Low participation rates in lifelong learning

August 2016

According to a recent paper from The Expert Group on Future Skills Needs (EGFSN), the participation rate of adults in Ireland in lifelong learning lags well behind the European average. Ireland’s employed workforce in particular is behind when compared to our European counterparts, ranking 20th of 28 countries for participation by the employed.

At the end of last year almost 5.5% of the Irish workforce participated in lifelong learning compared to a European average of 11.6%. Most likely to participate were those working in the public sector, financial services, accommodation/food sector and professional services.

The changing nature of work, the arrival of digitalisation, automation and the Internet of Things, is already having a profound effect on the nature of jobs and skill requirements in Ireland. With this low level of participation, Ireland is seriously at risk of being left behind. Employers need to engage more in supporting a breadth of development opportunities alongside high-quality personalised learning, and at the same time the metrics to assess engagement in lifelong learning need to better capture the informal digital learning that is happening.

One of the key aims of Ireland’s National Skills Strategy 2025 (published January 2016) is to promote the benefits of lifelong learning among individuals, the self-employed and employers. The Strategy recognises the role of increasing participation in lifelong learning in ensuring Ireland has a flexible, skilled workforce.

The continuous upskilling of the workforce through formal and informal learning is crucial in maintaining the competitiveness of Irish-based businesses. The current skills shortage is a challenge as employers continue to experience skills deficits in key areas such as technology especially as more tech companies expand their operations in Ireland. Such expansion requires a workforce that is continuously upskilling to avail of the opportunities that this presents.