I propose to take Questions Nos. 297 and 298 together.
In December 2018, the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs (EGFSN) published ‘Digital Transformation: Assessing the Impact of Digitalisation on Ireland’s Workforce’. Whilst this report assesses the impact that the adoption of digital technologies has on Ireland’s workforce, the focus was broader than just the impact of artificial intelligence on employment in the services industry. ‘Digital Transformation’ focusses on the impact of the adoption of a number of new technologies (including artificial intelligence) on all sectors, occupations and regions of the economy over the years 2018-2023.
The report projects strong overall growth for the economy over the next five years. Whilst the report predicts that the number of jobs lost to the adoption of digital technologies will increase steadily over the next decade, it expects that the vast majority of sectors will employ more people in 2023 than they did in 2018.
The report highlighted how Ireland has the opportunity to place itself at the forefront of digital technologies through ensuring adequate skills provision and capitalising on Ireland’s significant ICT sector. It finds that existing Government policies and initiatives provide a solid foundation for the response to the expected changes arising from the increased adoption of digital technologies. Table 1 (below) provides the current policies and initiatives in place that align with the key policy implications arising from the report. It demonstrates the various ways in which Government are acting to embrace the benefits arising from digital transformation and also to mitigate the potential negative impacts on the workforce.
The report also highlights how increased career changes and workforce transitions will be a feature of the future. To ensure that these transitions are smooth, the continuous engagement of the workforce in education will be vital. In particular, it will be crucial that the workforce is equipped with the right transversal skills to manage changing job roles and career transitions. This underlines the importance of lifelong learning amongst the workforce. The concept of lifelong learning where each individual has an education and training programme they follow throughout their career will become more of an imperative.
The Department of Education and Skills has a number of policies and initiatives in this area which are aimed at increasing lifelong learning rates and the development of transversal skills at all stages of the education system. The National Skills Strategy 2025 acknowledges that transversal skills are becoming ever more important to an individuals’ successful and sustainable employment. Over the course of the Strategy, it aims to teach students at all stages of education and training a strong mix of transversal skills and subject knowledge. Particular emphasis is being placed on ICT skills, language proficiency and entrepreneurship in light of their importance to employability, personal development and civic participation.
Another policy with a major focus on upskilling and reskilling the working age population is Solas’ ‘Skills to Advance’ employee development policy framework. Launched in 2018, this is aimed at developing the skills of people in employment. This new policy framework provides key guidance, direction and targets for Education and Training Boards (ETBs) in supporting the upskilling of those in employment, working both directly with learners, and through their employers.
‘Skills to Advance’ will enable targeted support for vulnerable groups in the Irish workforce, with a particular focus on employees who have lower skills levels and who need more opportunities to advance in their working lives and careers, to sustain their employment and to avoid displacement or to avail of emerging job opportunities. The policy sets a target of having over 40,000 workers, whose skills level is below Level 5 on the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ), engaged in state supported skills development by 2021.
The policy also supports small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) who need assistance to invest in and develop their workforce. While employers continue to be primarily responsible for the skills development of their employees, and employees also have responsibility for their own development, this policy will complement employer-based and State initiatives underway through targeted support and investment by Government. This year, ETBs are being allocated an additional €11million in funding for implementation of ‘Skills to Advance’.
In addition to these measures, Future Jobs Ireland, the Government's new medium-term policy framework published recently, aims to drive Ireland’s development as a resilient and innovative economy, capable of coping with the transformational changes ahead posed by automation, artificial intelligence and other forms of technological innovation. Embracing innovation and technological change is one of Future Jobs Ireland’s key pillars. There are a number of ambitions and deliverables outlined in this respect including to assist this, including, the establishment of Top Teams to realise opportunities presented by artificial intelligence, the delivery of a national artificial intelligence strategy and the development of transition teams to assist workers and sectors likely to be most challenged by our changing economy. Each of these deliverables are expected to be completed by the end of Q4 2019.
Table 1 Current Policies and Initiatives in Place Addressing Five Key Areas of Focus
Policies and Initiatives Addressing Areas
National Digital Strategy
R&D Technology Centres/Gateways
SFI Industry Fellowships
National Data Infrastructure
Disruptive Technologies Innovation Fund
Industry 4.0 Strategy
National Skills Strategy 2025
ICT Action Plan
National Digital Strategy for Schools
Skills for Growth Initiative
Spotlight on Skills