The ICT industry and Government have jointly launched a report which sets out a multi-point strategy to tackle the skills shortage in technology sector.
Several groups have been working on the strategy since 2008, including ICT Ireland, American Chamber of Commerce Ireland, the Irish Software Association, IT@Cork, Dublin Chamber of Commerce, Engineers Ireland, and the Department of Education.
The report, titled "ICT Action Plan – meeting the high-level skills needs of enterprise in Ireland", was launched at a press conference in Dublin on January 30.
Speaking at the event, Minister for Education & Skills Ruairí Quinn said that "highly skilled individuals" were needed "to maintain Ireland's competitive advantage and meet the demands of a rapidly expanding sector."
"Action is required from both government and industry," he continued.
"This education action plan is a direct and positive response to the skills needs of the technology sector. Through a variety of initiatives, the action plan places Ireland at the forefront of the global technology industry, ensuring Ireland will continue to produce the quality and quantity of skilled graduates needed for the technology sector," the Minister said.
The report states that inward migration has up to now been supplying a significant number of skilled people, and that this could not be relied upon in the future.
"It is estimated that approximately 55% of the high level ICT skills needs are currently being met through inward migration," says the report.
"A continued reliance on inward migration of this scale is not sustainable if Ireland is to fully realise the expansion and development opportunities that exist for the evolving ICT sector while also meeting the high-level ICT skills needs of other enterprise sectors.
"The domestic skills supply needs to be built up over time by boosting graduate level output and by companies upskilling existing staff to fill positions for experienced professionals.
"State supported measures to assist companies to provide training for employees include the Skillnets ICT training networks which also provide opportunities for jobseekers to acquire ICT skills.
"The key focus of this Plan, however, is on what can be done to ensure an adequate and sustained supply of high-quality graduates from the education system."
The report says that both attracting and retaining students to third level feeder courses for the ICT industry is vital to sustain the sector in Ireland.
"The Plan establishes an overarching target of doubling the annual output from honours degree ICT undergraduate programmes to 2,000 graduates by 2018. Projected output in 2011 is approximately 1,000 graduates.
"This ambitious plan is based on two key actions: maximising the uptake of Springboard ICT programmes and the introduction of a range of new honours degree level graduate conversion programmes from early 2012.
The report also recognises the need to increase the number of female students in such courses.
"Participation by female students, in particular, needs to be increased and a target of increasing female acceptances onto ICT related programmes from 15% to 25% is being established."
The report says that targets set out require a dialogue with students, parents and schools about the challenging and rewarding careers that are available in the ICT industry here in Ireland.
"The Action Plan includes some measures that will be taken by the Discover, Science and Engineering programme and other Government and industry sponsored initiatives to promote a greater interest amongst students in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) disciplines.
"The ICT sector itself has the key role to play in promoting awareness and interest in ICT related careers amongst young people and further responses which are identified will be reflected in the Plan.
"Retention rates in ICT feeder courses are also a concern and the report establishes a target of improving retention rates by 7% in the University sector and 9% in the Institute of Technology sector by 2014.
The Government's plan was welcomed by the heads of Enterprise Ireland, Forfás, IDA Ireland and SFI. They agreed that it provides the beginning of a process towards providing a sustainable talent base for companies' ICT needs.
; www.enterprise-ireland.com; www.idaireland.com; www.sfi.ie
Martin D. Shanahan, Chief Executive, Forfás said:
"The ICT sector alone employs 75,000 people in 8,000 companies and an increasing share of that employment is for people with high level skills.
"We have established from industry the scale and nature of the skills needs. Recruitment demand is currently for computing and electronic engineers and the expansion and replacement demand for these skills is estimated at 2,500 per year. Coordinated, sustained actions in upskilling and conversion programmes, and doubling the output of graduates, will ensure that recruitment difficulties do not become a persistent feature of the Irish enterprise landscape.”
Mark Ferguson, Director General, Science Foundation Ireland commented on how scientific skills are critical for modern life and business.
“The focus in this action plan on the improvement of maths attainment is very much to be welcomed.
"Improving the proficiency in maths of students leaving second-level education will support the development of the ICT skills that are the engines of growth and innovation.
"It is through initiatives such as this that we will further enhance Ireland’s reputation as a desirable country for the largest companies to locate their R&D operations, for ground breaking companies to be born, and as a country that understands the importance and value of science to society."