Skillnet Ireland chief technologist Mark Jordan discusses the skills gaps that are starting to emerge in future tech industries and how pathway programmes can help us fill them.
As technologies keep advancing, the need for people with the right skills to develop, manage and deliver these innovations grows too. Here in Ireland, there are more and more gaps emerging in future and advanced tech areas in particular, says Skillnet Ireland chief technologist Mark Jordan.
Skillnet recently launched a first-of-its-kind virtual reality training course with TU Dublin. It has also developed an online AI course and today (7 April) announced its new Climate Ready to help businesses respond to the climate emergency.
But the national agency’s scope also extends to those entering the tech industry for the first time. It works with more than 600 companies across Ireland to build talent pipelines for the industry, introducing more than 500 people to it every year.
The biggest gaps we need to fill, Jordan says, are in open-source software, quantum computing, high-performing computing, cybersecurity, data science and data analytics.
“If you look at other sectors, the tendency seems to be a challenge around digital adoption and how technology can be leveraged to improve areas like productivity, cost management, growth, revenue etc,” he explains. “And that’s a separate set of challenges that we see in industry.
“But in the tech sector, it tends to be that challenges are more around the high-level, future-transformational type of technology skills. Any sector that relies on digitalisation is where we forecast growth.”
‘Any sector that relies on digitalisation is where we forecast growth’
– MARK JORDAN
Jordan believes there are many reasons people should be thinking about careers in technology, even if they have no experience in the field. Tech jobs tend to be higher paid, for one thing, but they can also offer people who work in non-tech areas like hospitality or retail a route into multinationals.
Skillnet’s aim is to help both individuals and businesses through what Jordan calls “the triple helix”.
“[This] is making sure that when we are curating any of our programmes, whether it’s Skills Connect or dynamic future working innovation programmes, that industry or a big stakeholder is in there.
“It’s important that we are addressing not just the downturn in certain sectors and helping the workforce transition into that, but also that we’re delivering this pipeline of highly talented individuals into the growing sectors, especially as it relates to foreign direct investment.”
While Skillnet hosts a wide range of programmes catering to more than 70,000 people in Ireland, its Skills Connect initiative might be of particular interest to anyone thinking of pursuing a job in tech for the first time.
“It’s around helping people pivot from one sector to another,” Jordan says. “All the programmes that we develop are pathway programmes.
“So we develop somebody to have the technical skills and the business skills they need to compete for jobs in growth sectors like technology, financial services or professional services.”
Skillnet has a process to assess people for readiness and aptitude before accepting them for a pathway programme, but they don’t need to have any prior knowledge of or experience in tech.
“Once they’re into these different pathway programmes, the idea is to give them the skills and teach them everything they need to know and to certify them in conjunction with business, mentoring and placements. That allows them to have that experience to then enter into roles as they become available.
“We’re taking the view that somebody could, in theory, come onto a programme with little or no technology skills and, once they’ve been through the programme, has the skills to be able to work in a bigger organisation in a technology function.”
‘It’s important that we’re delivering this pipeline of highly talented individuals into the growing sectors’
– MARK JORDAN
Skillnet also sees boosting the numbers of women working in tech as a priority, both through returners and new joiners. Its Reboot programme is specifically designed for women who were already working in the technology sector before taking a career break.
“It’s really about attracting that talent back in and making that pathway easier for them to come back,” Jordan says.
Women Tech Start is another programme that aims to develop the talent pool for tech-related roles with people who haven’t worked in the industry before.
Skills Connect and other pathway programmes don’t just focus on the hard skills necessary for a tech career. They incorporate guidance around self-development, confidence-building, management and finance too. Participants also receive mentoring from people and work placements in the sector they’re hoping to move into.
“We’re predicting that up to 80pc of people that go through these programmes will end up in jobs in that new sector,” Jordan says. “As long as they’re willing to do the work and to focus, then there’s almost certainly going to be a positive outcome.”