Business News

Staying ahead of the curve: the importance of upskilling and continuous professional development

By Business & Finance
19 May 2017
Staying ahead of the curve: the importance of upskilling and continuous professional development
Nuala McGuinn, director, Centre for Adult Learning and Professional Development, NUI Galway

Lifelong learning and continuous professional development are more vital than ever as employees must upskill to keep apace with the ever-changing requirements of modern business.

The Irish workforce has been acclaimed as being well educated and highly skilled by many visiting trade delegations to Ireland.

Indeed, these very attributes, along with favourable facilities and corporation tax rates, have enticed many industries to locate in Ireland.

As technology advances, however, and as more sophisticated skills are required, employees must continue to upskill to keep apace with the ever-changing requirements of business today.

The 2016 report of the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs indicated that ‘as the shelf life of skills is becoming shorter, engagement in lifelong learning for those in employment will be key to their continued employability’.

The message is clear, continuous education and engagement in lifelong learning is the key to staying relevant and employable for today’s market place.


“Lifelong learning expands the mind and comes in a variety of modes,” says Nuala McGuinn, director of the Centre for Adult Learning and Professional Development at NUI Galway.

“It can include a short or long-term course offering certification in a structured format, or a non-formal course which requires a few hours of your time delivered online, in the workplace or wherever it suits your learning needs.”

The key outcome is that you have learned something new, you have broaden your thinking about a particular topic and enhanced your skills in some way.

Employees who undertake some form of professional development report higher levels of job satisfaction, which is good news for employers as this leads to greater staff retention.


Career enhancement and a desire to increase their knowledge base are among the reasons cited by students as the motivating factors in undertaking a part-time course.

Course content, price, flexibility in learning and reputation of the course provider are also important factors in choosing a course.

Lifelong learning participation rates in Ireland are at 7%, and are trailing behind the current EU average of 11%, and are lagging much further behind the 2020 targeted EU participation rate of 15% of adults aged between 25 and 64 years.

National policy and employers must support learners in their quest to upskill in order to increase in the supply of skills to the labour market.


Many professions have developed core competency frameworks, which are designed to provide structure and guidance for the continuing professional development (CPD) training requirements of its members.

Over the course of a particular career, these frameworks meet the changing practice and skills demands of its professionals and identifies the curriculum to be developed by education and training providers in order to meet professional registration standards.

Linked to the academic knowledge and expertise required for a particular profession, is a wider set of professional transferable skills which relate to employees being able to solve new challenges and problems, make decisions, communicate in a variety of settings and work effectively as a team member.

“These skills are transferrable across all sectors and are explicitly integrated into the learning content of our courses at NUI Galway,” explains Nuala McGuinn. “Assignments and assessments are built around these skills in our professional development programmes aiming to produce well-rounded graduates who are independent and adaptable to a variety of work place settings.”

She continues: “Similarly, students are encouraged to take a personal responsibility for their learning, all of which leads to a longer term commitment to lifelong learning and a desire to continuously upskill and view professional development as a long-term pathway.”