Convert the grads to fill jobs

14 Jul 2011

With 2,500 vacancies in the tech industry in Ireland, unemployed graduates should be able to convert and get jobs, ICT Ireland chair Regina Moran says.

The way Fujitsu Ireland CEO and the chair of ICT Ireland Regina Moran tells it, she wasn’t sure who was more horrified, the nuns or her parents, when as a final-year student she decided on a career in electronics.

It wasn’t the done thing in Ireland at the time and, as a student with high grades, the typical route would have been a ‘safe’ career in banking, teaching or the civil service. She was resolute in her choice and hasn’t looked back since.

In recent weeks, when at an Intel Open Forum on Education in Dublin, Moran said the future direction of education in Ireland will have a huge influence on the continuing growth of the ICT sector. IT employment in Ireland is up 6pc year-on-year, at a time when high unemployment is of high concern.

“The ICT industry in Ireland has 74,000 people employed with a further 200,000 supporting the sector, representing huge value to the country.

“But 75pc have vacancies and more than 50pc have at least 20 vacancies.”

Quality education

At the heart of the issue, Moran pointed out, is the quality of maths and science education in Irish schools, not to mention insufficient proficiency in foreign languages. “A survey we conducted recently of teachers found that among maths educators, 48pc of respondents don’t have a qualification in maths.”

She said she was surprised recently when young friends of her daughter were able to choose in first year whether or not to do science, effectively blocking a potential future for themselves in a burgeoning sector.

A few weeks after the forum I mention to Moran that I believe the issue is as much a societal problem. No parent here seems to want to think of their child as a scientist, and certainly not a nerd or a geek. The industry is certainly male-oriented and at the same time most dads in Ireland would sooner see their sons kicking a football in the field outside than sitting in front of a computer.

I add that maybe the Government and career guidance teachers should be doing more to resolve the situation. After all, here are well-paying jobs with security and opportunities for travel and advancement.

“I think the industry itself has a job to do. We have to reach out more as an industry and rebrand ourselves, and improve it for people to feel more attracted to it. The industry is reported on in the pages of broadsheet newspapers, but not Irish Tatler, if you get my meaning. So how could the mammies and daddies of Ireland know that it is a good career choice?”

Retraining of graduates

Crucially, there is an opportunity to help retrain third-level graduates with degrees in business and the humanities and re-purpose them to meet the skills demands.

“I don’t have a primary degree in engineering. I did a certificate and diploma in electronics and then I got a job in the sector and worked my way up. I matriculated and did an MBA in 2000. This is one of the key messages. The industry and the universities need to work together to create conversion courses that allow graduates with different disciplines, the arts or finance for example, to participate in a booming industry.”

She refers to ICT Ireland’s launch of a fully funded master’s in applied software technology from Dublin Institute of Technology, which includes a guaranteed job in Ireland’s high-tech sector on satisfactory completion.

The programme is supported by Skillnets Ltd through its Training Networks Programme, which is funded from the National Training Fund of the Department of Education and Skills, and while ideal candidates would have degrees in computing or software engineering, those with qualifications in mathematics and science-related subjects will also be considered.

Candidates will be offered a full-time job with LM Ericsson in Athlone sponsoring the first cohort of 25 participants.

Moran believes Ireland has many of the attributes that the global technology industry wants and that’s why the country continues to win investment. Hardly a week goes by lately when the IDA hasn’t landed a major internet brand or games company.

She also believes the industry needs to educate the career guidance teachers and spend time in the schools showing the kids what’s possible, what they can create and where careers in the sector could bring them.

‘Anything’s possible’

“The sheer diversity of roles in the sector is what I find interesting. Nearly every career area is required. There are a lot of careers where you’re just regurgitating the past.

“For example, if you do law you’re not creating anything new. In our industry, it is all about creating new things and new business models. There’s nothing new in cloud computing, it’s just a new model for consuming technology. We used to use mainframe computers but now the broadband pipes are bigger so anything’s possible.

“If you join a technology company in the morning there’s a huge diversity of roles. There are jobs that will exist in two years’ time that haven’t been created yet. But if you are a parent, that kind of unknown is scary and of course every time there’s a boom or bust people get excited or frightened. Booms come and go but the fundamentals remain. Technology is moving forward and this decade is going to be one of the most innovative on record.

“As a country we need to continue to attract talent. The problem is as long as we have these skills gaps it is going to make it harder to create new investments. Managers in multinationals are apprehensive about vying for projects in their corporations, winning the projects and suddenly having to fill 50 positions with skilled people.

“This is madness when you consider we have 460,000 people out of work and a large percentage of them being people with degrees in various fields.

“If we can attract them to convert via Skillnets or a national internship programme, then we can create volume and save them by bringing them into careers that they can grow into and enjoy.”

Moran says there is every reason to believe we can turn this around and she has been impressed with the capabilities of young people in schools in this country, from the fifth class kids who participated in Steps to Engineering to the hundreds of teenage participants in events like the BT Young Science & Technology Exhibition.

“The kids today are more confident and more understanding of technology.

“What we need to focus on in the longer term is the kids of 12 today whose choices in the coming decade will determine this country’s economic future for the decades after that.

“In the short-term, however, the challenge is matching the resource pool and skills that have to be filled and figure out how we can get bright, intelligent people back to work and into livelihoods they will enjoy. It’s a matter of joining the dots.”

Photo: Regina Moran, chair of ICT Ireland and CEO of Fujitsu Ireland believes the Irish ICT industry must reach out more to the general public and attract them to careers in the sector. A possible solution to the current unemployment crisis and skills gap in the industry is to convert graduates to suitable roles

John Kennedy
By John Kennedy

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years. His interests include all things technological, music, movies, reading, history, gaming and losing the occasional game of poker.

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