HEA moves to plug Ireland’s IT skills gap

26 Jan 2004

Eight hundred secondary schools across the country are to receive an information pack over the coming weeks aimed at encouraging more students to take ICT courses at third level.

The pack includes a 10-minute DVD about careers in the ICT industry put together by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) as well as an information pack from the Irish Computer Society. It is hoped that the initiative will help to stave off a serious skills shortage in the Irish computer industry. The sector faces a jobs shortage of approximately 1,500 positions over the next four years unless there is a significant improvement in the numbers undertaking computer science courses at third level.

The HEA/ICS initiative is a response to the Fourth Report of the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs presented to the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and Minister for Education and Science last October, which has projected further shortages in excess of 2,200 in the period up to 2009. While the supply of computer studies graduates is predicted to fall from 1,866 in 2006 to 1,535 in 2009, the demand over the same period is expected to rise from 2,807 to 3,777.

Pat O’Connor, head of the ICT Skills Project Team at the HEA, said: “Dramatic stories headlining closures and job losses in, for instance, personal computer assembly operations over the past few years have led to a sharp fall-off in the numbers of school-leavers applying for computing courses. Now we have the prospect in the coming years of not just core companies such as IBM, Microsoft and Oracle, but also our key industries such as financial services looking at a supply of computer graduates that will fall far short of their requirements. So, if nothing is done to alter perceptions, Irish industry faces a return to recruiting overseas to fill its needs for computer professionals.”

The HEA DVD carries four main messages about a computer career to school-leavers: jobs will be in plentiful supply; you don’t need to be a maths genius; the jobs in prospect are varied, rewarding and people-centred; and IT jobs are available in all sectors of the economy and not just in hardware manufacturing or software design.

This promotion is currently being carried to career classes of 22 universities and institutes of higher education across the country. Professionals from these bodies will use IT4U as the centrepiece of a career session; they will also take questions and distribute a summary of the content of the DVD.

The concern at the decline in the number of students choosing IT courses at third-level is shared by the ICS, which represents IT professionals in Ireland. The ICS had previously launched a similar initiative, ChooseIT and a related website (http://www.chooseit.ie) which highlight the benefits of a career in technology.

By Brian Skelly