Speech by the Taoiseach, Mr. Bertie Ahern T.D. to the IBEC HR Summit at the Four Seasons Hotel, on Tuesday, 10 October, 2006 at 8.45 a.m.
I am delighted to be here with you all this morning at this year's IBEC HR Summit. Thank you very much, Turlough, for the invitation.
Managing Uncertainty by Planning
Your theme "Vision 2020: Managing Uncertainty" is well chosen. It reflects a strategic perspective which typifies the approach adopted by IBEC to the issues facing business and, indeed, the country. It is also in line with the Government's own focus on planning for the long-term. Given the degree of uncertainty about the future, it makes sense to be effective in those areas that are under our control, expecially by setting out clear objectives over the longer term and by putting in place robust strategies for achieving them.
And we have been doing just that with our ten year strategy for transport infrastructure, Transport 21; our National Spatial Strategy; our new Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation to 2013; and the forthcoming National Development Plan to 2013. All of these plans are complementary and integrated as appropriate. They are in turn grounded in certain realities - that our population is growing; that Irish society is becoming increasingly diverse; and perhaps the greatest certainty of all, that the pace of globalisation and the challenges and opportunities associated with it are increasing all the time.
The Role of Social Partnership
All our planning is, essentially, focused on the overall objective, set out in "Towards 2016", of enhancing the quality of life of our people. If we are to achieve sustainable social and economic development, we need to sharpen our competitive advantage in a changing world economy. But we need more than just plans to achieve this objective. We need a national endeavour to translate words into action and, in turn, into reality on the ground.
I believe that our social partnership system meets this need, providing a tried and trusted way for Government, employers and trade unions to work together to achieve our shared objectives and to manage the challenges and uncertainties along the way.
Social partnership has shown a great capacity for adapting to changing circumstances and responding to new challenges over the years. It also helps to reduce the level of uncertainty for all economic agents regarding key aspects of the business environment. I very much welcome, therefore, the ratification of "Towards 2016" as a continuation of the model of co-operation which has served us so well in the past. I know we all still bear the scars from the long drawn out negotiations on the new agreement, but I have no doubt they will heal with time. I believe that time will tell that it was worth it. Again, of course, it is all in the delivery, which depends on everyone - Government, employers and trade unions alike - playing their full part in honouring the terms of the agreement, at national and enterprise level, and making it work.
We all know, of course, that social partnership has its critics. There is nothing wrong with constructive criticism. But I think it is worth reminding ourselves that, unlike many of the the critics, IBEC and ICTU have a mandate from constituencies to which they are accountable. You are prepared both to argue your case forcefully and to take responsibility for honouring agreements reached. These are no small things and, given the involvement of Turlough O’Sullivan, Niall Saul, Brendan McGinty and Jack O'Connor in today's proceedings, I would like to pay tribute to them - and their colleagues in IBEC and Congress - for their commitment and hard work for their members and for the good of the country as a whole.
The Role of HR in Managing Uncertainty
Strategic planning and social partnership are key strengths for our country as we face into the future. Just as importantly, however, we need to equip our people to handle future uncertainty – by promoting a positive attitude to change, so that people actively embrace change as a matter of routine; and by ensuring that they have the opportunities to learn - and keep on learning - new skills and new ways of doing things. The key to the future of a high employment economy is increased productivity in the manufacturing and - much harder to achieve - services sectors, through enhanced skills, better education, effective use of new technologies, innovation, organisational change and increased R&D. The people part of that equation is of critical importance. HR development must, therefore, be right at the heart of our economic and social strategy.
The Government fully recognises this, as evidenced, for example, by the significant increase we have made in investment in In-Company Training - from around €14 million in 2004 to some €52 million this year. This, of course, is additional to the €110 million which FAS is spending this year on the expanding Apprenticeship Training Programme - and the
€83.5 million it is spending on its Training and Re-Training for Employability Programme. In addition, in the National Workplace Strategy, which I spoke about at last year's Summit, we have a comprehensive framework for promoting workplace innovation; increasing the capacity for change; developing future skills; improving access to opportunity; and enhancing the quality of working life.
The National Centre for Partnership and Performance, which supports Tony Killeen T.D., Minister for Labour Affairs, in overseeing implementation of the Strategy, is currently preparing for a major national media campaign designed to promote new ideas about workplace change and innovation.
Workplace Learning and Upskilling Initiatives in "Towards 2016"
"Towards 2016" will give a further impetus to upskilling our people. Key initiatives include:
· a review of current workplace learning and upskilling programmes, to ensure that they are user friendly, easily accessible and match anticipated requirements;
· the development of a targeted guidance, learning and training programme, particularly accessible to the manufacturing sector; and
· meaures aimed at increasing the take-up of apprenticeships by older workers.
The agreement also provides for increased funding for the Skillnets programme, which has benefited 35,000 employees to date; the Knowledge Economy Skills Passport, which focuses on computer literacy and other key skills; the pilot trade union led learning network; the Workplace Basic Education Fund; and a new, targeted fund to alleviate fees in public institutions for part-time courses at third-level. Complementing this, we are establishing a new Workplace Innovation Fund over three years to enable IBEC and ICTU and the NCPP to encourage the development of new ways of working through partnership, aimed at increasing flexibility and improving performance.
All of this will contribute to a National Skills Strategy which the Government will publish next year, with social partner input through the Steering Group on Future Skills Needs.
A Renewed Effort by HR Professionals
The level of participation in up-skilling and lifelong learning in Ireland is somewhat above the EU average. It is, nevertheless, lower than in the UK and in the Scandanavian countries, so we definitely have some catching up to do. Taken together, the measures I have just referred to will provide a good basis for bringing us into the premier league. But that will only happen if individual companies are prepared to invest in the development and training of their workforces at all levels. I would like to take the opportunity today to call on Ireland's HR professionals to renew their effort and activity in this critical area, so that we can offer a workforce that is second to none.
I would like to urge you to make a special effort to persuade your management teams to increase your talent pool by looking beyond the stereotypes and by recruiting a more diversified workforce, whether in terms of age profile, gender or ethnic origin or otherwise. I would also like to urge you all, as part of this renewal, to develop close contacts with FAS, IDA and Enterprise Ireland and sector based skill - sets, learn about what is on offer and use it - and, where necessary, work with the agencies concerned to improve the system and ensure that it is capable of meeting current and anticipated needs.
It is easy to talk about the race to the top: but we need to keep reminding ourselves that, as with any race, there is more than one competitor and we are not the only country intent on winning the prize. In fact, more and more countries are joining the race. In the knowledge economy and in an era of continuing change and ever increasing competition, only those organisations which invest in the development and training of their workforces will be fit to compete - the rest will be left on the sidelines.
The Public Service and Managing Uncertainty
I would like to turn now to the very large sector of the workforce that comes under the heading of the Public Service. "Managing Uncertainty" is something that people would perhaps associate with the private sector and coping with volatile markets, more so than the public sector. I believe, however, that the Public Service has an excellent track record in managing uncertainty - and indeed complexity, but that the current challenges are greater and demanding of a greater change capacity in the public service.
New Measures in "Towards 2016"
How do we build such capacity? I believe that the Public Service Change and Modernisation Programme that has been underway for over ten years will continue to be the key driver. The new partnership agreement, "Towards 2016", contains some important provisions with regard to the future development of human resources in the public service. These include:
· More open recruitment at senior levels;
· Greater use of competitive procedures for promotion; and
· The further embedding of performance management and development systems, including roll-out across the wider Public Service to the key delivery areas such as health, education and local government.
As HR professionals, you will know from experience that changing culture in the workplace takes time. We know what kind of public service we want - one that is performance driven, flexible, more open and accountable. Getting there will take time but we are making real progress. To give further impetus to this process, I recently announced some additional initiatives which will help to embed the new culture. They include a review of the performance indicators used to measure the effectiveness of value for money of public services, and a new leadership initiative for the Public Service. I have also asked for an independent assessment of how the Irish Public Service compares with those jurisdictions that are recognised as representing good practice in various different aspects of public administration and policy. This is likely to be undertaken by the OECD or a similar international body.
I believe that these measures, combined with the ongoing work on change and modernisation, will equip our public institutions with the capacity needed to manage uncertainty in the period ahead - to properly assess risks, develop progressive policies, implement actions decisively and to deliver services equally to all of our citizens to the highest standards.
To conclude, the role of HR professionals is more important than ever before, given the premium on developing our workforce at all levels, on a continuing basis. There is a huge wealth of experience and expertise in this room today and great potential for mutual learning and networking, to the benefit of your organisations and the country as a whole. I would like to wish you well with your deliberations and to commend IBEC for organising this Summit. I have no doubt that you will all leave with new insights, useful contacts and renewed energy for the challenges ahead.