The Irish Government recently published its National ICT Skills Strategy and Plan, which aims to increase the supply of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) talent. The plan, involves a partnership approach between the private and the public sectors and intends building on the 2012 National ICT Skills Plan and earlier activities, which have appreciably increased the supply of computing, software and electronic engineering graduate talent since 2008, when, around that period, output was at its lowest level for many years.
For example, primary degree (honours) computing output from mainstream undergraduate programmes in 2013 was estimated to be about 80% higher on 2008, while primary degree (honours) electronic engineering output was higher by 50% (table 1). Electronic engineering doctorate output doubled during the same period. The calibre of student has also been enhanced, underpinned by much larger numbers taking higher level maths in their final leaving cert exam at secondary school; for example, between 2011 and 2013 there was a 59% increase in the numbers taking higher level maths and this is forecast to increase further in 2014.
Strong Supply Forecast
Looking ahead to 2018, primary degree (honours) computing output last November was forecasted by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) to grow by about 70% between 2013 and 2018, with electronic engineering growing by over 100%.
Table 1: Summary of (Forecasted) Increase in Graduate ICT Output between 2008 and 2018
2008 vs. 2013
2013 vs. 2018
Source: HEA November 2013
The 2014 National ICT Skills Plan aims not alone to meet the November 2013 HEA forecasts, but to substantially exceed them. To achieve this, the plan has some significant new initiatives, including a special provision to increase by about 45% the number of university/institute of technology places to be made available annually for mainstream undergraduate honours degree ICT students (Level 8 – 4 Year programmes). This initiative will be underpinned by a national promotion campaign encouraging primary and secondary level students to choose computing, software and electronic engineering as a career choice. Upskilling courses will continue to be used to increase graduate output.
Higher graduate output will be complemented with an enhanced focus on attracting from abroad greater numbers of highly skilled and experienced computing, software and electronic engineering personnel. A new international talent portal, to encourage experienced expatriate and non Irish technical and multilingual talent to work in Ireland, is planned. A more streamlined and efficient approach to processing employment permits will be introduced, involving an eForm and fast-track mechanism for pre-registered employers. The new measures will complement the provision in 2013 to increase by 50% the annual number of ICT employment permits to be made available to companies.
Industry Participation in Curricula Design
Greater talent availability will minimise wage inflation and make Irish operations more competitive with lower cost locations, where high wage inflation is an increasing concern. A further benefit to companies is Government policy advocating that universities and institutes of technology work closer with companies in curricula design, to ensure that computing, software and electronic engineering graduates adequately meet the contemporary skills requirements of enterprise. Companies are being increasingly encouraged to participate in curricula design and to avail of internship and work placement programmes, a growing feature and requirement of many third level educational programmes.
In summary, the outlook is very positive for both the supply and calibre of computing, software and electronic engineering talent in Ireland. Projected, substantial, growth is providing increasing confidence to companies in their investment decisions, and this confidence is evident with some very significant technology based investments over the last 12 months. These include investments from Qualcomm, Microsoft, EMC, AOL, Tyco International, VCE, Huawei, Citrix, McAfee, Guidewire and FireEye.
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