How our culture of continuous learning helps people take charge of professional development


If Shane O’Toole could offer one piece of career advice to anyone starting a new job at Irish Life, it would be this: “Own your own development. Be responsible for what you feel you need to develop into,” he says.

And he would know. Today Shane is the operations lead in ExO Hub, Irish Life’s purpose-built innovation centre. But when he first joined the company 12 years ago, it was for a customer service role. Fresh out of college and with no clear idea of what to do next, he took the job while he decided on his next steps—and he hasn’t looked back since.

“I have an engineering degree but I wasn’t hell-bent on becoming an engineer. The customer service job gave me a chance to reflect and figure out what I was good at, and I quickly realised I had an acumen for customer-facing roles and interacting with people,” Shane recalls. “A really big benefit of joining a larger organisation like Irish Life is the ability to move into different roles across different groups and divisions, and the company will support you along that journey.”

That’s what happened when, after four years in various customer-facing jobs, Shane reached out to the learning and development manager and expressed interest in moving into that area.


“Ironically, a role came up two months later,” he laughs. “I spent about four years working on the design and delivery of learning interventions across Irish Life and for the last 14 months I’ve been in the innovation space, introducing new ways of working and creating new business models.”

Not only has Shane benefited from Irish Life’s enthusiasm for lifelong learning, but he’s also had a hand in driving that culture forward.

“My natural curiosity has certainly helped me but it’s easy to take charge of your personal development here,” he says. “If you want to improve a certain skill or competency, or if there’s a particular development area that you feel could add value to the business and yourself, there’s a huge range of learning opportunities to choose from.”

From classroom-based training programmes such as the biannual ‘Taking the Lead’ to part-funding courses and qualifications that directly benefit the organisation, Irish Life provides plenty of chances for staff to build up their skill sets.

As Shane advises, “Understand your career drivers, constantly seek out development opportunities and never lose that youthful mindset of curiosity. Do that and you’ll really grow in your career.”