NCI tries to school industry on skills shortage

Skill dial
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21 December 2016 | 0

Billy MacInnesI have to say I was pleasantly surprised to read in an article on this site that the National College of Ireland (NCI) was offering free degree-level ICT courses to anyone and everyone under the HEA ICT Skills programme. Contrary to what some might believe, the courses are not restricted to the unemployed.

In the article, NCI marketing director Robert Ward correct that misunderstanding, stating: “Many people probably think Springboard+ courses are only available to the unemployed but we are telling companies no, these ICT courses are available to your employees too.”

From what Ward says, there don’t appear to be any limitations, apart from the number of places: “If you have people on your team who would benefit from upskilling and earning an accredited qualification, then these courses are available free of charge to the organisation and to the individual student.”

The courses are due to start early in the new year and they cover several of the more fashionable areas in ICT, such as cybersecurity, data analytics, mobile application development, cloud computing and fintech. The courses are internationally recognised and fully accredited.

But here’s the thing: the fact I was surprised the courses were available was not as significant as the fact that the NCI was effectively having to publicly tout for companies to place their staff on the courses just a few weeks before they were due to commence.

Ward described the courses as “a great opportunity” but warned that, with the courses starting in January and February, “companies might miss out if they don’t realise this opportunity and act fast”.

This suggests that the courses could have been promoted better or, more concerning, that companies have been slow to seize the opportunity to boost the capabilities of their employees. Given that skills shortages have been a plague on the Irish IT industry for so long, either of those scenarios would be surprising. It’s not as if people aren’t conscious of a dearth of IT skills, so ignorance can’t really be an excuse.

You would expect employers would be on the lookout for opportunities to boost the skills of their employees, especially if they were free. You might also expect the institutions providing those opportunities to be keen to promote them, preferably well in advance.

It’s worrying that we’ve come to the stage where getting people on to the courses is now having to be done as an act of urgency. It suggests that despite the rhetoric, the reality around skill shortages is that people aren’t addressing them as well as they could.

But while that’s a worry, it could be a lot worse. What if the NCI has done a good job of making employers aware of the courses well in advance? That would suggest a serious degree of complacency and apathy that contradicts the well-publicised expressions of concern around skills shortages.

Right now, the main issue is that there are still spaces on those courses and employers should be encouraging their employees to sign up. Let’s hope they do.

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