, the focus for most government funding was to upskill people not in employment, so that they could improve their educational skills to increase job opportunities. The Skills for Work annual budget provides 100% funding to companies to upskill approximately 2,700 adult employees.
In the early stages of the SFW programme (2006 -2008), the target groups were identified by national reports and EU workplace strategies, therefore the promotion of SFW courses was limited to employees with low education or no formal qualifications in the Retail and Wholesale sector. Since then, and due to the success of the SFW programme and to the very positive response from employees and employers, the programme has expanded to include a wider range of employment sectors, such as Food & Beverage, Hospitality, Health Care, SMEs and Lone Traders, to mention but a few. The need to expand the SFW provision into other employment sectors was also identified by the Skills for Work Regional Coordinators who are at the coalface of the programme. Through their role of working on the ground with employers and employees, the SFW Regional Coordinators regularly identify new groups of adults who require support to ensure they keep up with the growing demands of the workplace, especially in the areas of literacy, numeracy and information technology.
Promoting Skills for Work
The Skills for Work Programme is coordinated nationally by Dublin Dún Laoghaire Education and Training Board (ETB) on behalf of all 16 ETBs. There are nine Skills for Work Regional Coordinators across the country with the responsibility to promote the programme with employers and to encourage employees to embark on their new journey into adult education. The local ETBs, and in particular the Adult Key Skills Service, are essential partners in this development, as each SFW course is designed specifically to meet the specific needs of the employee and employer by integrating literacy and numeracy into each thematic workplace course. This three-pronged approach to promoting adult education also provides additional opportunities to refer people to the Adult Education Service (AES) who may not qualify for an SFW course.
In collaboration with employers, government departments and national agencies, such as Trade Unions, the National Roads Authority, the Food Safety Authority Ireland, the Irish Farmers Association and the transport industry, Skills for Work has developed a suite of workplace material. The workplace material was designed and developed by ETB Adult Literacy tutors with teaching experience in subject-specific areas such as Childcare, Health and Safety, Food and Nutrition and Communications. The SFW Workplace Manuals were launched by Minister of State Mr Tom Hayes in DDLETB, and are now being translated into four Irish dialects to be used in the Gaeltacht (Irish speaking) areas.
Skills for Work Employer Engagement
From small beginnings, great things grow and that is so true when it comes to Skills for Work and promoting workplace education. No stone is unturned or promotional event takes place that Skills for Work isn’t completely involved in. However, what is most important to the success of the programme is the role of the employer. When an employer promotes these workplace education opportunities to their staff, not alone do the staff benefit from the learning, but the employer does too. It has a positive effect on both the employee and the company. Feedback from companies who engaged with Skills for Work has highlighted the benefits for staff who have put themselves forward for in-house training and promotion. Employers have also commented on the fact that now that their staff have increased confidence and can manage workplace changes, they are more likely to stay with the company and not seek alternative employment. More information on participants' and employers' testimonials can be viewed on www.skillsforwork.ie
Skills for Work an Award Winning Programme
As the demand for workplace education is increasing, Skills for Work will be at the forefront of this and will lead by example through its high standard quality provision which is the hallmark of the programme. The fact that Skills for Work has been nominated for three different awards under the AONTAS Star Awards is a testimony to the high-quality service being provided to employees and by those delivering the courses. East Clare Learning in Action was shortlisted in 2017 which included Skills for Work in rural communities, the Farmer On-Line Herd Registration Course was shortlisted in 2016, and, in 2015, the Skills for Work programme was the overall National Star Award winner.
For more information on Skills for Work log onto www.skillsforwork.ie
Marian Lynch, National Coordinator, Skills for Work.