Ireland needs to nurture skills needs for digital world


27 Sep 2011

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Maurice Mortell, managing director, TelecityGroup (Ireland)

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TelecityGroup (Ireland), formerly Data Electronics, has a three-decade pedigree of supporting the data needs of Irish and global organisations. Managing director Maurice Mortell urges an unwavering focus on the skills needs of tomorrow’s workforces.

TelecityGroup (Ireland) operates a number of data centres in Dublin, which are linked to a network of pan-European data centres through diverse dark fibre.

In a sense, this infrastructure is testimony to the changing business landscape that all firms will need to be aware of if they are to be competitive going forward.

In recent weeks, TelecityGroup, a major European provider of carrier-neutral data centres, acquired Data Electronics for stg£100m in cash. The 32-year-old Data Electronics has steadily evolved over recent years and has in place some of the most advanced infrastructure in the business. Two data centres – one in Blanchardstown and the other in Kilcarberry – have between them 4,600 sq metres of space to house servers to manage online and cloud businesses that use four megawatts of electricity.

TelecityGroup is a stg£200m a year European data centre giant that is listed on the London Stock Exchange. Highly profitable (stg£38m in 2010) the company operates 24 data centres across Europe.

Such facilities are central to Ireland’s success in attracting major investment from global internet giants that have chosen Ireland as a location for their international operations.

For Mortell, the nature of skills Irish workers will require – from technological to analytical business savvy – means we cannot continue to scrimp on the education needs of emerging generations.

In terms of ensuring Irish schools and colleges are in the front line of maths and scientific performance, he says: “There is no question that education – from primary to third-level learning – will play a key role in Ireland’s future prosperity.

“We have the opportunity to equip our young people with the skills needed to develop a workforce that thrives in a hi-tech digital world, but we need to ensure that key skills are being adopted through technology.

“We have already seen a shift in Ireland – away from the traditional manufacturing jobs to more complex jobs that often require technology-based skills. It is impossible to create a workforce for tomorrow if we don’t nurture these skills from an early age.

“Children are coming from homes where often a variety of technologies are readily available, only to leave for school and take a step back to learning through traditional methods. We may be a few years away from online textbooks, being updated centrally with the latest statistics, but this is where education is ultimately headed.”

Leaving Cert upgrade

Mortell notes that maths and science have been highlighted by many sources as the key to succeeding in the digital economy. He says that in today’s knowledge-based economy, all students (not just a select few) need to understand complex mathematic and scientific concepts and theories to equip them with the knowledge to analyse problems, imagine solutions, and bring productive new ideas into being.

He warns that key decisions need to be made to ensure that Ireland reaches its capability in maths and science. “First, there needs to be a genuine consensus between policy-makers about the importance of maths and science within the Irish education system.

“We need to isolate mathematics and science and place the two subjects at the core of the education curriculum. The Department of Education needs to embrace technology and infrastructure as part of the syllabus. The broadband for schools project was fantastic, but now schools need the physical hardware readily available.

“The Leaving Cert curriculum is overdue an upgrade; possibly moving towards the university route of continuous assessment combined with problem solving, analytical skill sets.

“When a re-vamp of the Leaving Cert is on the cards, maths and science should be at the centre of this. If continuous assessment is introduced, the very nature of the two subjects makes these the perfect starting point to roll out this change. 

“Another example is for students to sit some of their exams online. One-third of the assessment could be attributed to an ongoing project that requires the use of technology to complete.”

Mortell applauds the return of bonus points for maths in the Leaving Cert which he believes will encourage students to spend more time studying higher-level maths.

“This is exactly the sort of scheme Ireland needs to re-focus education on the core skills required for the digital economy and it should be rolled out as soon as possible.”

But he believes this can go further, starting with changing teacher training. “Changing the way education is taught starts with the teacher. Teachers should have the skill sets so they can educate students in how to use technology. This is being done in some instances, but is not part of the syllabus.

“There are two modules that we agree must be improved in schools, so why not start to look at the way it is being taught? Why not revolutionise maths and science teaching? By introducing weekly brainstorming sessions or experiments whereby students can compare results with other schools online, we can generate excitement and team spirit, building confidence and enthusiasm for subjects. This should be throughout Ireland.”

Power of power

As an infrastructure solutions provider, Mortell is well placed to know exactly what needs to happen if Ireland is to continue to punch above its weight in the rapidly growing digital economy. In terms of the steps we can take, he says that energy, and not just broadband, needs to be factored in.

“We can’t ignore the importance of power as one of the major pillars of economic growth and a cornerstone to economic recovery.  Taking into account that the majority of international firms locating in Ireland are technology firms, electricity is of crucial importance in the decision-making relating to choosing a ‘hub’ or a HQ.

“Access to cost-effective, independent and reliable power is highly important in terms of attracting foreign direct investment into Ireland.

“New businesses locating in Ireland need access to power within reasonable time frames, and we need to be able to make power available within a relatively short time spam. To achieve this, there is an argument for competition within the electricity distribution network.

“The more competition that exists within electricity distribution, the more need there is to differentiate. Speed to market is a key differentiator, which is a key enabler in making Ireland the most attractive location for international business.

“Finally, keeping the cost of power at a competitive rate is a key issue – if we lag behind our European counterparts for the cost of power, then it is inevitable that we will lose out competitively. There is a need to be proactive in our approach to attracting international business and power – its cost and availability are key components of this.”

Mortell believes there are other steps that can and should be taken to support Ireland’s drive to emerge out of recession and these include making room for obvious industry opportunities, such as online gaming and casinos which could generate thousands of jobs in the economy.

“We need to bring forward the legislation that is going to enhance and develop Ireland’s jobs, skills and technology. There are opportunities out there ready for us to capitalise on, for example, the online gaming and gambling legislation that should be introduced to replace the Betting Act 1931 and the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956. This has been under discussion for a number of years now, but to date nothing has materialised and as a result, major opportunities have been missed. 

“By creating structured legislation, Ireland could be an online gaming and gambling hub. We have the skills, the young population and the infrastructure to become the worldwide focal point for this enviable sector. 

“The legislation would create a regulated industry, which is hugely attractive to online gaming and gambling companies when deciding on a location. By legislating online gaming and gambling, we will benefit through the creation of high-end jobs and support services that will be of huge benefit to Ireland’s economy.

“It is time to bring this legislation forward without delay so that we can start attracting a critical mass of online gaming and gambling companies – and reap the benefits that this will achieve,” Mortell concludes.

BIOG

Maurice Mortell, managing director (Ireland) at TelecityGroup, joined Data Electronics in 1991 and was appointed chief executive in 2001. In recent weeks TelecityGroup acquired Data Electronics for stg£100m. Mortell is a specialist in IT service capabilities and is responsible for the growth and development of the company.

Mortell has 17 years of experience in the telecoms and internet sectors in Ireland. During his time at Data Electronics he held a number of senior management positions including financial controller and business development manager. In his capacity as CEO, he has managed the expansion and growth of Data Electronics’ business and the development of a new facility at Northwest Business Park.

A seasoned IT specialist, Mortell is a regular speaker on the managed services and data centre markets in Ireland. A member of the Telecommunications Information Federation Committee (TIF), he also chairs the Outsourced Services Group within IBEC and sits on the governing board of ICT Ireland and the board of the Irish Internet Association.

Digital Ireland Forum

Maurice Mortell is one of the panelists at The Digital Ireland Forum, a Silicon Republic breakfast event on 30 September 2011.

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