Posted tagged ‘jobs’

Careers to avoid?

October 10, 2010

A few weeks ago I wrote about a survey in the United States that had identified certain ‘hot’ careers for which there would be demand over the coming period. Now there is also an American report about jobs for which there is likely to be less demand over the next few years and which might not therefore represent good career choices. The careers in question are:

• Reporters and correspondents
• Insurance underwriters
• Computer programmers (but not software engineers)
• Judges
• Chemical engineers
• Advertising and promotions managers

Of course if this is true in the United States, it may be different on this side of the Atlantic. But the overall problem with career choices is that they are often influenced by current media coverage or news items, and these may not be a good basis for choosing a degree programme. So while journalists may not be so much in demand now (due to the effect of the internet), this may not be true in four years time when today’s university entrants will be graduating.

However, it is also clear that the structure of employment is changing, and obviously this will have an impact on the availability of jobs in certain sectors. Watching these trends, and knowing how to interpret them intelligently, will become a very important activity and skill for careers advisers in schools and colleges. And understanding them will be important for university strategic planning.


Job losses in universities?

July 8, 2010

In England the university sector is currently bracing itself for further significant budget cuts. In his recent Budget, the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, announced that the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (along with other departments) would have its financial allocation cut by 25 per cent. Now the University and College Union (which represents academics) has calculated that a 25 per cent cut in the higher education budget would lead to at least 22,584 job losses, out of a total of some 262,000 employees across the university sector.

In Ireland as in the UK (indeed more than in the UK), salaries make up a very large proportion of overall expenditure. Therefore it is difficult to absorb cuts in government allocations without reducing the number of those employed in the sector. So far – though not without difficulty – universities have managed to maintain programmes despite significant cuts in budgets and staffing (the latter achieved without any compulsory redundancies). It does however need to be understood that the capacity of the sector to manage this has come to its limit. I believe that all the university presidents in Ireland are anxious not to reduce staffing further. However, further significant cuts cannot easily be handled without some significant pain. It is time to decide where in the country’s priorities higher education stands.

My goodness, we’re struggling with the innovation idea

June 2, 2009

For about the last four years we have, as a country, been courting the idea of innovation as the driver of the economy. Maybe it all started when we read Michael Porter’s argument that as an economy matures it needs to move from being investment-driven to being innovation-driven. As we digested this, our approach to competitiveness was adjusted, and the government adopted the Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation. More recently we have obscured the innovation agenda slightly by moving the language to concepts such as a ‘smart economy’ – which sounds good but doesn’t really disclose through the label what it means; but on the whole the innovation agenda is still alive.

At any rate, I hope it is, because there is no shortage of people wanting to have a go at attacking it.  Most recently this has been Constantin Gurdgiev, the editor of the magazine Business and Finance, though in this case writing in the Sunday Times newspaper. I don’t believe that the Sunday Times has published the piece on its website, so you have to go with my summary for the present.

In a nutshell, Gurdgiev believes that as a country we are seriously wasting money. He argues that all the investment in Science Foundation Ireland will yield peanuts in terms of start-ups and commercialised intellectual property. He believes that doubling the number of PhD graduates (a key goal of the Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation) is ‘patently absurd’; and he argues that our universities are nowhere (and will be nowhere) in terms of global competitiveness. I am finding it more difficult to identify what he is arguing for (as distinct from what he is arguing against), but it seems to be more focus on ‘communications services’; he also mentions ‘marketing, sales and distribution.’

The first thing to say about all this is that we are actually going to go nowhere at all if we are not single-minded about what we are doing. If we adopt scientific innovation as our iconic aim today, but drop that tomorrow in favour of, say, being the home of global PR, and then something else next month, we won’t be much good at any of them and we won’t be taken seriously. This country put innovation – understood as investment in high value science and technology – at the heart of its development plan three or four years ago. This is not an agenda that produces all its benefits in eight months, and we had better stay consistent, because if we give any indication of loss of resolve now we lose all credibility. Companies have invested in R&D located in Ireland on the basis that we are investing in innovation, and right now there are people in laboratories all over Ireland working on discoveries that will provide both technological innovation and commercial focus. All of that can easily travel somewhere else. And we would have very little to replace it with.

We need to get out of the mindset of bean counters, in particular the idea that what we must count is jobs. Innovation is not in the first instance about jobs. It is about economic progress, and about work, and about wealth, and about social benefits. Some of that my result in what traditionally we have called jobs, but even where innovation creates jobs the link may be too indirect to allow anyone to count anything much. But what innovation will deliver is a potential for serious economic growth. Jobs are a by-product of that.

If this country dodges the demands of an innovation economy, then we had better get ready for sustained decline. We have no other offers on the shelves, and none we could put there with much credibility. We need to be consistent, and we need to stay the course.