“You need to be capable of flexing across multiple and often competing priorities.” — CEO Q+A: Paul Healy, Chief Executive of Skillnet Ireland

Business, CEO Q&A | Wed 12 Sep | Author – Business & Finance
Paul Healy, Chief Executive of Skillnet Ireland

In our next CEO Q&A, Paul Healy, Chief Executive of Skillnet Ireland speaks about being a catalyst, raising awareness and the best advice he was given.


Q. What are your main priorities and goals in your role?

The purpose of Skillnet Ireland is to support the enterprise and workforce policy aims of the Government through the promotion and facilitation of upskilling for those in employment.

One of my priorities as Chief Executive of Skillnet Ireland is to raise awareness of the importance of workforce development to both firms and workers in Ireland. Without investing in upskilling and talent strategies, Irish companies could lose their competitive edge. It is also vital for all in employment to regularly upskill and to become a lifelong learner.

Q. What are your biggest challenges as Chief Executive?

Like many Chief Executives a challenge is to balance operational and governance demands with the need to develop and grow the organisation, and at the same time, serve the needs of our many stakeholders. As Chief Executive you need to be capable of flexing across multiple and often competing priorities. There is also the added challenge of sound decision making in an ever-shifting context. In the modern world of work, you often find that the ‘fog is down’ and you need to figure out the right decision whilst at the same time tolerating some level of ambiguity or uncertainty.

Q. How do you keep your team/staff motivated?

It is important for those in leadership positions to instil a sense of purpose in the team. It’s about elevating the meaning of the work: why it is important, why we are doing it and to continuously communicate the aims and objectives of the organisation.

Offering compelling products or services are of course essential for every business, but talent is the key differentiator. It’s about building high performing and accountable teams, but also promoting the values that are appropriate for your organisation. From there, it’s a question of providing whatever supports you can, of listening, and then letting people get on with what they really want to do most, which is to make their contribution.

Q. What are the challenges facing the industry/organisation going forward?

A major challenge we face is helping employers and workers realise the significant impact of not investing in upskilling and workforce development.

The world of work is changing rapidly and as a result, people’s skills are becoming dated more quickly. Employers are often distracted by a myriad of different priorities and perhaps don’t always give staff training the emphasis it needs.

In short, businesses need to invest in training and upskilling to remain competitive, whether they are a local, national or an internationally trading firm. We encourage employers to start considering ways to grow their business and their teams by providing training and upskilling opportunities.

Skillnet Ireland offers highly relevant and subsidised training. I would strongly encourage individuals and employers to reach out to their relevant Skillnet and to avail of these supports.

Q. What new trends are emerging in your industry?

Advances in technology, market shifts, changing demographics, new regulation, and varied competitive forces are constantly driving skilling requirements across the various industries we work with.

These are global trends that are combined with technological disruptors such as automation, artificial intelligence, big data, IOT and advanced manufacturing. These accelerate the need to develop yet more innovative training programmes to meet the demands of industry. This is a key area are of focus for Skillnet Ireland.

Q. Are there any major changes you would like to see in your sector?

In the field of training and workforce development I would like to see greater promotion of the uniquely human skills. I’m thinking about skills such as leadership, creativity, strategic thinking, collaboration, empathy and commercial awareness. These skills are often undervalued but they will be the skills that will be greatly prized into the future. Also, I think it is incumbent on all of us who are serious about training and talent development to stop calling these ‘soft skills’ as they are anything but.

Q. How did your strategy develop in the context of the banking crisis and economic crisis?

Skillnet Ireland, like many agencies, had its funding reduced during the economic crisis and this led to a reduction is the supports that we could provide. However, we now see our organisation thriving and receiving international recognition from the OECD and others, as a best practice model for Government sponsored enterprise-led skills development. Skillnet Ireland operates a co-funding model where grants are combined with contributions from employers. In 2017, every €1 of State funding provided via Skillnet Ireland for training was matched with €1.12 in investment from employers. This represents a highly efficient and effective utilisation of public monies.

Q. How will Brexit affect you, or have you started to feel the effects already?

Brexit presents a new set of challenges for Irish businesses and our role is to support businesses to address the skills implications that arise as a consequence of Brexit.

The single greatest challenge for business owners right now is making sound Brexit- proofing decisions in the context of ever changing circumstances. As the political context evolves organisations must of course plan, tease out the possible scenarios, be flexible and most importantly, stay well informed of the implications for their sector.

Q. How do you define success and what drives you to succeed?

The term ‘success’ has lots of connotations and these will be different for all of us.

In terms of work, success for me is ultimately about your contribution and how you have served the needs of your stakeholders. In the case of Skillnet Ireland this is about supporting our enterprises to be the best they can be and delivering the optimum return on the public investment.

I also enjoy seeing the positive impact on businesses that have engaged with Skillnet Ireland through our learning Networks. But what is particularly rewarding is the transformational effect that learning and upskilling has on lives of people.

Q. What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or would give, in business?

Be a reflector. Constantly ask yourself ‘what worked well, what didn’t work well, what have I learned and what will can I do differently going forward’. Also, be curious, investigate problems and opportunities, ask questions and (importantly) challenge your assumptions and norms. It is critical also to build a network both internally in your organisation and externally too. You can be successful and good at what you do, but without a profile or a network backing it up, you are simply not going to advance a career or grow a business.

The best advice that I have been given through the years has always been about perspective. Work and career, although important, are but just one aspect of our lives. If we centre our lives around career alone, in the long term, this will not produce good life outcomes. Try to be grateful for the past, enthusiastic for the present, and optimistic for the future.

Q. What have been your highlights in business over the past year?

In early 2018 Skillnet Ireland launched a new brand identity, not only for the agency itself, but for all of our 65 Skillnet learning networks nationally. To see each of the enterprise groups that we work with embrace the new vision and the collective power of a joined-up brand has been a particular highlight for me.

Q. What’s next for your organisation?

We are now seeing is an economy with a strong trajectory and with ever growing employment. As a consequence, there is a rise in difficult to fill vacancies across several sectors which has potential adverse consequences for growth.

Skillnet Ireland plays an important role in alleviating some of these bottlenecks. As the national agency responsible for the promotion and facilitation of workforce learning, we will collaborate with enterprise to design the appropriate responses to assist with the supply of skills that power our economy.

Constantly ask yourself ‘what worked well, what didn’t work well, what have I learned and what will I do differently going forward.’

Business & Finance, CEO Q&A

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