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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
National reforms related to transversal skills and employability


14.Ongoing reforms and policy developments

14.5National reforms related to transversal skills and employability

Last update: 27 November 2023

National Reforms related to Transversal Skills and Employability   

The following policies are in operation to ensure that all learners develop transversal skills and employability:

  • Expanding provision and improving quality in early childhood education and care (see section 14.1);

  • Curricular reforms, embedding of key skills, addressing disadvantage and special needs, increasing school completion rates, and the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategy, and enhancing ICT (see section 14.2);

  • Provision of second chance education for early school leavers and the unemployed, the Youth Guarantee, the Action Plan for Jobs and reforms of vocational training in the Further Education andTraining sector (see section 14.3);

  • Reforms under way in Higher Education (see section 14.4);

  • Expansion of apprenticeships and work-based learning generally across further and higher education and training;

  • The Innovation 2020 Strategy;

  • The National Skills Strategy 2025;

  • The Action Plan for Education 2016-2019.

In addition to a re-orientation of VET towards the unemployed to the extent feasible, specific programmes are under way in the Further and Higher Education and Training Sectors to address unemployment. The main measures are:

  • Springboard – 9000 free part time places annually in the higher education sector offered at certificate, diploma, degree and masters level aimed at the unemployed and those seeking to re-enter work;

  • Momentum – 6500 free places annually on Further Education and Training Programmes aimed at the long term unemployed. The Momentum programme has been significantly reduced since 2016, as apprenticeships and other reforms take hold. No new intake is currently planned;

  • VTOS – Vocational Training Opportunity Scheme offering 1-2 year full-time second chance education programmes at a variety of levels in the Further Education Sector for over 21 unemployed;

  • Youthreach – a 1-2 year second chance education programme for early school leavers;

  • Back to Education Allowance* – continuation of welfare payments to enable unemployed adults to participate in further or higher education and training;

  • Community Employment Scheme* – work placements of up to 20 hours per week in a community setting, with some training, for unemployed adults. Placements are generally from 1-3 years duration, extended to 6 years for particularly vulnerable groups. The scheme is generally aimed at participants over 25, but certain disadvantaged groups can participate from age 18;

  • TUS* – a community work placement initiative aimed at under 25s;

  • Gateway* – a work placement scheme for the unemployed in a local authority setting;

  • JobsPlus* – a subsidy to employers paid over 2 years where they recruit a person who is long tern unemployed. €7500 is paid for persons over 1 year unemployed. €10,000 is paid for participants over 2 years unemployed.  

* measures administered by the Department of Social Protection.

26.5% of those in work are employed in enterprises of less than 10 people, 22.5% are in enterprises with 10-49 people, and a further 19% are medium sized enterprises of 50-249 people, and therefore have limited capacity to provide their own training. In order to overcome this issue, Skillnets was established to provide education and training for employees and job seekers through a clustering of companies on a sectoral basis. Skillnets operates over 65 training networks nationwide across a range of sectors, as well as working closely with education and training providers to re-orient FET and higher education programmes to better meet their needs.

Successive Pathways to Work plans have been published by the Minister for Social Protection since 2012. The key elements in the plans centre on structured activation strategy to ensure that appropriate supports and referral arrangements are in place to enable the unemployed to upgrade their skills and experience.  This is embodied in the following measures:

  • Improved activation through the roll-out of 44 Intreo "one stop shop" employment services. This provides for group and one to one engagement, individual profiling and a case management approach;

  • The introduction of a ‘social contract’ of rights and responsibilities between jobseekers and the State for both the Department of Social Protection and the jobseeker agreed through the Record of Mutual Commitment, and penalty rates of payment where participants do not take reasonable steps to avail of work/upskilling opportunities;

  • JobBridge (a national internship schemelasting 6 or 9 months), ceased in October 2016;

  • JobsPlus (a subsidy for employers to encourage them to employ long term unemployed). This scheme ended in October 2016 in the light of improvements in the job market;

  • Building up structured links between employment services and employers and higher and further education and training providers through Regional Skills Fora, career awareness, jobs fairs etc.;

  • Continued structural reform in further and higher education and training and a re-orientation of FET programmes towards the unemployed.

The Skills Labour Market Unit operated jointly by the Higher Education Authority and Solas publishes regular national and regional skills bulletins outlining expected jobs demand by sector and general level, and this is supplemented by regular updates prepared by the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs.


In August 2018 a comprehensive independent review of the National Training Fund was published. The National Training Fund (NTF) was established by the National Training Fund Act, 2000, as a dedicated fund to raise the skills of those in employment, to give jobseekers relevant skills, to facilitate lifelong learning, to support the training of those in employment, and those seeking employment.  The Act also provides for the funding of research to provide information on existing and likely future skills requirements of the economy.

The review of the NTF was commissioned by the Department of Education and Skills as part of a package of reforms announced to accompany the decision in Budget 2018 to raise the NTF levy. This followed a consultation process with key stakeholders, during which issues were raised regarding the transparency of the use of the Fund, the alignment of expenditure for employer needs and the role of employers in informing expenditure priorities. The independent review examines the existing operation of the NTF and provides recommendations to inform its future direction. There are 14 specific recommendations across 4 key areas:

  • Reform of the future direction of the NTF;

  • Utilising the NTF to support investment in Higher Education;

  • Enhancing enterprise engagement and input to NTF priorities;

  • Improvements in monitoring/evaluation of the NTF.

The Report placed a clear emphasis on making the National Training Fund more responsive to the changing world of work. The Minister asked that an Implementation Plan be prepared to deliver recommendations with a specific focus on early action to meet pressing skill needs, to secure greater employer engagement and to strengthen governance and oversight of the Fund in advance of Budget 2019.

The terms of reference for the review of the NTF, finalised following input from the National Skills Council, were to:

  • Examine the effectiveness and efficiency of the fund to date in meeting its objectives;

  • Assess the targets and performance criteria associated with programmes supported through the Fund;

  • Examine the adequacy of the evidence base and performance criteria on which expenditure decisions are taken;

  • Assess the monitoring and evaluation arrangements in place;

  • Assess the responsiveness of the Fund to the needs of the economy and wider society in terms of the type and method of programme delivery;

  • Assess, the continued relevance of the core objectives of the fund and the future strategic direction of the fund;

  • Identify the most appropriate governance and oversight structure of the NTF in optimising employer engagement and input into priorities strategic priorities;

  • Consider the role of the fund, alongside the Exchequer and student sources, in future funding arrangements of the HE and FET sectors;

  • Make recommendations on how to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, relevance and impact of expenditure from the NTF fund and responsiveness of the Fund to the needs of the economy;

  • Undertake an analysis of trends in NTF expenditure and make proposals around how expenditure can be aligned with employer needs. This will require consultation with a number of stakeholders.

In May 2018, the National Training Fund Expenditure Report 2018 was published. The creation of the fund was announced in Budget 2000 by the then Minister for Finance to raise the skills of those in employment, to give jobseekers relevant skills and to facilitate lifelong learning.  The NTF replaced the Apprenticeship Levy which was set up under The Industrial Training (Apprenticeship Levy) Act 1994. In May 2010, responsibility for the NTF was transferred from the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation to the Minister for Education and Skills.

The report shows how over €415 million is being invested in programmes in 2018 which meet the skill need of the economy, support unemployed people in their journey back to work and assist those in employment to acquire new skills. This includes the expansion of the apprenticeship and traineeship schemes, additional investment in Springboard and additional support to increase skills for those in employment through Skillnet Ireland.

The 2018 NTF allocations represent a major shift in the focus of expenditure from the Fund.  Programmes will be tightly focused on the skills and competencies needed across higher education, further education and training and other funding recipients. €415.4 million will be invested through the Fund in 2018 to support skills (up by €49m since 2017), including:

  • €182.5 million for Education & Training Board programmes focused on training people for employment;

  • €122 million for apprenticeships;

  • €37 million for Labour Market focused Higher Education;

  • €30.4 million for Springboard courses;

  • €21.7 million supporting Skillnet Ireland in meeting skills gaps in the economy. 

This additional investment expands the number of apprentices on new apprenticeships by 1,500, trainees by 1,500, Springboard participants by 1,500 and Skillnet participants by 5,000.

Following a consultation process, the Government, as part of Budget 2018, decided to raise the rate of the National Training Fund levy by 0.1% in 2018 to 0.8% and by a further 0.1% in both 2019 and 2020 on the basis of the implementation of planned reforms. This report is part of the wider series of reforms announced as part of Budget 2018 responding to issues raised by employers during a consultation process with them to make it more responsive to employer needs, to increase transparency on the use of the Fund, and to give employers a greater say in informing priorities for the Fund.

This increase in the NTF levy takes account of the benefit to employers of having access to skilled graduates across further education and training and higher education to meet their identified skills needs as well as being able to access training for their current employees. The increase is being accompanied by a programme of reforms in how the NTF is managed, evaluated and reported on.

Some of the key reforms include:

  • A Comprehensive Review of the NTF;

  • Additional and refocused expenditure on programmes relevant to employers;

  • An NTF more aligned with employer needs;

  • A greater say for employers, more transparency and stronger evaluation;     

  • A new strategic dialogue model, incorporating strategic performance agreements clearly aligning local/regional and national targets, will be put in place in FET from 2018.

The comprehensive review of the National Training Fund is underway which is expected to be completed shortly will inform the 2019 budgetary process.


A new Action Plan for Jobs 2017 was published in February 2017. This builds on the education and training measures announced in previous plans, and sets out a whole of Government approach to dealing with the challenges of Brexit, potential developments in international tax policy and waning support internationally for free trade. Expanding apprenticeships and traineeships, meeting skill needs in ICT, bio-pharma, life sciences and medical technology, implementing the new performance framework in higher education, a foreign language strategy in education and a strengthening of science, maths, engineering and technology are all seen as important. 

Driving export diversification and supporting firms affected by Brexit, investment in research, development and innovation, and a strengthened focus on clusters in the Agri-food and marine, tourism, retail, design, international financial services, construction and housing sectors form part of the approach.


An additional €20m has been provided in 2017 to fund the expansion of apprenticeships and traineeships. An Action Plan to Expand Apprenticeships and Traineeships 2016-2020 was published in January 2017.  This envisages 15 apprenticeships in new areas with an intake of 800 in 2017, and 4 new or relaunched traineeships with an intake of 200. The target is to provide 50,000 apprenticeships and traineeships over the period 2016-2020.

From the call for proposals for apprenticeships issued in 2014, 25 were selected for implementation. 2 of these (Insurance Practice and Industrial Electrical Engineering) began in September and November 2016 respectively. Others are at an advanced stage of development and 15 new programmes are expected to have started by the end of 2017.  The two new programmes to date are offered at Ordinary and Higher Bachelor's Degree level respectively. A further programme in Polymer Processing Technology (level 7- Ordinary Bachelor Degree) will being in May 2017. The Plan envisages that:

  • Investment in capacity building in identifying training needs, curriculum design, integrated delivery of on and off the job training, quality assurance and enterprise engagement will be enhanced;

  • Options to expand apprenticeships in the public sector will be explored;

  • Category 2 and 3 proposals in the 2014 Call will move to the development phase, and a fresh call for proposals will be issued mid-year;

  • A development to roll-out timeline will be implemented of 8-12 months for traineeships, and 12-15 months for apprenticeships.

In March 2017, the Ministers for Jobs Enterprise and Innovation and Public Expenditure and Reform launched a public consultation process on an Exchequer/Employer Investment Mechanism for future funding of further and higher education and training. The paper outlines the major investments to date in providing skills for the labour market and the ongoing reforms under way in both sectors. It seeks views on a proposal to increase the National Training Fund levy on employers from 0.7% of payroll at present, to 1% phased over a three year period. The proposal takes on board the need to put funding of the FE and HE sectors on a more sustainable footing through an increased employer contribution, allied with a greater role for employers in identifying and responding to skill needs. Responses to the consultation have been requested by April 2017.  A greater contribution from employers had been proposed in Investing in National Ambition: A Strategy for Funding Higher Education published in July 2016. The report is being examined by the Oireachtas (Parliament) and an expert working group has been established to develop a new higher education funding allocation model.

Key food companies in Ireland are providing pre-employment skills for young people under an initiative entitled Feeding Ireland's Future.  The programme is run in partnership between the Department of Social Protection, the INTREO employment service and Youthreach, the national FET programme for early school leavers, and the food companies. It provides site visits to companies to get first-hand experience, and on site skills workshops providing help with CV writing, interview skills and feedback.


End of JobBridge

In October 2016, the Minister for Social Protection announced the closure of JobBridge (internships) for all new applicants. This is based on an evaluation report indicating that while the programme was successful, employers were now recruiting staff and unemployment had halved since the scheme's inception. The scheme will be replaced by a more targeted work experience programme aimed at those at least 6 months unemployed. It will pay at least the minimum wage, and include a greater emphasis on skills development. Consultations on a new scheme are under way.

Skills Needs

The Expert Group on Future Skills Needs continues to publish annual bulletins:

  • National Skills Bulletin 2016 indicates that skill shortages were evident in 2015 in an increasing number of sectors across the science, technology, engineering, business and finance, construction, other craft, healthcare and transport fields.

  • Monitoring Ireland's Skills Supply: Trends in Education and Training Outputs, published in November 2016, indicates that over 216,000 awards were issued under the national qualifications framework including 32,300 Further Education and Training (2015) and 66500 Higher Education and Training Awards (2014). The report shows an employment rate of 71.5% for post secondary education award holders, and 78% to 87% employment rates for higher education award holders from sub degree to post doctoral level. In 2015, the education levels of adults aged 18-64 were as follows:

  • Higher education                                                    39.9% 

  • Upper secondary/post secondary education              40.0%

  • Lower secondary or less                                          20.0%    

  • Regional Labour Markets Bulletin, published October 2016 provides an overview of employment composition, employment permits to non EU nationals, job vacancies and employment projections across the 8 regions covering the Regional Skills Fora.

Strategies and Action Plans

A 2016 Action Plan for Jobs was published in January 2016. Key education measures in the 2016 plan are the development of a National Skills Strategy and a Workforce Development Strategy, the expansion of apprenticeship programmes into new disciplines, the further development of Regional Skills Fora, and continuation of the National Talent Drive and Innovation 2020.

Pathways to Work 2016-2020 was launched in January 2016. In addition to a consolidation of existing measures, the Plan commits to:

  • Increasing the numbers on JobPath to 60,000 in 2016. (JobPath is an employment service contracted out by the Department of Social Protection to the private sector. Research in the UK and in Australia indicates that this can promote competition and enhance quality and ensure more unemployed people are successfully activated);

  • Doubling the number of employers signed up to the Employment and Youth Activation Charter (to 300 employers);

  • Continuing to earmark 52,000 further education and training places annually for the unemployed (2015 Further Education and Training Services Plan).

In January 2016 Ireland's National Skills Strategy 2025 was launched.  The strategy is underpinned by 6 key objectives:

  • Education and training providers will place a stronger focus on providing skills development opportunities that are relevant to the needs of learners, society and the economy;

  • Employers will participate actively in the development of skills and make effective use of skills in their organisations to improve productivity and competitiveness;

  • The quality of teaching and learning at all stages of education will be continually enhanced and evaluated;

  • People across Ireland will engage more in lifelong learning;

  • There will be a specific focus on active inclusion to support participation in education and training and the labour market;

  • An increase in the supply of skills to the labour market will be supported.

The Strategy highlights skills shortages for ICT skills, data analytics, foreign language and cultural awareness, sales and marketing, technical and product development skills, and Engineering;

Robust labour market intelligence will continue to underpin the implementation of the new strategy, through a strengthening of Regional Skills Fora and the establishment of a new National Skills Council. This will include employers, providers of further and higher education and training, Departments of Education and Skills, Jobs Enterprise and Innovation and Social Protection, Quality and Qualifications Ireland, Science Foundation Ireland and the industrial development agencies.

The Department of Education and Skills will establish a new Unit which will provide support to the National Skills Council. The new Unit will give a dedicated focus to enterprise engagement and will enhance a co-ordinated response to skills needs across the different sectors of education and training. It will also oversee the development of the Regional Skills Fora and the development of links between the Council and the fora.

The plan will also continue to build on sectoral strategies already published in Tourism, Construction, Entrepreneurship, Smart Economy, Agriculture and Food, and the National Digital Strategy. Collaboration between education and training institutions will continue to be improved, as well as between providers, employers and employment services.

The Jobs Ireland service operated by the Department of Social Protection, will be upgraded to introduce new functions. The new website will enable both employers and jobseekers to search for each other using competencies and skillsets as well as the traditional job type classifications. It will also operate in the background to automatically match candidate CVs to job specifications posted by employers and notify both candidates and the employer when a match is found. In addition, educational institutions will have an option to publicise work experience opportunities for their students, for employers to offer work experience opportunities and for students to apply for such opportunities. This will be useful tool for schools, FET and HE providers, students and employers which can be promoted nationally and regionally.

Key actions in the Strategy include:

  • 50,000 Apprenticeship and Traineeship places to be supported over the period to 2020;

  • Further Education and Training and Higher Education providers to produce employability statements for courses;

  • Development of an Entrepreneurship Education Policy Statement which will inform the development of entrepreneurship guidelines for schools;

  • Making sure that all Transition Year, LCVP and LCA students in schools and full-time students in further education and training and higher education benefit from work placements, and tracking this activity;

  • A review of guidance services, tools and careers information for school students and adults to identify options for improvements;

  • A review of the School Leaver Age with a view to increasing it;

  • An increased focus on lifelong learning and a target to increase participation in lifelong learning to 15% by 2025 from 6.7% in 2014.

The Action Plan for Education 2016-2019 published by the Department of Education and Science in September 2016 aims to:

  • Introduce coding in primary schools, introduce Computer Science as a subject in the Leaving Certificate, strengthen the literacy and numeracy strategy and progress curriculum reform in primary and second level schools;

  • Develop a strong stream of employer supported apprenticeships and traineeships (across further and higher education) to provide for 50,000 registrations by 2020;

  • Continue to implement and strengthen the measures under the National Strategy for Higher Education, the ICT Skills Action Plan, the National Skills Strategy 2025, the Further Education and Training Strategy and Innovation 2020;

  • Place a specific emphasis on enhancing professional development at all levels of the system and promoting technology enhanced learning;

  • Develop an Enterprise in Education policy statement, and a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) statement;

  • Provide for 50,000 upskilling and re-skilling places in critical skills needs areas in higher education by 2021;

  • Increase by 25% the proportion of students undertaking work placement as part of their course within higher education;

  • Increase the numbers studying in higher education on flexible basis by 25% by 2021 as resources allow;

  • Publish a report on Enterprise in Higher Education;

  • Establish a new competitive fund to build Ireland's research base.


In July 2016 the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs and SOLAS published a report on participation in lifelong learning in Quarter 4 2015- Lifelong Learning Participation Among Adults in Ireland. This shows that 7.2% of Irish adults in the 25-64 age group participated in LLL, well below the EU benchmark of 15% set under the EU2020 agenda. 59% had a higher education qualification.57% were employed, with about half of these worked in high skills occupations.  There are particular challenges, therefore, in ensuring participation of those with lower skills in LLL, and in engaging employers of those in middle and lower skill occupations in LLL.