500 schools opt for computer driving licences

11 Nov 2003

More than 500 schools across Ireland have opted for Irish Computer Society-developed European Computer Driving Licences (ECDL) to develop their IT skills, the CEO of Irish Computer Society Skills Jim Friars said yesterday at the launch of a special portal dedicated to encouraging students to consider careers in the technology sector.

According to the ICS, negative press coverage about the technology downturn has coloured many students’ opinions about potential careers in the technology sector, a factor that might result in students opting for other courses at third level instead of IT courses. Recent CAO results indicated that demand for IT courses fell by almost one third. Accordingly, several colleges are understood to have either cancelled IT courses or lowered the number of points required to gain entrance.

However, organisations such as the ICS warn that if this situation continues, Ireland will be unable to field either the numbers of IT graduates required or sufficient numbers of the right calibre. By 2005 it is estimated that some 14,000 IT workers will be required, but insufficient supply will result in a skills shortage similar to that of 1999 and 2000 which saw salaries and perks in the sector soar.

Yesterday, the ICS responded with a €500,000 initiative of its own aimed at encouraging secondary school students to think about the broad range of opportunities that await people with IT skills. The ChooseIT campaign will run over two years and will target students and career guidance councillors in every secondary school in Ireland through the www.chooseit.ie portal.

Designed as an interactive forum, the site features a number of different sections to allow students to test their aptitude and get details on careers in IT. It contains self-assessment quizzes for students to determine their strengths and talents and how to develop these further. The site also explains the various jobs and roles in IT, from hardware specialists to software developers, each of which can be found in a variety of different industries outside of IT. The site also focuses on communications skills and looks at the real-life cases of individuals who enjoy success in the technology business.

Jim Friars told siliconrepublic.com that some 500 schools are already pushing to develop their IT skills through the adoption of ECDL courses with notable levels of success. The ECDL programme was established in Dublin in 1997 by the Irish Computer Society to bring citizens up to speed on the use of technology; some three million people throughout the world are now ECDL certified, with some 12 million tests having been conducted through a network of 15,000 test centres. In Ireland more than 220,000 people have taken the ECDL test, representing 6pc of the overall population and 12pc of Ireland’s working population.

“The drop in students applying for IT courses is well documented as is the possible future shortfall of qualified IT personnel in Ireland. Our research showed that many of these students were influenced by the negative overage of the sector,” Friars said.

“We also found that many students did not have the full appreciation of the skills required for an IT job or understand the range of diverse skills and futures there are open to them. This initiative aims to reach students at an early stage and to give them the most comprehensive information available. It will also help them to plan for their futures in an IT context by demonstrating the opportunities that are available in the IT sector. We are calling on parents, teachers and students to interact with the site to ascertain whether a choice or subject or a career in IT is suited to them,” he added.

Also present at the launch of the ChooseIT initiative was the Minister for Education and Science, Noel Dempsey TD, who said that €100m has been invested in various technology initiatives at first and second-level schools. Reacting to the negative press coverage that has influenced student career choices, Dempsey said: “Some commentators attribute the reduction in demand for IT courses to a downturn in the technology sector and to newspaper headlines of job losses in technology companies. This initiative aims to counteract that perception. In fact, it communicates the reality that the technology sector does offer good career opportunities and that it will continue to play a leading role in the success of the Irish economy.”

He added: “Many students too readily assume that a qualification in IT opens job opportunities solely in that sector of the economy. This of course is far from the case, and ChooseIT dispels that notion by demonstrating how IT professionals play a key role in all sectors of the economy.

“For instance, IT professionals play crucial roles in the financial services, in manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, health, and government, to name but a few of the leading areas. Opportunities also exist in areas such as graphic design, fashion, communications, entertainment, security and retail. In effect, demand for IT professionals comes from organisations across all sectors of our economy, and not just from the technology companies.”

The Minister continued: “An education system that adapts and changes to meet the requirements of an emerging knowledge-based society best serves the long-term interests and needs of our young people. The students of today will increasingly need to create and use both new and existing knowledge to meet economic and social challenges. For that reason, technological literacy, appropriate to the needs of the individual, is not an optional extra but an essential life skill.”

Over the past three years the Department of Education and Science has invested more than €100m in various initiatives which support the use of technologies in first and second-level schools. The Minister said that this investment is designed to help schools build increased capacity to offer a wide variety of educational programmes, and to increase their ability to ensure that all students will have the opportunity to develop their IT skills across the entire curriculum.

“Under our latest follow-up initiative, Blueprint for the Future of ICT in Education, the provision of a basic level of ICT equipment, as well as more advanced training of teachers, has continued, while our policy focus has broadened to include both the networking of schools and the wider issue of school connectivity to the internet. In this manner our young people will be empowered to build competencies to exploit the opportunities of tomorrow’s knowledge society,” Dempsey concluded.

By John Kennedy