By Kirsty McManus, National Director, Institute of Directors (IoD) Northern Ireland

Kirsty McManus
Kirsty McManus

Last week, Economy Minister Diane Dodds launched a new skills strategy designed to create better jobs and more of them.

Part of her 10X Economic Vision for Northern Ireland, the Minister set out her plans to make the region “one of the world’s elite small open economies” with innovation at its core and by focusing on increasing further education qualifications in technical and professional skills while rebalancing higher education towards STEM subjects.

For the IoD, improving skills and matching these with the ambitions of our companies, is one of our key aims, and is consistently among the most common issues raised to us by members.

Having engaged with the Minister and her department as they shaped this new vision, it is particularly pleasing to see a clear understanding of the need to tie the provision of further and higher education to wider business and economic goals.

Only through strategic and expertly planned collaboration will we see the true potential of our economy to flourish fully maximised.

And while building up the technical skills required to ready young people or retrain others for the employment opportunities of the future is important, professional aptitude and giving our directors and business owners the tools they need to lead, is equally so.

We’re looking forward to returning to face to face teaching in our professional development courses later this year because we know that nothing quite beats the personal connection that can be made when business leaders gather as a cohort in one room.

However, it has not been a case of standing still throughout the pandemic – quite the opposite.

Operating virtually, it has been one of the busiest periods as directors from across Northern Ireland and further afield sought to broaden their skillset in the face of the challenges they encountered due to COVID-19.

Viewing the coronavirus as an opportunity to hit the reset button, look again at leadership structures within their organisation, and identify where improvements can be made, the past year has been a time of development for many directors preparing their businesses to bounce back better.

As a result, the IoD Academy in Northern Ireland has been the busiest region outside London in terms of the number of directors participating and attaining qualifications.

It’s clear our business leaders are serious, not just about raising the skills of Northern Ireland’s labour force, but also their own. The future of our economy is in good hands.