Growth areas remain despite downturn

28 Nov 2002

The mixed fortunes faced by those working or hoping to work in the IT sector in Ireland in recent years, needs no introduction. We all know about the boom years and we’re all too familiar with the downturn that followed. There are, however, still jobs in IT.

For every multinational slashing workforces to cut costs, there are other companies hiring. Indeed, it would appear that small, indigenous companies seem to be doing quite well for themselves and recent initiatives may do much to aid growth in this area.

Just this month we reported on the National Software Centre in Cork. It’s a purpose-built, public private initiative designed to provide space and facilities for companies locating in the Cork area. Although the centre only opened in January of this year, it is already home to around 150 people working for 29 different companies. At the moment, the building is only half full, but growing rapidly and it is intended that the campus will eventually provide half a million square feet of space with eight additional buildings.

In terms of the big picture, some people are seeing encouraging signs.

“Clearly the market isn’t as buoyant as it used to be,” says Paul O’Dea, chairman of the Irish Software Association (ISA). “However, I think the market moves in cycles and we’re at the bottom of one now. The economic situation in the US has a huge bearing on the Irish IT sector and some of the corporate results coming out of there recently are showing that things are beginning to pick up,” he adds.

One growth area O’Dea points to is software sales. He cites recent research carried out by his own firm, International Ventures, which showed that 70pc of indigenous Irish software companies feel that they don’t have all the necessary skills in-house to conduct a complex international sales process. “The ability is sell is weak and there’s a definite skills shortage in this area,” he says.

According to O’Dea, in-depth knowledge of the product on sale is only one factor in success: “What’s increasingly important is an understanding of the customer’s needs, allied to an ability to handle the whole series of processes involved in making an international sale,” he says.

The recruitment companies we’ve heard from bear out O’Dea’s assertion, saying there is great demand in the customer-facing arena, not merely in sales, but also in customer support.

Further evidence was provided at the Irish Contact Centre Awards, which were held this month. According to the event’s organisers, there are currently 12,000 people employed in the contact centre industry in Ireland and that figure is expected to rise to 40,000 by 2010. Although the IT sector only represents part of this figure, it provides a good indicator of where this area is going. The mood at the awards was buoyant and the message going out was that there were definite job opportunities for the skilled in a sector that was now able to provide competitive salaries.

Finally, one other factor could emerge as a threat to the jobs market. For the first time in around a decade, the word emigration is entering general public discourse. Over the last few weeks, I have come across several young professionals who are contemplating moving abroad and has heard the issue broached on radio discussions. People left Ireland in the Eighties because of the lack of jobs.

Nowadays it is the lack of affordable housing, chaotic traffic and the rising cost of living that are factors. Employers can only provide jobs and not quality of life. With a well-educated young population and a strong high-tech sector, it would be a shame to see the market damaged by outside factors such as these.

By Dick O’Brien