New skills initiative seeks to define competencies

17 Oct 2002

speak to anyone in IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, Science Foundation Ireland or in any government department, and you will discover considerable anxiety about whether Ireland can meet the demand for IT skills over the coming years.

A major demand is on the way and we are not prepared to meet it, they say. This anxiety was heightened when recent CAO applications revealed a significant shortfall in people applying for IT degrees in the country’s universities, an apathy driven largely by the recent downturn in the sector.

Similar anxieties about changes to Ireland’s 12.5pc corporate tax, with bodies such as IBEC’s ICT Ireland making pre-budget submissions to prevent such disastrous policy.

A recent report, IT Practitioner Skills in Europe, found that Ireland could face an unsatisfied demand for an estimated 14,000 new IT professional jobs that are forecast in the Irish marketplace in 2005. Using the 10pc growth rate figure (the industry’s most recent annual growth rate in Ireland is 11.3pc), the industry here could expect to see an annual average demand of 2,790 in 2002-2003, 6,382 in 2003-2004 and 4,342 in 2004-2005.

“The whole manner in which careers in the ICT sector are presented needs to be changed,” said Frank Cronin, CEO of the Irish Computer Society (ICS). According to Cronin, while we may never return to the mad days of inflated salaries and even more inflated demands in the sector, the industry needs to present itself as a sustainable and viable sector in which rewarding careers can be developed. This week, the ICS introduces a major initiative aimed at identifying future skills gap in the ICT industry.

The ICT Skills Framework, built around the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA) model already deployed in Northern Ireland, the UK and throughout Europe, will endeavour to allow employers to define skills competencies in ICT and non-ICT companies dependant on technology. It also allows firms to map out training programmes, identify gaps, allow individuals interested in ICT careers to understand the profession and identify a career entry-point and allow the industry and Government to quickly address shortages as they happen.

The wide-sweeping framework, which is currently being piloted by Bank of Ireland, the Revenue Commissioners and Fujitsu Services Ireland, has been worked on by the ICS for some five years now and is based on the SFIA model, which was developed by a pan-European network of industry trade associations, government, professional bodies and academia. The one difference, said Cronin, is that the framework includes an ICS Skills Cert, which offers independent verification and certification of an individual’s skills profile.

“The aim of this is to ensure that when shortages occur, instead of employers and industry waiting for people to come out of college after three years, people already working in organisations who have a wealth of experience and skills, and yet aren’t college graduates, can quickly achieve a recognised qualification,” Cronin explained.

“The model is aimed to be highly flexible and can accommodate any skillset in ICT. A lot of people who end up working in ICT roles in companies often fall into it by accident and not by virtue of college or university, yet accumulate a wealth of programming and other skills. Most employers are after qualifications and experience, and the framework levels the playing field for employers and employees in a market that has come full circle in such a short time.”