Donegal Businesses Upskill Staff during COVID-19 Lockdown with Donegal ETB

When Ireland went into lockdown due to the COVID-19 containment measures announced by the government in March, it quickly became apparent that some business sectors required specific training to enable them to either continue operating or prepare for a safe reopening. 

In the six months prior to COVID-19 forcing the closure of the country, Donegal Education and Training Board (ETB)’s Further Education and Training (FET) Service had been providing training for local multinationals in a range of programmes including a Diploma in Business and Professional Administration, Presentation Skills and the ILM certified Leadership and Management training. In addition, certified training courses were delivered in Palliative Care, Welding, Early Childcare Supervisor and ECDL Advanced Spreadsheets for employees of SMEs.

This certified training from Levels 4 to 6, for both employees and their employers, was based on identified skill needs through the Skills to Advance initiative which had been developed by SOLAS, the national FET authority, in conjunction with Ireland’s sixteen ETBs, of which Donegal ETB is one.

Training through Skills to Advance aims to equip employees with the skills to progress within their current employment. It also enables enterprises to compete at a higher level due to their staff now operating with an enhanced skillset. For many employers this training is fully funded by Donegal ETB or is provided at a highly subsidised rate, while employees can also apply directly for funding to upskill under its evening course provision.

Speaking about the initiative, Donegal ETB Area Training Manager, Vinny McGroary explained, “Skills to Advance is unique in that it offers employers throughout Donegal an opportunity to identify their training needs whilst also enabling Donegal ETB to provide tailored, agile programmes in response to their specific needs. In Donegal ETB we have adopted a strategic approach to the implementation of Skills to Advance and, subsequently, we spent significant time in conversation with local employers before deciding what programmes to deliver.”

When Ireland went into lockdown in March, many of the courses it had been providing for employers continued through online provision. Initially, it became apparent that some sectors required specific training to enable them to prepare to quickly reopen safely. An example of this was the provision of Infection Prevention and Control for Childcare Settings (QQI Level 5) which was invaluable in allowing childcare providers to safely reopen earlier in the summer.

The online model has proved quite successful and, as Co. Donegal moved to Level Three of Ireland’s Plan for Living with COVID-19 on 26 September, it is a training model that has proved to be advantageous for both employers and their employees alike as the county learns to live with COVID-19 for the foreseeable future.

The ETB’s Enterprise Engagement Officer Dearbhla Kelly notes, "Donegal ETB appreciates that our local businesses have been through a tough time during this ongoing pandemic and deserve all the support they can get. Many companies are jumping on board the online learning platform to achieve their certification as it offers great flexibility and an opportunity to upskill in today's dynamic and change-driven environment. They are telling us that the online format really works and offers them a chance to learn alongside a wide range of different business sectors.”

Some of the county’s major employers are now upskilling their staff in the technology sector and multimedia (JAVA certified and Prince 2 Project Management), while Advanced Excel training is being provided for staff from a major telecommunications company, with a second group commencing in the winter.

A course that has captured the imagination of many employers is the ILM Certificate in Leadership and Management for Supervisory Staff which is being rolled out in partnership with the IDA and Enterprise Ireland.  The current class group comprises employees from a number of large companies in Donegal. The course content and delivery has been well received, with companies viewing the course as a vehicle to grow their future leaders. Anne Molloy of Abbot Donegal HR Department has noted that, “Abbott are happy that the course builds the potential of future leaders across a multifunctional section of employees.”

When the lockdown was first implemented, many businesses in the county realised quite quickly that they either had very limited or no social media presence which needed to be rapidly improved. Donegal ETB’s FET Service moved to provide an online Diploma in Social Media for Business. Niall McCaughan who manages the Donegal Railway Heritage Museum in Donegal Town is one of those undertaking this course. Niall said, “The course has been excellent. I knew a bit about social media, however, this course has given me a lot more practical knowledge which will be invaluable for our museum in the years ahead. What is great, too, is the support from the tutors who give 110% in order to ensure that we understand and put into practical use the skills learned. I would highly recommend this course and others like it, which during these challenging times can be used to upskill us in order to develop ourselves and our organisations.”

The ETB’s FET Service has also been working closely with Donegal County Council and the Local Enterprise Office, while also collaborating with many business networks in the county including Letterkenny Chamber of Commerce, Donegal Business Network, Donegal Women in Business and Killybegs Harbour Development Group to provide short webinars on Restarting Retail with Miriam Simon and Sales Recovery (Selling Strategies for A New COVID Landscape and Lead Generation in 2020) with Jo Collins.

While COVID-19 continues to disrupt our lives, Donegal ETB’s FET Service is delighted to be able to support the economic viability and future recovery of the county through its tailored supports for employers.

Donegal based employers who would like support with upskilling their staff through the Skills to Advance initiative can contact the ETB’s FET staff by emailing or message Donegal ETB on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook.