WIDENING THE ICT SKILLS NET
Alex Meehan explains how businesses can broaden their reach in the search for talent and our own Aisling O’Shea Mannion speaks about Sidero’s collaboration with higher education institutes in order to get top quality engineers
Irish business is adopting new technology at an ever faster pace, fuelled by digital transformation in the long term and the Covid-19 pandemic in the short. With a skills shortage in full effect, the issue of how best to attract new people into the technology sector and how to retrain those already there has never been more pressing. According to Bob Savage, vice-president and Cork site leader for Dell Technologies Ireland, technology is becoming more important in the broader economy and the answer to meeting the skills shortage this is causing lies in establishing stronger links between academia and industry.
“Over the past five years, we’ve seen strong growth driven by demand for programmers, technicians and engineers, and this demand for digital skills has fuelled greater collaboration between industry and academia in order that we remain a leader in skills, talent, innovation, and inclusion,” he said.
“Munster Technological University’s masters in cloud computing is a great example of a programme that was created out of this sense of collaboration to help upskill Ireland’s workforce and ensure we can continue attracting foreign direct investment in Ireland.”
According to Savage, Ireland needs to ensure it is harnessing the skills, talents and experiences of everyone interested, irrespective of their background or gender. “That’s why we have worked closely with Technology Ireland’s Software Skillnet to help roll out Women KickSTART, a 15-week programme of training, mentoring, and work experience that enables women from any background to gain new skills and insights into the technology sector,” he said.
“Our team members have been integral to the programme’s success, providing mentorship and sharing their own personal experiences of working in the technology sector. Of those who have completed the programme, 92 per cent have gained employment immediately.”
Dell Technologies has also made a special effort to try to persuade school-aged girls to choose Stem (science, technology, education, and maths) subjects. Currently only 22 per cent of those studying computer science at second level are girls, and a similar percentage go on to third level to study the subject.
“Through our Stem Aspire programme, our team members have been encouraging female students to complete their studies and to consider careers within the Stem fields by providing them with direct access to mentors and role models within the company,” said Savage.
“By connecting female students with female mentors working in STEM, we hope to inspire students to transition from third-level education into the technology sector.” According to Mary Cleary, general secretary of the Irish Computer Society, it is important for the future of the sector that paths are made available for people to retrain and upskill themselves.
“We are always going to need people with the base-level degree but increasingly we’re also going to need people who are specialised past that. This is the notion of the T-shaped career, where a person has a base degree, a broad qualification of the kind you’d get from a computer science degree with, and then they would specialise as they move up through the education pyramid,” she said.
“There will always be a demand for that baseline qualification but people also need further training, whether it’s on the job or continuous professional development, or whether it’s through a masters or post grad course.” According to Cleary, the areas currently experiencing skills shortages have remained consistent in recent years.
“The same areas come up again and again – data analytics, anything to do with big data and the cloud. Overall, the management of data is critical and every business needs some element of data management and data analytics,” she said. “Artificial intelligence is kind of a buzzword but it’s also a growth area. Even small companies are using elements of artificial intelligence.”
Another area seeing demand at the moment is that of data protection. “The whole area of data protection and privacy is really very important. And that’s an area that’s going to grow in scope and importance. It’s not just an IT issue – it’s deeply embedded into lots of sectors and in lots of areas. The whole idea of privacy-by-design is critical,” said Cleary.
According to Aisling O’Shea Mannion of Sidero, it’s important for business to have strong ties to education.
“We have a very strong relationship with the Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT), and it’s very closely located to us, but we also have strong links with other higher education institutes and over the last number of years, we’ve collaborated quite a bit. We’ve worked with NUI Galway and with the Galway Mayo Institute of Technology [GMIT],” she said.
“More recently, we started collaborating with the National College of Ireland as well, in theory, in Dublin, but obviously the pandemic has caused issues.”
For Sidero, this collaboration takes the form of working with the various college’s career’s officers, talking to graduates and interns, getting involved in tech talks and ultimately employing graduates as well.
“We’ve worked most with AIT and there, we’ve provided feedback and input with regards to their software and technology courses. The aim there is to ensure that they get the right skills coming onto the market. So we supported the creation of the new cloud native module that they have in place,” O’Shea Mannion said.
“We’ve also assisted them in redesigning some of their other software engineering courses. And again, it’s all about ensuring that when the students come out of the Institute, that they’re ready for the workplace.”
To further help students and make them as career-ready as possible, Sidero staff have helped with additional support, such as facilitating communication skills, CV writing and interviewing skills clinics with software design students.
“Being employable is about more than just technical skills, it’s also about having the right ‘soft’ skills that they need to bring into IT roles. These are just as important,” O’Shea Mannion said.