SureSkills Belfast Celebrate 20 Years in Northern Ireland - Ulster Business Top 100 2021
It’s been a stellar success story and growth journey for SureSkills over the last two decades.
As it marks its 20th anniversary in Northern Ireland, the learning services and IT and training business has expanded, innovated and grown along side some of the biggest public and private sector clients. The company has also been ahead of the game with remote-learning – embracing and further developing its blended working in the last few months. It works with a variety of clients including the various arms of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, health trusts, the PSNI, and a host of giants of industry here, such as Moy Park, Translink and Kainos.
“When we launched in Northern Ireland we were trying to introduce a level of personal service that would differentiate us – we certainly feel we have achieved that,”
Mark Egan, chairman of SureSkills, said. “For example, we trained the PSNI on its case management system, and the Northern Ireland Civil Service on Records NI. We would learn the software which clients were rolling out and then develop the course and the exercises, before delivering the training. It’s quite sophisticated operations that we are able to do.” And he says as the company has expanded and developed over the years, as expectations, and the types of technology, have continued to change and grow. “To carry out virtual training 20 years ago, you needed fairly expensive equipment, and not everyone would have a PC with the capability or the software,” he said. "Today, from an infrastructure perspective, people expect files to be on demand and expect systems to recover within minutes, the work the IT department is doing has changed immeasurably.
“Even the way we run the business now, we have lots of automated systems to rule out human error.
“For example, when there’s an online training course, our training management system automatically books a Zoom room and sends out the notes to delegates, as well as notifying the trainer. At the end of the course it will also send certificates and any follow-up documentation.”
Gemma Morgan is sales manager for SureSkills here, and was the firm’s second staff member in Belfast. “We had existing relationships and were working in the business, offering our services within training across both public and private sectors,” she said. According to Gemma, one of the key reasons SureSkills is still going strong is due to the relationships which it has forged with customers over many years. “I am dealing with the same people in some organisations that I dealt with more than 20 years ago,” she says. “We are very good at keeping and building relationships here in Northern Ireland. It’s much more than a business transaction.”
Clients such as the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service continue to work hand-in-hand with SureSkills to this day. It’s also about being able to pick up the phone and speaking to someone directly in the firm’s support centre. “We are a very direct and supportive operation because that is the business model we are in,” Mark says.
Brian Kinsella, chief executive, says the development of the company’s services in recent years – and in particular since the pandemic – have meant it’s able to extend its reach outside our shores. “Because of Covid and remote-learning we aren’t just delivering to Northern Ireland customers any more,” he said. That means a trainer in Belfast could be delivering high-quality courses in the early hours of the morning here, as far afield as Japan and the US.
Speaking about some of the projects it’s been involved with over the years, Kevin Reid, chief technical officer, said: “For example, we were part of a consortium which was involved in delivering large change projects into some very significant public sector bodies, including the PSNI. “For years, we were a core part of their IT operations. It was a very successful operation during our engagement with those projects.” He said SureSkills has grown its penetration into the training market “considerably over the last 20 years”. “We have started placing people into Belfast who offer support to, not just the Northern Ireland market, but the wider markets. “And the skilled workforce we have here in Northern Ireland makes that extremely advantageous.”
The company has expanded into creating courseware for a range of big name platforms, such as Microsoft and Amazon Web Services (AWS). And the Belfast team is now helping support around 200,000 people across a range of large organisations with their learning management systems.
SureSkills had already moved to a blended working model before the pandemic struck, but that was accelerated by Covid – moving most training online. “And moving to virtual training, you aren’t tied to Northern Ireland any more. You now have a much wider audience, and that’s been great for the company,” Kevin said.
Looking ahead to the future, Gemma says while it’s likely digital, video and remote-working will be with us forever, face-to-face learning will continue be in demand across a range of different sectors. “Moving forward I think virtual training will be here forever,” she said. “But I do think that there will be some people who want to go back into the classroom, depending on the type of course, which lends itself better to that face-to-face approach. I hope things will open up and we can offer that.”
And speaking about the firm marking its 20 years in business in Northern Ireland, Brian said: “We are so proud and grateful to our entire team and to our customers who have been so loyal and supportive over the past 16 months and for the past 20 years.
“When we established the SureSkills Northern Ireland business we could never have imagined the extent of upheaval and change that has just occurred. And we couldn’t have imagined the progress that Ireland has made since the Good Friday Agreement.”