Students 'not taught the right skills' to fill computer graduate shortfall
A leading software scientist says that Ireland's computing graduate shortage can only be solved if enough students are taught the right skills, rather than the latest technology fad.
As the Government launches a new Action Plan to meet the rising employment needs of hi-tech industry, Professor Brian Fitzgerald said it was not only about producing more graduates, but about being smart in the approach to computing education. A shortage of Irish computing graduates means that up to half of the vacancies in Irish companies are filled by foreign graduates, particularly from Eastern Europe and former Soviet bloc countries.
About 44,500 vacancies requiring high-level computing skills are expected to open between now and 2018.
Third-level colleges have responded to the shortage by opening up more computing courses and places, and school-leavers and other college applicants are answering the calls to fill those desks.
But Prof Fitzgerald said colleges had been "guilty of rebranding courses to appear more attractive", while employers also played a role by suggesting that colleges produce graduates familiar with the latest technology hot topic.
The chief scientist at Lero, the Irish Software Engineering Research Centre, who has worked for 15 years in the software industry in Ireland and abroad, said there was a need for a more rational approach, combining the fundamentals with the high-value skills.
Speaking to the Irish Independent in his first interview since his appointment late last year, Prof Fitzgerald compared trends in Ireland with what was happening in Eastern European and former Soviet bloc countries.
He said these countries had not pursued the latest fads in their third-level computing options, their computer laboratories were generally not as well equipped with modern technology as here and their courses tended to be more traditional.
Prof Fitzgerald spoke about several graduates from these countries who he encountered on Master's programmes in Ireland.
"What I have found impressive is the level to which sound principles of programming have been inculcated," he said.
Importantly, he said, these graduates had the fundamental skills to adapt to changing needs and become proficient in the required, specialised computing and software language, such as Java.
Prof Fitzgerald referred to the importance of certain key computing roles, such as software architects and UX (user experience) design, which act as job multipliers because the skills underpinned several additional supporting computing jobs.
Ireland is producing about 1,200 honours degree computing graduates a year, and that is set to double by 2018.
Since 2012, there have also been about 2,000 graduates from reskilling and conversion programmes.
Three years ago, Ireland could only meet 45pc of industry demand for information and communications technology (ICT) professionals, but that has now risen to 60pc.
Under the new ICT Skills Action Plan, the Government aims to increase the supply of home-educated graduates for the industry to 74pc by 2018, and is also taking measures to increase the supply of highly skilled professionals from abroad.
The Action Plan sets out a series of initiatives designed to achieve the target, including an additional 1,250 college places annually from this year and measures to reduce drop-out rates of students on ICT-related courses.
It will also target pupils in second level and primary schools with a view to boosting interest in careers in ICT, while a further round of ICT skills conversion courses will be launched.