Ireland ranks 3rd in Human Capital out of 27 EU Member States in the 2022 edition of the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI), with a score of 62.63. Between 2017 and 2022, Ireland’s DESI score is continuously above the EU average and keeps growing steadily for almost 2 points in weighted score.
According to the DESI report, Ireland is a among top performers on basic digital skills, 70% of people in Ireland have at least basic digital skills, compared to EU average of 54%. 6.3% of employees are ICT specialists, which is also above the EU average (4.5%). Female ICT specialists account for 20% of the total number of ICT specialists in Ireland, which is above the EU average, but still significant gender divide. Also, the percentage of graduates studying ICT in Ireland is getting higher, from 7.8% in DESI 2021 to 8.6% in DESI 2022.
The Expert Group on Future Skills Needs has published in May 2022 AI Skills A Preliminary Assessment of the Skills Needed for the Deployment, Management and Regulation of Artificial Intelligence identifying different levels of skill necessary for the adoption of AI.
Towards a digital society The 2022 Accenture Digital Index reveals positives and pitfalls in digital interactions that have accelerated since the start of the pandemic. It examines the state of the digital divide in Ireland – the gap between the digitally engaged and disengaged – and reveals that long-standing issues around the ‘haves and have nots’ in an emerging digital society have become more nuanced. Frequency of activity has increased with 76% of people browsing the internet on a daily basis compared to 70% in the last survey; social media was up from 58% to 63%; online banking was up from 22% to 28%.
Mobile phones are used by 95% of survey respondents and loaded with apps that make light work of shopping, banking, messaging, and streaming entertainment. Computers, which are better suited to document creation and writing CVs, are the least used devices among the economically disadvantaged – with only 39% of people in lower socioeconomic cohorts using daily, compared with 61% in higher socioeconomic cohorts.
A quarter of respondents are not comfortable creating and editing documents, around the same as in the last survey. And just over a quarter (28%) are struggling to update CVs and use websites for job searches. Around a third of people (35%) don’t see a need to improve their digital skills, almost identical to the earlier survey (34%); and around a quarter say there is nothing that would motivate them to get better.
The Irish Coalition of Digital Skills and Jobs is an association-led, multi-stakeholder initiative bringing together 50 partners from academia and education, industry, the public, and not-for-profit sector. The primary objectives of the Coalition are to strengthen the workforce and enhance the digital inclusion of all citizens, with a special focus on the digital skills of younger adults in the context of a modernised education system. Under a Steering Committee, the partners set several priorities, such as promoting a modern approach to teaching, upskilling the labour force, promoting professions in the information and communication technology sector (ICT) as a career choice, identifying obstacles to developing digital skills, as well as raising public and employers’ awareness of digital upskilling.
Overview of state strategies and national initiatives
Irish government launched in February 2022 the National Digital Strategy, ‘Harnessing Digital – The Digital Ireland Framework’. The strategy supports Ireland’s goal of becoming a leader in European and global digital developments, while also placing a strong emphasis on inclusiveness, (cyber)security and safety. The strategy is covering four dimensions: digital transformation of business, digital infrastructure, skills, and digitalisation of public services. It is also aligned with national priorities, under Ireland’s 2021 Economic Recovery Plan and Ireland’s Recovery and Resilience Plan. In December 2022 Progress Report on ‘Harnessing Digital – The Digital Ireland Framework’ was published, stating that progress has been made across all of the Strategy’s dimensions.
To respond to the digitalisation needs, Ireland continues its action to boost digital skills across the entire education system: schools, further education and training, higher education, and lifelong learning in general. This primarily encompasses: the Digital Strategy for Schools to 2027; 2022- 2026 STEM Education Policy; Technology 2022 Ireland’s Third ICT Action Plan; 2021-2025 Action Plan for Apprenticeship; Skillnet Ireland Programmes; and eCollege, the online learning platform, which offers free online courses in areas such as computer programming, web and graphic design.The Digital Strategy for Schools to 2027 was published in April 2022 with strong focus on further embedding the use of digital technologies in all teaching, learning and assessment activities including the further development of digital skills and building awareness and knowledge around the safe and ethical use of the internet. This will be achieved by (i) the ongoing investment to improve the provision of digital infrastructure, connectivity and digital equipment in schools, (ii) the continued provision of high quality digital content for use by teachers in the classroom, (iii) supporting schools and school leaders to further embed effective digital capacity planning and development, and (iv) enhancing key skills development of teachers to ensure a digitally competent and confident teaching workforce which in turn will support the development of digital literacy skills in student population.
Ireland continues to implement the National Further Education and Training (FET) Strategy ‘Future FET: Transforming Learning’ 2020-2024, which sets out a series of reforms within the FET sector to improve the existing capacity in the area of digital inclusion and the provision of digital skills. A wide variety of training programmes to boost digital skills in FET are provided by Education and Training Boards and offered through SOLAS’s Skills to Advance (upskilling while in employment) and Skills to Compete (labour market activation) initiatives.
32% of Ireland’s RRP is dedicated to accelerating and expanding the country’s digital transformation. The plan envisages support to human capital development by providing high-speed broadband connectivity for primary schools and by funding the access to ICT infrastructure for schools. The plan also includes a reform project encompassing four measures designed to support the digital transformation of education in Ireland at all levels (school, tertiary, lifelong learning): (i) a new Digital Strategy for Schools; (ii) a new 10-year Adult Literacy, Numeracy and Digital Literacy Strategy; (iii) a measure to increase by 65% the number of graduates with high-level ICT skills; and (iv) a measure enabling further and higher education institutions to provide more than 20 000 laptops to disadvantaged students. These projects complement each other, mainstream essential digital skills and are aimed at addressing the digital divide and enhancing digital skills overall.
Addressing the digital divide and enhancing digital skills reform aims to support the digital transformation of education and training at all levels (schools, third level, lifelong learning), mainstream essential digital skills across all settings, and address the risk of a digital divide. The reform consists of the publication of a Digital Strategy for Schools 2021-2027, the publication of a 10 Year Adult Literacy, Numeracy and Digital Literacy Strategy to help individuals build their digital skills, an increase in the number of graduates with high level ICT skills, and also facilitated access to ICT devices by enabling education institutions to provide laptops to disadvantaged students.
National Grand Challenges Programme Fund is a €65 million research fund, funded by grants from the Recovery and Resilience Facility, that aims at developing solutions to key challenges in the areas of Green Transition and Digital Transformation. The fund is coordinated and administered by Science Foundation Ireland. This is a prestigious, high-profile research initiative of national importance that will fund 90 research teams to direct research activity towards pressing societal and economic problems. The National Challenge Fund encourages collaboration between the academic research community, government departments, agencies, enterprises, and societal stakeholders to identify challenges and enable action to address the green and digital transitions.
The Irish Recovery and Resilience Plan provides EUR 67 million in Programme to provide digital infrastructure and funding to schools to ensure that primary and post-primary school pupils are equipped with appropriate digital skills. The provision of internet to schools across the country is key to ensuring a fair digital transition. This project will benefit communities across Ireland and is directly related to the next generation. The investment will provide high-speed broadband connectivity through the installation of routers in at least 990 primary schools. The provision of high-speed connectivity for all schools will provide the basis for early development of digital skills, and enable young people to become engaged thinkers, active learners, knowledge constructors and global citizens to participate fully in society and the economy. The investment will also support schools by providing digital devices and software to disadvantaged students. The first EUR 50 million funding to primary and post-primary schools to address the digital divide was issued in December 2021. Implementation of the whole measure is expected by 30 September 2023.
A new Government Data Centre to facilitate a more environmentally-efficient use of technology across Government will benefit from EUR 40 million in grant funding. The objective of the Government data centre is to deliver high-quality data centre facilities which are fit for purpose and are capable of meeting the Government’s requirements now and in the future. The new dedicated data centre facility would be at least twice as efficient as most of the existing public service server rooms and data centre facilities. The shared Government data centre will be developed at the Backweston Campus and shall function in a more environmentally friendly manner, including the possibility of reusing the data centre’s waste heat for other buildings on the campus. The data processing shall result in demonstrated substantial life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions savings. Implementation of the whole measure is expected by 31 December 2025.
Funding opportunities for upskilling and reskilling to support the digital competences of individuals and organizations are available in form of loans, grants and financial instruments. For the period 2021 – 2026 most of the activities in digital transformation are financed through Recovery and Resilience facility but also as activities in Horizon, Erasmus+, ESIF and EEA grant schemes. You may find more on the page of Irish National Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition and in the article on the Digital Skills and Jobs Platform.