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Skill Shortage Survey Identifies Key Areas for Third Level and Further Education

    skills shortages

    There is increasing concern at the skill shortages in Ireland that see 36% of companies advertising positions and hiring employees from overseas. While some employers are satisfied with the skills of Irish graduates, over a third of employers are reaching outside the country because there are gaps in the skill sets on offer.

    Survey Findings

    These findings are from a recently published survey of involving over 400 Irish and foreign companies. The study was commissioned by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) who welcomed the results as it provided information for changes needed in the third level education sector.

    Two thirds of companies expressed confidence that the right transferable and workplace skills were possessed by graduates and that relevant subject knowledge and discipline for their jobs. In spite of public concerns that industry leaders have stated in recent years, over 80% of company were satisfied with the calibre of science and maths graduates.

    Despite this high level of satisfaction, half of all companies participating in the survey wanted to see stronger engagement between industry and higher education institutes. The 36% of survey respondents that recruited from non-Irish education establishments blamed an insufficient number of available graduates with the right skills, particularly in Information Technology and Computing.

    Further concerns were expressed about soft skills with the graduates ability to communicate effectively particularly in writing. The attitude of graduates was of significant concern with one common theme – graduates possessing the “right attitude” for the position. More employers are paying attention to these kinds of detail, often using psychometric testing and aptitude tests as well as conventional interview techniques.

    The HEA report was designed with the assistance of employer bodies ISME, IBEC, Chambers Ireland, Small Firms’ Association, and American Chamber of Commerce.

    Assessing the Choice of Third Level Courses

    While the results of the survey show that Irish education is producing the right kind of skilled people to drive future development of the economy, there is room for improvement and it is quite clear that collaboration between industry and higher education must develop stronger links.

    Clearly, students need to make informed decisions regarding their choice of third level course and match their skills to courses that best suit them rather than just points chasing. For sustainable careers, commercial decisions made at this stage could be the difference between a secure career and endless job search. Students need advice to read ahead to the demands of the employment market three or four years hence. Unless there are specific specialist courses a student wishes to pursue, more generalist courses such as science or humanities will keep options available for them.

    Non-Academic Skills

    It is interesting to note that expertise in a specific skills area is not enough and communication skills and people skills are equally important as business relies heavily on teamwork, interaction between staff members and customers. Graduates who need assistance in this area can avail of one of the many communication skills modules available at further education institutes or participate in elective modules throughout their third level years.

    Technology Expansion

    In particular the information technology sector worldwide is expanding and Ireland needs skilled graduates work in emerging technology areas like cloud computing. Increasingly, the shift in global IT will need new kinds of IT professionals such as data scientists and cloud architects to create efficient virtual platforms cost effectively that will replace the traditional infrastructures of IT. They need to be big thinkers who can make sense of the data volumes generated by business, public sector, and general population.

    There is no reason why Ireland cannot be at the forefront of the revolution. A new information age is approaching where jobs will offer exciting developments for those entering this sector. As well as the new technology, there is still a demand that cannot be fulfilled for software developers, computer programmers, support personnel with foreign languages and support technicians.

    Opting in to IT courses will improve not only graduate’s chances of gaining employment, but for anyone looking to change career or retrain. It opens up the job market in the IT industry, financial services, life science, and clean energy, which require IT skills.

    Pathways to this growth area can also be achieved by retraining, undertaking courses that will build up enough knowledge and accreditation to complement leaving certificate points, industry or life experience in order to attain the required entry level for specific third level courses. Knowing what industry to target for employment is half the battle for any student.

    Denise Colebrooke