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Key Skills Framework
Enhancing employability within a lifelong learning paradigm

A working paper by the Skills Research Initiative
A prior version of this paper was accepted for presentation at the International Technology Education and Development (INTED) annual conference 2007.

Author - Aidan Kenny, Ray English, Dave Kilmartin

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Micro perspective: Irish national policy context

While the Irish economy is currently experiencing skills shortages and skills gaps in certain areas (see note 19), policy makers, employers and trade unions have identified the up-skilling of resident workers as crucial to the development of a strong economy. As Ms Anne Heraty, Chairperson, Expert Group on Future Skills Needs (EGFSN), claims: ‘The up-skilling and training of the resident population must be seen as the primary response to skill shortages. Developing the work force at all levels is crucial to Ireland’s sustained economic development (EGFSN 2005: 4).

While specialised up-skilling programmes can be provided in the workplace, for example training in the utilisation of new equipment, this source of up-skilling is specific and non-transferable; it benefits the employer and worker only in the immediate term. While these specialised specific skills are extremely necessary, they should be underpinned by the development of a broader, long-term strategic planning such as the adoption of a ‘generic skills’ up-skilling policy. This would benefit both the employer and the worker; the employer gains a worker with increased knowledge capital and the worker improves their human capital, transferable skills and therefore employability potential. This point is given a meso perspective in the Irish Progress Report ‘Modernisation of Education and Training 2010’:

In order to maintain and enhance Ireland's international competitiveness, ensuring that the education and training systems promote the development of human capital, especially through the identification of future key skills needs and the putting in place of appropriate related learning opportunities.
(2005: 38)

The National Development Plan (NDP) 2000–2006 (see note 20), launched in 1999, represented the largest investment plan in the history of the Irish State at that time. The main objective is the promotion of sustainable economic growth and employment. According to a statement by Minister Micheál Martin, about the NDP:

…education had been established as a key priority by the Government and … the National Development Plan represents the unprecedented underpinning and expansion of programmes across the next seven years. ‘I believe that this ambitious Plan provides an excellent foundation for delivering a high-quality and inclusive education system over the coming years.’ The number of education issues covered by the Plan has greatly expanded from its predecessor and funding is very clearly focussed on national priorities. These are:

  • To tackle disadvantage through a range of interventions at different levels
  • To promote and support a culture of lifelong learning with a clear emphasis on second-chance education
  • To modernise facilities and promote quality at all levels.
(15 November 1999, NDP 2000–2006)

The plan set out a €57 billion investment programme targeting key areas that impact on national competitiveness, such as infrastructure development, education and training, the productive sector, promotion of social inclusion and regional development. There was a substantial commitment made towards investment in education and training, with particular emphases on lifelong learning and ‘second chance education’. The premise was that to maintain Ireland’s economic performance in a rapidly changing and increasingly competitive globalised world, resources have to be targeted at people to enhance ‘stock knowledge’ and ‘human capital’. The Enterprise Strategy Group (see note 21 ) suggests that:

From an enterprise perspective, the ability of the education system to respond flexibly to economic and social change is critical to the supply of appropriate skills for the effective functioning of the economy. Ireland’s economic development will depend to a large degree on knowledge and innovation, both of which are essential in making the transition to higher value activities that support economic growth and wealth creation. People are the enablers of such activities and the education and training system must adapt to produce the skills to drive successful enterprise.
(2004: 97)

The above quotation demonstrates the economic perspective for the role of VET, FE and HE in the knowledge-based economy. The approach that this report adopts is an example of the general ‘neoliberal’ (see Lynch 2006b; Young 2005) economic model of education proposed by numerous interested parties or stakeholders. The general assumption is based in the ‘human capital’ (Becker 1964) economic paradigm, with its emphasis on gaining an economic return and competitive advantage on investment made in the spheres of education and training. The Operational Programme for Employment and Human Resources 2000–2006 also focuses on the human capital model. Three areas for skills development in the Third Level are targeted for investment: Middle-level Technician/Higher Technical and Business Skills, Undergraduate Skills and Institute Trainee Programme. An emphasis is placed on developing links between business and education and training providers to address skills shortages. This has implications with regards to mature applicants (workers, unemployed) gaining access to education and training programmes that are suitable to meet their requirements. The new NDP 2007–2013 (launched just before the submission deadline of this paper) will invest €183.7 billion in five priority areas: economic infrastructure, €54.7 billion; enterprise, science and innovation, €22 billion; human capital, €25.8 billion; social infrastructure, €33.6 billion; and social inclusion, €49.6 billion. Skills development, enhancement and up-skilling is mentioned throughout the document and particular emphasis is placed on investing in primary and secondary education, VET, FE and HE. (See Chap. 9, ‘Human capital priority’: 189–206; see also Appendix 2 for extracts from both NDP 2000–2006 relating to employability and NDP 2007–2013 to human capital.)

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