An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar joins Ministers to launch €300 million Human Capital Initiative and Future Jobs Ireland Skills and Talent Pillar

Maura O'Shea

By Maura O'Shea

Posted: 7 November, 2019

4 people standing next to each other holding signs reading

Universities, colleges and institutes of technology urged to apply for special funding to develop new courses and drive innovation at third level

An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar T.D. today (Thursday 7th November) joined Minister for Education and Skills Joe McHugh T.D., Minister for Business, Enterprise, and Innovation  Heather Humphreys T.D., Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor T.D., and Minister of State for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development John Halligan TD. to launch the €300 million Human Capital Initiative and the Skills and Talent pillar of Future Jobs Ireland.

The special fund – €60 million per year over five years – was detailed at the Future Jobs Summit held at the Tangent Centre, Trinity College Dublin.

The significant third level investment will help to develop new undergraduate places, new conversion courses for graduates to meet identified areas of skills needs in our modern workforce and drive agility and innovation in the sector.

An Taoiseach said: “The world is changing fast. Technology continues to herald new ways of doing business and new economic opportunities. It is not only the types of jobs that will be changing, but the way that we work. Future Jobs Ireland ensures that as our economy changes, and traditional industries and practices are disrupted, workers and enterprises are able to transition successfully. If we adapt now, our enterprises can stay competitive and our society resilient. If we don’t then we will quickly fall behind.

“Future Jobs Ireland represents a proactive approach to avoiding the mistakes of the past, when we were over-reliant on a few sectors and complacent about future economic risks. My message is simple; there is no tolerance for any complacency at any level within Government, when it comes to the Irish economy.”

Minister McHugh said: “The Future Jobs Summit is the right place to flag the new €300 million investment fund for higher education. The money will help colleges and universities to develop new undergraduate places, as well as create conversion courses to help graduates find the right career path.

“A fund of this scale will support colleges and universities to be more innovative. It is an investment in people and skills for the future.”

The €300 million Human Capital Initiative forms part of the Enhancing Skills and Developing and Attracting Talent Pillar of Future Jobs Ireland.

Launching the pillar, Minister Humphreys said: “Our people are our greatest resource and our greatest competitive advantage. Ensuring that young people are equipped with the right set of skills as they transition from education to the workforce is a cornerstone of Future Jobs Ireland. The Human Capital Initiative will provide us with the innovative workers we need to future-proof our economy.”

Welcoming the third level investment through the HCI, Minister Mitchell O’Connor said: “Funding of this scale is great news for our students and for our institutions. This investment will support our institutions to address the skills needs of the economy, future proof graduates and ensure that there is a greater focus across the whole spectrum of higher education courses on promoting and embedding the key skills that employers will value in future. It also aims to contribute to mitigation of Brexit risks, promote regional development and strengthen relationships between the higher education sector and enterprise.”

Highlighting the importance of innovation at third level, Minister Halligan said: “The HCI will incentivise continued reform and innovation in third level provision, building on best practice nationally and internationally, strongly supporting innovation in programme design and delivery. With its strong focus on innovation and agility, it will enable us to ensure that our graduates and the education system as a whole, are in a position to respond positively to the challenges and opportunities ahead.”

The primary objective of the Human Capital Initiative is to fund additional capacity across the higher education sector and to use that investment to meet priority skill needs for the future.

The special fund totals €300m over five years – €60m a year from 2020 to 2024. The finance is being provided from the surplus in the National Training Fund (NTF) in line with recommendations contained in the independent review of the NTF and the development of labour market skills.

The HCI consists of three main pillars which will form the basis of three competitive calls over the coming months.

  1. Graduate conversion and specialisation courses
  2. Additional places on undergraduate provision
  3. An innovation and agility fund


Notes for Editor

The HCI will incentivise continued reform and innovation in third level provision building on best practice nationally and internationally, strongly supporting innovation in programme design and delivery. It aims to future proof graduates and ensure that there is a greater focus across the whole spectrum of higher education course provision on promoting and embedding skills that crossover disciplines.

In the development of the HCI, and in the competitive calls for each of the three pillars, there are a number of key areas of focus for actions. These are:

  • Priority skills needs for the economy, particularly in high-productivity growth sectors.
  • Mitigating Brexit risks.
  • Promoting regional development and NDP/Project 2040 Objectives.
  • Innovation and reform in programme provision.
  • Responding to digitalisation and the future world of work.
  • Strengthening relationships with enterprise and addressing identified future skills needs.
  • Provision of upskilling and reskilling through lifelong learning.

Priority skills will be identified though the detailed and comprehensive framework now in place under the National Skills Council, including publications from the Skills and Labour Market Research Unit (SLMRU), the work of the Regional Skills Fora, the NTF Advisory Group, and the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs, and direct involvement of employers.


The HCI consists of 3 main pillars:

Pillar 1: Graduate Conversion Courses

Pillar 2: Additional Places on Existing Courses

Pillar 3: Innovation and Agility

Pillar 1: Graduate Conversion Programmes

Extending the approach currently in place for ICT under Springboard+, these programmes will offer incentivised places for graduates to reskill in areas of skills shortage and emerging technologies e.g. ICT, High End Manufacturing, Data Analytics, Robotics, AI.

Springboard+, and its associated NTF funding, will continue to provide one-year part time programmes to enable people to upskill and reskill in areas of identified skills needs. For the purposes of calls, marketing and administration, the Graduate Conversion Programmes and Springboard+ will be run as a single initiative.

Pillar 2: Expansion of Existing Places on Undergraduate Courses

These additional student places will address identified key areas of enterprise skills needs as detailed in the National Skills Bulletin 2018, and other data sources, including, but not limited to, Science, Engineering, ICT, and Professional Construction qualifications. Places will be provided through increased and incentivised provision in full time undergraduate provision.

Places will be on full award, full-time undergraduate courses at levels 6 to 8 on the NFQ in Higher Education Institutions, and for each additional student provided under this pillar, €2,500 per year will be allocated to the institution in addition to the core grant.

The call for proposals under this pillar was released by the Higher Education Authority on 14th October, with a closing date of 11th November.

Pillar 3: Innovation and Agility

This pillar has two key streams – innovation in modes and methods of delivery and an agility fund.

The innovation stream aims to ensure that courses in areas of skills needs demonstrate innovative methods of teaching and delivery, so that students will benefit from innovative teaching methods on an enterprise-focused course.

The agility stream will enable higher education institutions and students to be in a position to respond to future developments in work, technology and society. It is aimed at giving institutions the agility necessary to respond to developments in technology that may not yet be evident, and gives students the skills to adapt to a constantly changing world of work.

Competitive Calls

Challenge based competitive call models promoting innovation and reform in delivery will be a major element of the HCI, drawing on the experience and success of Springboard+ and aligning with the Funds established under the National Development Plan. In order to ensure that the projects approved under the HCI are following best international practice, it is intended that all competitive calls will be assessed by a panel with national and/or international expertise.

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