CAO Change of Mind: Change direction, think STEM

26 Jun 2015

The summer months are full of milestones for Leaving Cert students, from the start of exams, to results, to college offers. One such milestone is approaching — the last day for CAO Change of Mind.

Students have been able to lodge changes to their CAO applications since May, but that facility is closing at 5.15pm on Wednesday, 1 July.

So, with that deadline looming, students have to ask, ‘Do I want to change my course choices?’ and, if yes, ‘What to?’

Simple answer? STEM.

The STEM industry (science, tech, engineering and mathematics) is booming in Ireland. Huge multinationals — Apple, Google, Intel, FMC, GSK — have flocked to Irish shores, and the relentless growth of science and tech development ensures that jobs are almost always plentiful. announces 100s of jobs in STEM every week, with no signs of flagging from the industry.

In the tech sector, for instance, there are currently 6,000 vacancies, and more than 44,000 vacancies are forecast for grads with technology skills over the next three years. Vacancies for people with tech skills have increased by 89pc since the start of 2011 and — we’ll tell you, even though salary isn’t necessarily relevant to job satisfaction — earnings have risen by 15pc over the same period.

According to Hays Recruitment’s Salary and Recruiting Trends 2015: “The information technology industry in Ireland has continued to experience a period of growth across all sectors, with competition for strong, experienced candidates remaining high. Demand is outstripping supply.”

The science industry in Ireland remains strong and is a vital part of the Irish economy — the pharmaceutical sector alone contributes 10pc of Ireland’s GDP. That brings its own problems, though.

“The very success of the sector, and the job creation that comes with it, has led to a skill shortage and competition for qualified staff,” says Hays. In other words, vacancies are plentiful, and salaries competitive.

Don’t worry, though, if science and tech aren’t your strong suits — the STEM industry isn’t just for the STEM-minded, and you too can enjoy the benefits of its growth. With the recession a fading memory for STEM, and recovery well under way, there has been an increase in hiring for support services, like human resources, too.

We’ve gathered information on just some of the STEM areas in which skilled workers are in high demand, and what you need to study to get there. If you weren’t already thinking about a career in STEM, maybe you should start…

Business Analytics

Business analysts going over data

Jobs: Business analysts are in demand in almost every industry, from fintech to software services.

What they do: Simply put, business analysts are the vital link between a company’s IT capabilities and its business objectives.

If you don’t like things to be put simply, Business Analysts Association of Ireland is a little more verbose: “The role of the business analyst is to identify the core business objectives of an organisation and its constituent parts, and to ensure that the processes, procedures, systems and structures that are in place are the most effective and efficient to enable it to achieve its core objectives.”

(You wish you’d stuck with the simple version, right?)

What they don’t do: Put business on a couch and ask it to talk about its thoughts and feelings.

Educational requirements: The majority of graduate-level business analyst roles offer some degree of on-the-job training, so all you really need are excellent Microsoft Office and analytical skills, and a third-level qualification. Specific requirements change from company to company, but most tend to look for graduates of finance, business or IT.

Salary: According to Hays, business analysts can earn upwards of €55,000 per year, but entry-level positions are more likely to start around the €25-35k mark, dependent on experience.

Programming, developing and coding

Two young girls working on a computer

Jobs: Programmers are needed across a whole range of languages in Ireland, including PHP, Python, Ruby, C#, C++, SQL, .Net and JavaScript, to name but a few. These programmers can work on website, mobile (rare in Ireland), games and cloud infrastructure.

What they do: Programmers are the builders of the cyber world, and they are, broadly speaking, divided into two sections.

Back-end developers deal with architectural stuff, like logins and password set-ups. These are things that, when viewing a webpage, don’t appear too integral at first glance, but every webpage relies on them.

Front-end developers, meanwhile, make things look and work better for users.

What they don’t do: Click their fingers and create that website you have envisaged in your head.

Educational requirements: There are two strands to this, really. First off, you need to do something like computer applications in college. Given the current employment scene in Ireland, every college now offers seriously good options on this.

Secondly, you need to work on projects in your own time. When you sit down to meet with a potential employer, they will appreciate where you studied, but they will investigate what you have created. Think of it as your portfolio.

Salary: According to Hays, junior developers in Ireland will start around €30,000+ at the lower end. That, however, goes up quite fast. Senior roles could get double, or even triple, that. And that’s before you look at the crazy contract money you can earn. Getting offered €300-400 a shift is not at all unheard of.

Life Sciences

Two scientists working in a lab

Jobs: Life sciences is fairly broad, encompassing biology, botany, zoology, microbiology, physiology, biochemistry, and other related fields. But the most in-demand areas over the coming years, according to Hays, will be quality assurance (QA) specialists and R&D professionals.

What they do: QA specialists check that products — pharmaceutical or medical devices for example — are meeting specified requirements, to catch defects before they get into the final product. They audit product development processes and provide expert and independent advice and consultation.

Nearly everything that is manufactured is a product of research and development. R&D professionals are the people behind that process, researching, designing and refining items into usable products.

Of course, if you choose to go in a different direction and study zoology, you might end up doing a little bit of this.

What they don’t do: It’s important to note that QA specialists are not the same as QA testers. They also don’t get to sample the goods, especially, one imagines, when it comes to pharmaceuticals.

R&D professionals probably don’t get to blow stuff up quite as much as they’d hope, even though the (intentional) explosions, quite naturally, are the dream.

Educational requirements: QA specialists need, at minimum, a life sciences degree, though many hold an MSc or PhD. Most organisations also look for some level of experience in product development.

R&D professionals typically hold a doctoral-level degree in their chosen field, typically physics, biology, biotechnology or chemistry.

Salary: Entry-level jobs in quality assurance can net up to €50,000 a year, with R&D professionals starting out with somewhere in the region of €40,000.

Data science and analytics

Overview of table covered in laptops and papers

Jobs: Data scientists work in massive numbers, collating the reams of data coursing through Irish businesses every day. Think business intelligence, data governance, risk and compliance.

What they do: Data science is utilised by businesses trying to make sense of what their consumers are doing, where they’re visiting, and how long they spend there. Data scientists make sense of what, to many, would look like a sea of mysterious digits. They marry statistical knowledge with engineering and database expertise.

Globally, we’re producing more and more data, and we haven’t even begun to catch up yet on the backlog, so this is a key area of employment in the near future.

What they don’t do: Study the scientific properties of that android in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Educational requirements: Colleges are quick to react to Ireland’s acute need for professionals in this field. Master’s degrees are popping up in this field, to complement those undergraduate courses such as computer science or computer applications.

Salary: According to Hays, analysts at the lower end of the spectrum can earn €40,000+. If you’re creating (engineering) data warehousing, you could be on double that. Data governance roles could earn €60-100k.

Human Resources

Candidate handing HR Professional a CV

Jobs: This one does exactly what it says on the tin. Human resources professionals work in HR. The beauty, though, is that the vast majority of companies have HR departments, making the world pretty much your oyster.

What they do: Human resources probably has one of the broadest reaches of any career area out there. According to, HR professionals will have a hand in recruitment, training, career development, compensation and benefits, employee relations, industrial relations, employment law, compliance, disciplinary and grievance issues, redundancies, and more. In smaller companies, one person tends to handle all of this, while HR professionals at larger multinationals can specialise.

What they don’t do: Deliberately make life more difficult for everyone else.

Educational requirements: Although a HR degree is not required, having one would be an advantage. A Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD) qualification would be an added bonus.

Salary: Human resources professionals start out on around €26,000 per year.


For an idea of some of the jobs you could get in the industry right after graduation, take a look at the 6 top employers hiring graduates during the ‘student scramble’.

Train track image, via Shutterstock

Body images via Shutterstock. Click on image to be taken to download page.


Reporting by Gordon Hunt and Kirsty Tobin.


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