President’s Blog – In Conversation with – Geraldine Courtenay, Sligo Chamber Skillnet Manager

Hello Members, I sat down with Geraldine Courtenay our Skillnet Manager at Sligo Chamber to get a better understanding of what Skillnet actually is and also to learn more about Geraldine herself and her role as Skillnet Manager.  Here is our conversation.

Tell me about Geraldine Courtenay and how you came to work at Sligo Chamber – Having worked in supply chain management with a company affiliated to the construction industry for many years, my position became a casualty of the recession in August 2013. With few employment opportunities on the horizon, I decided to turn the situation into an opportunity when I became aware that IT Sligo had places for mature students commencing that September.  Never one to let the grass grow under my feet, I applied and was enrolled in a Business Degree before the ink had dried on the P45!  Moving on three years, serendipity came into play when in November 2016 I was passing the Blue Door of the Chamber Office, I called in and met Mary Harty who I had met when volunteering at Fleadh Cheoil the previous year.  As it happened it was a very busy time at the Chamber, two days later she called me with an offer of 4 weeks work helping with the organisation of 3 upcoming events including the Chamber President’s Dinner.   Nearly three years on, I’m still here and have taken on the role of Sligo Chamber Skillnet Manager this year. 

What is Skillnet and what does Sligo Chamber Skillnet do – Approximately 1% of every employees PRSI contribution goes into a National Training Fund.  Skillnet Ireland is funded from the National Training Fund through the Department of Education and Skills.  Sligo Chamber Skillnet is a regional multi-sectoral learning network providing upskilling for working people throughout the North West region.  We are now in our third year providing training and my remit as Skillnet Manager is to let everyone know that whatever training or upskilling they need, Sligo Chamber can provide it, and at subsidised rates.  No matter where you are in the region or what you do, talk to us at Sligo Chamber Skillnet and we can meet your training or upskilling needs.

What types of courses are we talking about – We provide all types of courses across the multi-sectors that our member firms and their employees are engaged in.  Courses range from Masters in Environmental Health & Safety to Presentation Skills, Talent Management, Leadership, Food Management, Fire Warden, Functional Safety Training, Excel, Microsoft Project and many more.   We also design bespoke training to meet our members’ specific needs such as Understanding the Pyrite Block problem in the North West, a programme delivered in conjunction with Engineers Ireland and Boat Maintenance including underwater inspections.

That’s a lot of Training, how does Sligo Chamber deliver such a varied training learning programme – We procure the training on behalf of our member firms, we facilitate the delivery of the training and we manage it through to completion.  Sligo Chamber does not actually directly teach the training, we have a pool of highly skilled trainers and learning providers who we work with and engage for their teaching skills.  Working collaboratively with these trainers, that is how Sligo Chamber Skillnet delivers such a comprehensive and varied learning programme.

Is it true Sligo Chamber is rolling out a National Pilot Training Programme – Yes, we have developed a National Pilot Programme on behalf of Skillnet Ireland to roll out a Language and Intercultural Awareness Programme.  The programme which we are delivering in conjunction with IT Sligo is to develop front-facing staff in the Tourism and Hospitality Sector so that they have a better understanding of overseas tourists and have the confidence to engage with them in their own language.  It is a blended programme which combines online learning with group class interaction.  We have just finished our first French and German programme which, by the way, our CEO Aidan Doyle was an eager student.  The programme has been a real success and so engaged were the course participants that they have asked us to develop a more advanced second phase programme which we will do.  Later this year we will roll out our Italian and Spanish programme and next year we are committed to delivering a Chinese programme.

Is there any particular course or programme that you are particularly proud of – That’s an easy one.  The Project Management Course delivered here in Sligo in conjunction with the Irish Project Management Institute.   This was a fourteen-week programme accredited to PINBOK; an international certificate recognised around the world.  We had sixteen participants drawn from businesses across Sligo, multinationals and SMEs.  In addition to PINBOK, they all also attained a Level 8 Diploma awarded by Technological University, Dublin, TUD.

Did I hear you took the Project Management Course yourself – Yes, I did take the Project Management Course, I am a firm believer in the need to continually upskill and by taking the course, it makes it easier for me when engaging with others and trying to encourage them to upskill and to better themselves.

And did I also hear you did very well in the exams – I’m not saying, only that those on the course were engineers and project managers drawn from industry and let’s just say I held my own.

If you could summarise the benefits of Sligo Chamber Skillnet to member firms and their employees, what would they be – Sligo Chamber Skillnet delivered 250 training events in 2018 and we are on target to increase that in 2019.  The benefits as we see them are the convenience, we procure and organise the training taking that hassle away from firms.  We are industry led, we listen to our members and provide bespoke training where it is required.  We have a large bank of highly skilled trainers we can draw from.  We are considered the preferred learning providers of choice to many firms including multinationals.  By having quality learning right here in Sligo, we provide real savings to our member firms by avoiding the costs associated with having to travel to Dublin where midweek accommodation can be €300 a night and also avoiding the lost time in travel to and from Dublin.  We also subsidise all courses and most importantly, every learning and training we undertake for our member firms is carried out in the strictest confidence.

From your experience of member firms in the region, do you see any area that member firms should be upskilling in – Sligo and the North West is growing.  There is real momentum and positivity since Sligo was designated a growth centre.  I see Leadership as being very important for the demographics of our workforce here in Sligo and in the region.  That’s the area I would encourage member firms to consider for upskilling.

You seem passionate about your job and what you do, would that be correct – I love what I do.   I get a great sense of achievement from seeing people better themselves, getting a new lease of life and a different perspective having undergone a learning programme.  Employers should remember that job satisfaction is not always about money, it is about being valued, and what better way to show someone that you value them than by providing them the opportunity to upskill and better themselves.

Geraldine, I feel we could talk for ages, you are so engaging.  Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me and with the members.  Is there anything you would like to say by way of concluding – I would encourage everyone to reach just a little beyond their grasp every day.  If you are always reaching, you are always moving and if you are always moving, you are always going forward on your journey.  And that journey is all about lifelong learning and could I leave you with this quote from Yeats as we approach Yeats Day this Wednesday, a quote that is close to my heart on my own lifelong journey –

“Education is not the filling of the pail,

 but the lighting of a fire”

That’s it for this week.

Until next time.

Life is for Living – #Life is Sligo.

 Conor McCarthy

President Sligo Chamber