The Network Insider: it@cork Skillnet

Jul 6th, 2022

Network Profile 

Name of Network: it@cork Skillnet

Members: 200+ businesses

Sector(s) covered:  Technology, Computing and ICT

Year established:  2013 

Network Manager: Annette Coburn

 

Please describe what your Skillnet Business Network does and how it came about? 

Cork and the wider South-West region has established itself globally as a recognised significant cluster for MNC, SME and start-up tech companies. Many international and domestic organisations in our region are household names and employ very significant numbers.

it@cork has been a leading pioneer in building this ecosystem of companies by facilitating networking, thought leadership and community know-how sharing.

The Board of Directors at it@cork identified that there was a very significant strategic and competitive value to adding the Skillnet dimension to our organisation for our region. By listening to the needs of our community we identified that the addition of the Skillnet offering was an obvious progression. As a regional Skillnet we are focused on supporting technology-based capabilities in the South West.

The pace of change in the technology sector is well documented. We help companies grow competitiveness by financially and logistically supporting them to upskill staff across all domains of technology as well as overall business functions and management development. We help drive all aspects of successful talent development, programme design, acquisition, funding and evaluation.

 

Can you outline one important way your Network impacts positively on your sector? 

One of the most interesting attributes of the technology sector is that the training curriculum is huge, diverse and ever-evolving. This also brings it challenges for companies of all sizes – trying to find short, sharp and timely solutions to their upskilling needs with business continuity at the forefront can be difficult. While there are inevitably many positive impacts our network has; if we were to single out one it would have to be our ability to address new training requirements in an agile and progressive fashion for these companies.

We are a true partner in helping them arrive at solutions which complement their more traditional procurement of available listed training from various institutions and private training companies. We like to equate what we do to living in the gap; and filling this gap for our companies. Many of our programmes are cutting-edge and digitally-enabled, and sometimes the first time that the training content has been made available in Ireland. This has huge benefits for our community, meaning it can be at the pace of global technology evolution and compete on a global level.

 

What has been the most transformative initiative in your sector in the last year? 

We have launched some innovative programmes in the last year or so, including , for example, Cybersecurity upskilling initiatives, advanced sales upskilling for technology companies, and Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) programmes. The most transformative element, however, is that we have a growing body of knowledge and know-how about how to blend remote, online and in-person training to achieve an optimum learning impact.

We know from neuroscience that learning ability reduces in highly uncertain and stressful times. Covid-19 has given the business community a huge challenge around training. We know upskilling is critical to competitive success on a wide range of fronts but in this post Covid-19 phase we are seeing a growing importance that training plays in staff retention.

The most interesting transforming therefore is our twin ability to keep pace with changes in training curriculum and content whilst also developing our expertise in how to best deliver an optimum learning experience that is context specific to both the trainees and their employers.

 

What new trends do you see emerging within your industry? 

We are actively engaged with hundreds of companies, talking to them about their upskilling needs. This gives us a unique perspective on trends impacting training in the technology space: Many of these trends fall under the category of Post Covid-19 related adjustments. Some people call this the new normal phase. For example; technology companies are largely continuing with remote working models, with various flexible and hybrid options included. It means, for example, how training is delivered or how to lead in this new context all has to be approached from a new perspective.

Our experience is showing that the start of the post Covid-19 phase is equally as disruptive as it was when the pandemic first started. There is still large levels of uncertainty at both a macro-economic and an organisation level. This year has seen significant share price falls for technology stocks. In the US we are seeing noticeable levels of layoffs among tech companies.

These factors are having direct impacts on how we design and deliver training programmes. We are experiencing many new approaches to training design and delivery and also we are seeing a re-shuffle of training priorities. For example one of the biggest growth demand areas has been in leadership skills for both new and existing managers. And there is also a much larger emphasis on employee wellbeing programmes; with high levels of work-related stress and anxiety evident post-pandemic.

 

How is your Network using technology to facilitate learning and development programmes? 

It goes without saying that as a technology network we managed to pivot almost immediately to instructor-led virtual training at the beginning of the pandemic. All of our current training is still virtual using various platforms and tools. There will be a return to face-to-face training in the coming months; which will incorporate further technology use in the form of live-streaming (for those who can’t attend live events).

As you would expect, technology is at the centre of a technology based Skillnet. Over the last number of years we have invested significantly in technology to support our infrastructure.

For example, we have a very detailed roadmap for developing our CRM capability to ensure we activity manage our relationships. This helps on several fronts but helps us to develop a data driven picture of our community. Also, we are currently building a community platform to enable know how sharing and collaboration.

 

What skills do you think are most important for a small business owner/manager?  

From a technology perspective we would say that all businesses these days are technology businesses. Owners and Managers need to be excited and motivated to upskill around technology. Investment decisions around technology can be the difference between success and business failure. An ability to understand tech trends and make informed decisions has to be a core competence.

Cybersecurity is an area of particular importance to focus on. There have been a number of factors that are driving the importance of cybersecurity to both MNCs and SMEs. We have all experienced how companies have adapted to hybrid and remote working; and with it the rise of cyber incidences; most notably the HSE hack a standout in our consciousness. Cybersecurity is no longer a niche area within a small team in IT; its an organisational capability that’s driven by the leadership at the top. A small business owner needs to have practical awareness and understanding of cybersecurity to make budgeting and risk-assessment decisions and follow good corporate governance.

A small business owner needs to be able to offer staff (even if a very small team) the same digitally-enabled opportunity as larger companies and as such has to have an understanding of and plan for flexible working requirements in terms of technology and training e.g. remote working computer infrastructure, collaboration tools such as teams, zoom, sharepoint etc.

 

Do you have any advice for a business that is considering joining a Skillnet Business Network? 

I think firstly it’s important to do your homework. There is nothing to stop you from availing of a number of different Skillnet Business Network offerings (for example, you could do Python with it@cork Skillnet and Project Management with another Skillnet), and in fact that’s exactly what I would recommend.

However, you should also join a network to help advance your company upskilling options, as well as to collaborate and share with like companies – it’s important to choose the right fit for your sector and region. Go to Skillnet Ireland’s website to find out more about the individual Skillnet Business Networks, and from there just get involved! Apply to Join the Steering Group; be a meaningful contributor; and avail of subsidised training. It’s a no brainer!

 

Learn more  

Visit the it@cork Skillnet website to learn more about the upskilling and development opportunities they offer. 

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