Despite the downturn and a growing number of job losses, the tech sector faces a significant skills shortage over the next five years, ICT Ireland has warned.
The IBEC body representing the high-tech sector in Ireland has urged the Government to act to reverse the decline in the number of students taking computing and engineering courses at second and third level.
Recent government figures show that the total number of people applying for computer-related courses in universities and Institutes of Technology fell by 25pc in 2002 compared with 2001. This fall-off in student numbers was mirrored at second level where there has been a gradual decline in the number of students at primary and secondary levels pursuing science-related subjects. For example, in 2001, only 12pc of Leaving Cert students took Chemistry and 16pc Physics, compared with 16pc and 20pc, respectively, in 1990.
Tim McCarthy, chairman of ICT Ireland’s Education Working Group, acknowledged the €6.73bn earmarked for education by the Government as part of the National Development Plan (2000-2006). However, he said that there is a growing shortage of skilled information and communications technology (ICT) professionals throughout Europe – 1.7 million ICT vacancies in Europe by 2003 according to a recent report by the European Commission.
“The situation is no different in Ireland,” said McCarthy, who is also general manager of sales at Dell Ireland.
According to McCarthy, the ICT sector would eventually return to growth and when it does Ireland needed to be ready to meet the upswing in demand. “It is vitally important,” he noted, “that Ireland is in a position to meet this improved environment however there are concerns that we will have an insufficient [number of] skilled workers. The report by the Government’s Expert Group on Future Skills Needs estimated that in the ICT sector there would be annual shortfall of about 2,500 professionals and 800 technicians between 2002 and 2005. The recent Task Force Report on the Physical Sciences chaired by Dr Danny O’Hare also highlighted the extent of the problem.”
Almost 100,000 people are employed in the IT sector in Ireland and exports accounted for €31bn in 2001. Of the 10 major software companies in the world seven have substantial operations in Ireland.
By Brian Skelly