Skills shortage ‘hurting indigenous tech industry’

1 Mar 2007

The recent job losses at Pfizer and Motorola are disguising a wider issue that is hurting the performance of Ireland’s indigenous tech sector, namely that there actually aren’t enough people to meet the 74pc increase in demand for IT people in Ireland.

According to System Dynamics managing director Tony McGuire, an ill-informed and hysteric Irish media has gotten it wrong and his own company’s experiences paint a different picture to the outlook for jobs in Ireland.

“The intensity of media coverage regarding the potential job losses at Motorola and more recently at Pfizer that suggests that all industry in Ireland is in meltdown is ill-informed nonsense,” said McGuire.

“The reality of our own experience backed up an IT industry survey recently that we have 74pc more vacancies in our industry now than we had two years ago. There is a lot of demand and far too few people available to do the work.”

McGuire said that while his sympathies lie with the Motorola and Pfizer workers who have been made redundant, sensationalist coverage suggesting mass job losses across the Irish technology industry are incorrect and could wrongly inform young people’s career choices, leading to even worse problems down the road.

The impact of the negative coverage of the dotcom downturn of 2000 and 2001 led to fewer students opting for IT courses at third level and this is just one factor that is impacting the recruitment efforts of Irish IT firms.

Another factor could be the arrival in Ireland of large internet firms like Google, Yahoo!, Amazon and eBay, all of whom can pay competitive salaries, benefits and stock options, making it harder for indigenous firms to compete for human capital.

“I am not for a moment belittling the real shock that people face when they lose their jobs when companies shut down or pull out of the country,” McGuire said, “but the way this is being reported is tabloid news at its worst and has a very serious hidden effect.

“Shock-and-scare headlines influence both students and parents in choosing or advising on third-level courses, which in turn will affect their future career choices. Bad (but inaccurate) news about IT jobs discourages graduates from joining the industry.

“The reality in the IT industry in Ireland is that the days of having many young qualified graduates ready and available to take up programming jobs for the multinationals are well and truly over.

“The job of writing programme code has gone to much lower-cost economies and I understand that even those countries are struggling to find qualified experienced staff and to keep them. We know we have priced ourselves out of this market as we have done with many other jobs in the past, such as assembly manufacturing.”

McGuire warned that the real high-value jobs in the IT industry – designers, analysts, process experts and sales and marketing – are available but the people are hard to find.

“We are looking for lots of those skilled people but can’t get them. For the future of the industry and the economy as a whole we need to either train them here or bring them in from abroad.”

System Dynamics, one of Ireland’s oldest IT firms, last year won the prestigious IBM Business Partner of the Year Award.

Despite such accolades and a longstanding reputation in the industry, where System Dynamics competes successfully against big-five players, McGuire said his company meets with a wall of indifference in an Irish public sector intent on spending tax payers money on “reassuringly expensive” brands.

“Too often we hear that the ‘big brands’ are chosen because they are ‘reassuringly expensive’.

“Multinationals will come and go but local companies of the right scale, credibility and capability will always add to this economy and society.

“To build Irish IT companies of scale needs the support of Irish industry and the Irish public sector,” McGuire iterated.

By John Kennedy