Bridging the labour pool gap: Irish colleges shift their approach

31 Mar 2015

Although it varies from area to area, it’s no secret that the general tech industry in Ireland needs more bodies than it can find. Now some Irish education institutions are answering the call.

There are constant predictions that the supply will soon catch up with demand but, in truth, the goalposts are forever shifting in that regard.

The longer Ireland’s tech industry booms, the greater the gap will become, which results in fiercely competitive employment drives by companies big and small.

It is estimated that nearly 80,000 new, full-time jobs will be created around internet services in Ireland within the next five years. One area that produces little or no Irish people into the jobs market, though, is interaction design – but that may soon change.

A design for life

The National College of Art Design (NCAD) in Dublin has launched a new MA on the subject, and it’s something Frank Long, former graduate of the college and now director of Frontend.com, has been crying out for for years.

“It’s a long time coming,” he says, having acted as a consultant for the college in its search for a new, relevant, course.

“I’ve been lobbying for an MA in interaction design for 12 years. Even back then we were hiring more industrial design graduates than the industrial design industry!”

The problem Long and his peers have had is that, in hiring industrial designers, he was basically employing people with the wrong skill set and having to train them up on the job – hardly an ideal ‘reality’ for a business.

Thought-out approach

NCAD’s MA Interaction Design is a one-year course, held in conjunction with UCD. It looks at interaction design from both a pragmatic and speculative perspective in the creation of experiences, products, services, environments and systems.

The college itself spent a while looking into what course would best suit Ireland’s employment market, with UX and interaction design standing out like a sore thumb. Something similar happened a little further west, when Maynooth University (MU) spotted a gap in the education market of their own.

“I’ve been tracking in my own research what’s going on,” says Dr Aphra Kerr. “A lot of my work is around digital games and the internet space more generally.”

She is speaking to me after the announcement of MU’s new MA in internet and societies. The course content includes modules on online communities and advanced digital research methods to support graduates to critically analyse life online and to undertake internet based research on a whole range of topics.

The interest is there, so are jobs

“I was seeing that a lot of my students, for their undergrad projects, they were interested in this space. They were interested in looking at the changes in social media, social networking. They were using it themselves but not thinking they can get a job in this space.

“Many think you will only get a job in the tech industry unless you are a programmer. I think we need to look at the types of jobs that are here in Ireland, look at the skills our students have and try match them.”

The subject is quite wide ranging, incorporating law, media and sociology to better reflect an industry that affects us all. “It’s not just the high-tech industry that engage in this, it’s education, health care, politics,” Kerr says, and she hopes to attract people from a fairly wide constituency of groups.

The first year of any course is always fraught with risks. I know this well having been the guinea pig for both an undergrad and a post-grad course in the recent past.

However if the take-up is as predicted, and it results in careers as quickly as Long feels, then it’s fair to say many more courses touching on the various arms of the internet environment will soon crop up.

NCAD image, via Flickr

Gordon Hunt
By Gordon Hunt

Gordon joined Silicon Republic in October 2014 as a journalist. Unafraid of heights or spiders, Gordon spends most of his time avoiding conversations about music, appreciating even the least creative pun and rueing the day he panicked when meeting Paul McGrath. His favourite thing on the internet remains the ‘Random Article’ link on Wikipedia.

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