The National Competitiveness Council (NCC) plays an important institutional role in ensuring that the Government has an independent voice raising important competitiveness and productivity issues.
Under the Council's Terms of Reference, it is required to prepare two annual reports, one of which - the Competitiveness Challenge - outlines the main competitiveness challenges facing the business sector over the medium term, and the policy responses required to meet them. It also produces research and statements on the cost of doing business, productivity and other areas relevant to the competitiveness agenda.
As Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, I am responsible for presenting the findings of the NCC to the Taoiseach and Government.
The Deputy is referring to a recommendation in the 2017 Competitiveness Challenge. In the intervening period there have been significant developments in the national training fund, which were noted in the 2018 Competitiveness Challenge.
As part of the process announced in Budget 2018, of increasing the NTF levy to 1% of reckonable earnings by 2020, an independent review of the Fund was commissioned by the Department of Education and Skills to examine a number of strategic policy and operational issues associated with the NTF and to inform its future direction. My Department and its enterprise development agencies inputted into this review, which was published in August 2018.
The review had a number of key recommendations, which relate directly to enhancing support for in-company training, including:
- A focus on close to labour market skill requirements, and in targeted interventions to support enterprise training and prepare individuals to take up employment opportunities
- Introduce greater information sharing and coordination across programmes to increase employer buy-in
- Increase focus on supporting in-company training underpinning increased productivity and innovation capacity particularly in SMEs
- Fund SME upskilling as a target theme in Higher Education competitive funding programmes
- Implement a structured process to facilitate NTF focused inputs from employers, employees and representative bodies prior to annual expenditure decisions
The Review indicated that the NTF should be more responsive to employer needs, highlighting the importance of increasing the role of employers in determining the priorities and strategic direction of the fund and the need for additional and refocused expenditure on programmes relevant to employers.
An Implementation Plan to deliver on these recommendations was published by the Department of Education and Skills alongside Budget 2019 and is now being actioned. Budget 2019 also began the process of aligning the Fund with the recommendations set out in the Review, in particular those related to close to labour market and in-company training.
As the economy approaches full employment, the reforms to the Fund and the associated reorientation of expenditure will be key supports to the objectives set out in Future Jobs Ireland- a central part of Ireland’s economic agenda over the medium term, to ensure we are well positioned to adapt to the technological and other transformational changes our economy and society will face in the years ahead.
The pace of technological change means that workers across all skills levels must be prepared to reskill and upskill throughout their working careers. This is a theme that is emphasised in Future Jobs Ireland, which aims to boost participation in lifelong learning from 8.9% to 18% in 2025.
To this end, Future Jobs highlights the reforms to the National Training Fund and sets out a series of actions related to the implementation or expansion of in-employment programmes supported under the Fund- apprenticeship and traineeship offerings, the EXPLORE Digital Skills programme, Skillnet Ireland’s training provision, especially in the area of emerging technologies, SOLAS’ Skills to Advance initiative, Springboard+, and the forthcoming Human Capital Initiative.
My Department will continue to work with the Department of Education and Skills to ensure that the National Training Fund is fully aligned with the skills needs of enterprise, that it works to support the increasing in-company training needs of firms, and that it contributes to realising the ambitious lifelong learning target set out in Future Jobs Ireland.