The Friday interview: Chris Clark, BT Ireland

30 Nov 2007

BT in recent weeks invested €1m in an IT training centre in Dublin that will produce 8,000 professionals a year. Chris Clark (pictured) is chief executive of BT Ireland.

Do you think Ireland can achieve the production target of one million new workers by 2020?
Unless major changes occur, a significant proportion of Ireland’s workforce will remain underskilled and the highest level of attainment will be a secondary-school qualification. This will mean an undersupply of skills at higher levels. Declining uptake in IT courses in college and university is placing a burden on Irish employers.

Is it not unusual for a telecoms company to be providing IT training?
We’re far more than just a telecoms firm; around the world we describe ourselves as a networked IT company. Our move into the IT training space was made possible by our acquisitions of Cara Group in Dublin and BiC Systems in Belfast two years ago. The real reason for this is that IT training is increasingly important and has become a boardroom issue. Firms now realise the productivity gains and the reduced costs that can be gained from IT.

What kind of professionals will receive training?
For the most part, we will be training executives in businesses. We will also work with government bodies to upskill their staff. We don’t just view it as being a trainer of people; it is also about tertiary education for individuals in public and private sector companies.

EU telecoms commissioner Viviane Reding has proposed a single EU telecoms market. Do you agree with this plan?
For the most part, telecom companies have mixed feelings on this. Reding has come up with some very interesting proposals that would be challenging and not necessarily best for the market. Different European markets have different dynamics. Some markets have competition, others don’t. Considering the state of the Irish telecoms market right now, it would be a challenge to the aspirations of Ireland Inc to have regulation centralised in Europe.

Eircom has submitted a proposal to ComReg for a structural splitting of Eircom into different wholesale and retail companies. Is this a good thing?
There needs to be a separation of those two divisions for the good of the market. But we would be more in favour of a functional separation rather than a structural one. In the UK, BT underwent a functional separation of its wholesale and retail divisions and it has done wonders for the broadband market. What is important for Ireland Inc is that there needs to be a clear regulatory framework on the matter because of the likely impact it will have on the marketplace.

By John Kennedy

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