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Big Tech job losses don’t mean digital skills are now falling out of demand in work

Over the past six months, a number of big tech companies have announced redundancies, leading to speculation about an uncertain future for tech graduates. However, Ireland still has a skills gap in technology – because it is not only big tech companies that need qualified, competent tech graduates.


Education and industry


The future of education and the future of work go hand-in-hand. The prioritisation of the skills and talent agenda is now critical to boosting Ireland’s international reputation for an innovative, agile, and high-performing workforce. Every job is changing and at pace, in terms of needing new skills to support delivery and execution. To meet these needs and to drive innovation, we need a talented workforce – in all areas - and this will only be achievable and sustainable through education. This also requires deeper engagement between the higher education sector and industry.


Resilience for society and economy


Education is life-changing. The HEA’s National Access Plan acts to increase participation in higher education by a diverse student body that reflects the social mix of Ireland’s population, in an inclusive and equitable environment to support student success.


By increasing access to education for all, we build a resilient population, ready to respond to a changing world, able to provide for themselves and their families and, through tax and social insurance, our broader society; able to participate in enterprise – across all sectors - small or big businesses, starting-up or working in both indigenous and multinational companies that underpin the economy.


Tech jobs


We have seen a myriad of changes to the employment prospects of tech graduates before: from traditional in-house employment to the use of contractors, to procurement of software as a service (SOAS); from the emergence of impressive tech start-ups to seemingly indomitable ‘big tech’ companies. While how and where people are employed oscillates, the overall growth trend of the number of people working in tech is seriously impressive. Numbers employed in the sector grew from 115,000 in Q2, 2018 to 165,000 in Q2, 2022, before job losses began to impact staff in Ireland.


However, Ireland still lacks sufficient experts in AI, data analytics, fintech, cloud computing and cybersecurity. Programmes such as the European Commission’s DIGITAL Europe, and EU/Government of Ireland co-funded Springboard+, directly address this skills gap, because this expertise is needed not only in technology companies, but in every organisation!


Industry-responsive tertiary education


I have read opinion pieces that conjure the image of Ireland producing cookie-cutter tech graduates for multinationals, as though graduates have no volition, and as though such a job would be an ‘end’ rather than a means for that graduate to gain valuable global experience and mobility. Besides undervaluing both graduate and multinational, this picture ignores the critical importance of SMEs in Ireland, which account for more than 99.8pc of all enterprises.


The education sector does not passively wait to be told what kind of worker they are next to produce. When academia and industry work together to bridge the skills gap, it is to create and serve SMEs as much as to deliver sought-after graduates who can explore their ambitions on the world stage. National College of Ireland is proud of its tradition and commitment to such collaboration.


Digital4Business


One such initiative is the recently launched Digital4Business, a four-year €19.92m EU-funded project, one of the largest non-infrastructure projects awarded to date under DIGITAL Europe, which sees the collaboration of fifteen partners from 7 EU countries, with Ireland strongly represented, including by both Skillnet Ireland and National College of Ireland. This exemplar to others will create a unique national skills platform, using technology to transform upskilling delivery methods, the first of its kind in Ireland.


Future graduates of this European masters’ programme are described as “digital decision makers”, directly contributing to business development, they will not be siloed to an IT department, just as tech graduates are not limited to working in the technology sector: all aspects of business increasingly require digital skills and all businesses require tech graduates.


Bridging the skills gap for growth


Tech graduates don’t just have training in applying the latest technologies, they learn problem-solving and conceptual awareness, in an environment that delivers ethical as well as commercial context for their choices, demanding critical thinking and providing framework and resources for research and development. Tech graduates are engineers, designers, architects, innovators – sometimes visionaries.


NCI computing graduates get jobs with retailers, banks, accountancy firms, design companies, manufacturers, insurance companies and the civil service, or even their own start-ups such as Meta-Flux, as well as the more obvious ‘big tech’ players such as IBM, Workday and Google. Tech graduates are sought-after by scores of businesses that may be less likely to make headlines than some more famous names, but are appreciative employers, and every bit as vital to the economy.


The EU has chosen Skills as the theme for its ‘European Year’ in 2023 which is putting fresh impetus on upskilling and lifelong learning. Amidst a tight labour market, with employment having surpassed 2.5 million, Irish employers are increasingly hiring for skills. However, in the face of a skills gap, education is the key to ensuring that we have a talented workforce that will bridge it!


Brendan McGinty is Managing Partner of Stratis Consulting, a specialist consultancy on strategic employment relations, Chair of Skillnet Ireland, a member of the Board of the Workplace Relations Commission, Chair of National College of Ireland’s Governing Body, and was recently appointed Chair of the Review Committee of Contractor Fees, Human Resources (HR) and other matters regarding RTE.


Article featured in Irish Independent see here.

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