Kilkenny LEADER Partnership (KLP) has embarked on an ambitious initiative recently. We are proposing that the county develops an ‘employability strategy’. Okay, questions of’ “what’s that?” are far from unfair but it’s not just another bit of fashionable jargoneese. The basic concept is to identify what the employers of Kilkenny want from its potential workforce and try to ensure that the people available to take those jobs have those skills that will help them to get work and then retain it. Our colleague John Murphy, the Social Inclusion Programmes Manager is the conceiver of the idea but we believe it will have a real meaning for all sectors of the company. We also think it will be the first such strategy in the Ireland. We hope to formally launch it this autumn.

Obviously this type of initiative is much bigger than KLP could hope to tackle on its own. As ever, we both need and want partners from other agencies and stakeholders to work with us on achieving the goal. The goals relate a lot towards the provision of training skills but at a workshop held to discuss the concept with some of the stakeholders in mid-July we learned, (almost as a collective insight), that employability also required a disposition on the part of the employer and employee towards the teaching and acquisition of those same skills. Dr Yvonne Byrne is working with John in the preparation of a strategy, which we hope that the Kilkenny County Development Board (CDB) will endorse this September.

The CDBs were established almost ten years ago as a forum to guide strategic development for the various development interests (agencies, politicians, community groups, etc) in each local authority area. If the CDB promotes the strategy, it’s assumed that the various agencies will agree to take on a specific part of the role in delivering the concept. That’s the theory, anyway! We believe that this is the sort of project that is made for the CDBs and we are hopeful that Kilkenny’s will support and run with it.

Employment in Kilkenny is heavily weighted towards the service sector. Tourism/ hospitality, financial services and retail all rely to varying extents on the social as well as technical skills of the person employed. This can lead to unexpected consequences for the quality and nature of the service. A highly competent but surly barman may fulfil your needs for prompt service but may deter you from visiting that pub again. This applies to people ringing help lines in call centres and seeking reassurance on aspects of their finances. Ireland has traditionally been strong on the personal skills. The charm! Indeed it often covered weaknesses in the technical skills.

But if Kilkenny is to gain a competitive advantage over our national and regional competitors then there’s a need for the county to identify the baseline social and technical skills that are key to making a person a desired employee. I suppose we could all make suggestions on what will emerge as the most crucial attributes but somehow I suspect we will still be surprised by what emerges.

Declan Rice
CEO, Kilkenny LEADER Partnership