I propose to take Questions Nos. 490 and 491 together.
Close collaboration between employers and education and training institutions is critical in the design of upskilling courses to ensure they appropriately address the needs of industry. Employer input should ensure that courses are structured in a manner that meets the operational realities of businesses, including through the use of flexible and online learning. Engagement with industry also provides vital market intelligence with respect to evolving skills needs. Fast moving sectors are reliant on responsive skills development and training solutions to reflect technology, product and service innovation.
As the Deputy is aware, the Skills to Advance initiative was developed in response to evolving skill needs and assists those facing changes in their work due to technology advances, changing work practices and market diversification. Further education and training (FET) opportunities offered through Skills to Advance incorporate digital, socio-emotional and technical skills development to enhance employee skills and support increased productivity in Irish SMEs.
As part of the Skills to Advance initiative, SOLAS created the Innovation through Collaboration Fund specifically to support collaborative partnerships by ETBs with the private sector, researchers and academics to meet the skills needs for innovation across economic sectors. Two of ten Innovation through Collaboration projects focus on specific challenges in manufacturing; delivering up-to-the-minute skills using flexible delivery methods, and recognising the existing skills and competencies of technicians while providing upskilling pathways for an increasingly digitised workplace. A new call for this fund is due to be issued in July 2021.
The Advanced Manufacturing Training Centre of Excellence (AMTCE) in Dundalk provides one of the examples of reskilling and upskilling training courses/programmes and services supported by Innovation through Collaboration Fund. Through the AMTCE, Louth Meath ETB (LMETB) is using advanced technologies to provide innovative and creative solutions to address the upskilling needs of those employed in the manufacturing technology areas and to provide employers with the knowledge skills and competencies to make informed decisions regarding planning for the skills requirements of both existing and new employees; including displaced employees, alongside opportunities for reskilling persons who are unemployed. The AMTCE utilises Innovative methodologies to facilitate and deliver training /upskilling, including use of remote, blended online and onsite learning modalities. The AMTCE harnesses innovative technologies such as VR and AI technologies.
The manufacturing sector is undergoing a significant transformation through the adoption of industry 4.0 technologies such as robotics, AI and additive manufacturing. Adoption of these technologies is key to enabling Irish companies to remain competitive in the face of global competition and to drive value-add product and service innovation. There is a need to upskill the existing workforce to enable companies to adopt and utilise advanced technologies to support and enhance business competitiveness. The growing need for advanced skills within the manufacturing sector also represents a significant opportunity for people to establish new careers in the sector through appropriate reskilling. The AMTCE is addressing these needs through the provision of high-quality training based on industry needs through flexible delivery mechanisms. The AMTCE centre will provide access to state-of-art equipment to ensure learners receive high quality hands-on training which is highly valued by employers.
In addition to the Innovation through Collaboration Fund, funding has also been secured by Cavan Monaghan ETB (CMETB) to progress the development of a new FET Centre of Excellence in Supply Chain Logistics and Procurement supporting business transformation and workforce skills being developed in Cavan to support the North East region and nationally. This project is part of a €3 million investment for local projects under the Border Enterprise Development Fund, an economic stimulus package established for the border region, and additional funding from SOLAS and my Department. The new training centre, which will be located at CMETB’s FET Campus in Cavan, will focus on areas such as robotics, 3D Printing, Internet of Things, Blockchain Technology, Big Data Analytics and Drone Technology. The project is a direct response to current industry requirements and emerging skills needs in the region, with a vision to positively impact the region’s competitiveness, job security and employment growth.
A capital investment programme in the FET sector is also being rolled out. Among the priorities being addressed are funding for infrastructure and equipment to support reskilling and upskilling needs.