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Ulster University Business School (UUBS) has published a special podcast episode examining the critical importance of skill-building and innovation in powering Northern Ireland’s rebuilding agenda – as the Business School’s podcast series, The Business of Possibility, returns for a second season with host, Wendy Austin.

In the opening episode of the new six-part series, Wendy Austin is joined by Diane Dodds, Minister for the Economy, John Healy (OBE), Vice President & Managing Director of Allstate NI, and Professor Mark Durkin, Executive Dean at Ulster University Business School, to explore how stimulating investment, creating better employment opportunities and investing in skills will drive forward the region’s ambition of building a more competitive, inclusive, and greener economy.

The episode follows on from the Department for the Economy (DfE) Economic Recovery Action Plan (ERAP), which sets out a range of positive actions to boost economic recovery in the region and to help businesses and individuals adjust to the changing economic circumstances and plan for a more sustainable future in the short and medium term.

With skills development and innovation at the core, the podcast offered reflections on some key themes emerging, as panellists discussed how the expansion of a strong skills base will underpin future economic prosperity, what skills will dominate the post-pandemic world and how greater alignment between education, business and government can nurture innovation.

Speaking during the podcast, Economy Minister Diane Dodds, talks about preparing the next generation for the future of work by developing essential digital skills,

“I’m really interested in a piece of work … which is about developing our digital spine. It’s about having children at all ages speak the language of coding and actually becoming so literate in the technology world that they really engage and engage with confidence.”

The Economy Minister added that Northern Ireland’s ability to reinvent and reimagine itself will be a key building block for the future,

“100 years ago we were amazing at building ships and ropeworks but today the Northern Ireland economy is based around cyber, digital technology and it will be growingly based around the green economy. [Northern Ireland] has completely reinvented itself and it is that ability that I have great faith in, that entrepreneurship, that innovation, that ability to turn things around, even in the midst of huge difficulties.”

Reflecting on the workforce of the future, Professor Mark Durkin, Executive Dean at UUBS, says the future lies in hybrid skills development,

“Hybrid skills are all about … STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths but with Arts and Humanities infused into that. When you look at the success of the hybrid skilled person relative to the specialist skilled person, the outcomes are actually more positive in the hybrid sense.”

He added:

“I think the number one skill people should have is around adaptability, to realise that they are going to have to pivot from one to the other and along that spectrum of STEM through to more social, human skills – empathy, emotional intelligence, judgment, criticality, all of those things that are hard for machines to replicate.”

John Healy (OBE), Vice President & Managing Director of Allstate NI, spoke about the role of innovation in creating future employment opportunities,

“There’s been a huge amount of digitisation and with that has come … a huge amount of innovation. And that’s where we are going to drive new jobs in this economy, in creating those innovative products that help us to lead our lives better. What we need to be sure is that we are providing the level of skills and the channels through so that we have people who can come and take those jobs.”

The Business of Possibility podcast series, available via all major podcast apps including Spotify, Apple, Google and Ulster University Business School’s website, features conversations with a host of dynamic business leaders, industry experts and academics on a range of topics from unlocking creativity in the workplace to championing female leadership.