Tuesday 26 September 2017

Move over, IT crowd: there's still a loud call for humanities

Some of our most iconic technological advances rely on a deep understanding of human behaviour, writes Tony Donohue

Tony Donohue

ONE of the most frequently asked questions of business representatives is: 'Where are the jobs of the future?' The truthful answer is that, in the medium to longer term, we cannot be too precise.

As the European Commission suggested three years ago, "Many of the jobs in 2015 – and most of the jobs in 2030 – do not currently exist and cannot be foreseen yet."

We can be reasonably certain that most of the new jobs will either be in science and technology sectors, or in other areas that depend heavily on technology.

Technology will continue to have a fundamental impact on the way we communicate, as well as on most products and services that we currently take for granted.

The recent report from the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs indicated that demand for people with high-level ICT skills across the economy could lead to 44,500 new job openings over the next six years.

The demand, which is a global phenomenon, is driven by cloud computing; the rapid penetration of mobile devices and technologies; emergence of big data analytics; adoption of social technologies, IT security and micro- and nano-electronics.

Shortages have also been identified for chemical and pharmaceutical scientists and there is significant demand for science skills in food product development and medical devices. In the professional engineering area, quality control, mechanical, electronic, product and chemical process engineers are all in demand.

However, it would be a mistake to assume that all the science and technology employment opportunities are just open to holders of advanced degrees.

A large percentage of the workforce in these industries and occupations are technicians and others who enter and advance in their field through diplomas and certificates, or through workplace training. The 2013 National Skills Bulletin confirms a trend that we have seen in recent years, with shortages reported for:

• Laboratory technicians in the food, pharmaceutical and biotechnology sectors;

• Tool design and polymer technology technicians;

• Electronic technicians;

• IT user-support staff.

There is also a demand for engineering and scientific expertise combined with the skills necessary for interaction with customers, suppliers, regulatory and funding bodies (eg people, communication and planning skills, and cross-discipline knowledge).

Therefore, disciplines such as the social sciences, and the arts and humanities, will play an important role. For example, some of the most iconic technological devices rely on a deep understanding of good design and human behaviour.

Social trends such as rapidly ageing societies will stimulate new demand for medical products and services, but will also require an understanding of how older people interact with technology.

In fact we must all learn to think scientifically if we are to be able to understand and participate in the modern world. Without this understanding, citizens will be unable to make reasonable decisions in evaluating the services being offered. They will have difficulty in accessing information that they need, in gaining fulfiling employment, or developing informed opinions on the major issues that we face.

Tony Donohue is Head of Education, Social & Innovation Policy with the employers and business organisation Ibec.

Irish Independent

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