Careers in ICT
The Celtic Tiger – and it may be useful to remember that this phenomenon was real enough for ten years or so – was built on the back of innovation and investment in the ICT sector. Even before Ireland became prosperous, key multinational companies such as Intel, Digital and Microsoft built up a major presence here, which in turn gave some encouragement to indigenous enterprise. There then came some high profile Irish success stories, such as Chris Horn’s Iona and Fran Rooney’s Baltimore Technologies. Of course around this time, in the late 1990s, many technology start-ups across the developed world were seriously over-valued, with market capitalisations of nearly $1 billion not uncommon for companies that employed few, owned almost no assets and had intellectual property of really very questionable value.
The growth and glamour of these companies produced a surge in demand for computing and engineering programmes in the universities. But almost as soon as capacity has been extended to cope with this demand, the dot.com bubble burst and previously celebrated companies suddenly found themselves facing insolvency. There then followed a student flight out of computing and electronic engineering, as parents and some teachers concluded that this was no longer a desirable career path. The impact of this was unfortunate: yes, some jobs in the ICT sector had gone, but they tended to be jobs not requiring much in the way of educational qualification. The skilled and leadership jobs in the sector, however, continued to grow. Staff in DCU’s Computing School started to do annual research into job vacancies in the sector, and by 2009 they were reporting that there were up to 3,000 unfilled positions in the Irish ICT sector for computing graduates. Employers looking for graduates could not find them in Ireland, or at least not enough of them, and some started looking to other countries for new recruits.
This month Silicon Republic reported that there has been a major demand for information security professionals, and in this case again it may turn out that we cannot supply the graduates needed by the companies concerned. Recruitment from overseas will gather pace.
So what are we to conclude from all this? The most important point is that today’s business news stories ate not a good guide for career choices as people enter higher education. Whatever conditions caused these stories, good or bad, will long have disappeared by the time a student has completed the degree programme. But we must also be aware that if we cannot supply skilled graduates, then companies in the ICT sector will stop investing in Ireland. This is an urgent matter. So what the country needs is high value computing and electronic engineering programmes, and students who understand that this is still a most lucrative sector for Ireland and potentially for them.