Skills group voices graduate shortage fears

3 Oct 2003

The Expert Group on Future Skills Needs has confirmed fears that there may be insufficient graduate numbers in ICT, science and engineering by 2005 and has said a considerable “balancing act” will be required over the next few years to meet demand as the global economy gets back on its feet.

The fourth report of the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs (EGFSN) warned that if current trends in the supply of skills by the broad education and training sector are left unchecked, there will be a significant shortfall in the skills required to fuel growth in science and computer-related sectors. It warned that this looming “skills gap” could be substantial in sectors that depend heavily on science and engineering skills.

The chairman of the EGFSN, Danny O’Hare, who is also chairman of the Information Society Commission, acknowledged that at present there are surplus numbers of engineering and technology graduates as a result of the three year-long technology downturn, but argued that this is “short term”.

“In the meantime we need to be preparing Ireland’s workforce by upskilling, reskilling and producing more graduates for a forecasted skills shortage around 2005 and 2006,” he said.

“In terms of the ICT sector in particularly, recovery will be gradual and growth will be significantly less to a comparative degree than what we saw in the late Nineties. Up until then, supply and demand will be a balancing act. Emphasis will be placed on producing better managers for ICT enterprises and we will be embarking on a sales training initiative for the sector.

“We need to develop a critical mass of capability in ICT enterprise management and sales. Another sector on the rise is logistics and supply chain management. In terms of second level we need to address underperformance in maths and related subjects,” O’Hare warned. Some 4,000 new jobs a year will be created in logistics alone, he said.

“Rising industries like biotechnology will also need to be catered for. We believe that Ireland is well positioned to benefit from biotech over the next seven years, but to achieve this science and ICT skills must increase,” O’Hare said.

The Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise Trade and Employment Mary Harney TD agreed. “The reality is that in the 1990s, the Expert Skills Group was dealing with an unprecedented skills shortage and fire-brigade measures were called for. As a result we now have between 90,000 and 100,000 foreign workers in this economy. The slowdown has impacted the ICT sector but we are still creating employment albeit at a slower rate. Employment in 2002 grew 1pc, creating 29,000 new jobs. As the world economy revives, new and better job opportunities will arise. Manufacturing jobs are migrating and that will continue.

“To ensure that Ireland does not lose out, we need to get the educational sector and the industrial sector to work together to meet demand and move with the trends. The decline in students taking up science, ICT and engineering courses is worrying for this economy,” the Tánaiste warned.

By John Kennedy