Wednesday 26 July 2017

Why they think Springboard is the business

Business leaders and the employers organisation IBEC explain to Jill Barrett why they are fully committed to the innovative programme

With a young, educated population and the current trend in export-led growth, even the most pessimistic commentator would have to agree that Ireland has great potential to become a vibrant economy again. If you are one of those collecting social welfare payments this week, perhaps for the first time, you may be finding it difficult to see the tunnel, never mind the light at its end.

IBEC, the group that represents Irish business, has endorsed the Springboard programme.

Tony Donohoe, IBEC head of education policy, said: "The programme is a good example of the targeted approach needed to address the serious unemployment problem. It will equip people with the new skills needed to take up the jobs of the future, jobs that will drive the economic recovery."

Speaking about where the opportunities lie, Mr Donohoe pointed to sectors such as pharmaceuticals, medical devices, food, hi-tech and business services, with many of these continuing to perform exceptionally well in export markets.

IBEC sees it as encouraging that many of the Springboard courses on offer are aimed at providing qualifications in areas of potential employment growth, such as supply-chain management, environmental services and energy management.

On the need for even the most experienced people to up-skill and re-skill, Mr Donohoe said: "The largest increase in unemployment has occurred among qualified people that worked in sectors which have collapsed or continue to decline."

Forfás research shows there was a rise in job vacancies in 2010, albeit at a significantly lower level than before the recession. This data demonstrates that Ireland is not experiencing a labour shortage but rather a skills shortage.

At the recent launch of the National Skills Bulletin, Una Halligan, chairperson of Expert Group on Future Skills Needs (EGFSN), said: "It is crucial that education and training providers continuously ensure that their programmes are aligned with the future skills needs of enterprise. In this regard, initiatives such as Springboard are very welcome."

The message is clear: if you have some level of education and experience and can find a Springboard course which will help you tweak your skills, then there will be far more options open to you.

As the expert group points out (see panel), skills shortages exist across a number of sectors and niche areas. According to ICT Ireland, the IBEC group that represents the hi-tech sector, up to 3,500 jobs are currently available in the technology sector here.

Speaking recently at a meeting between technology employers and the Higher Education Authority (HEA), ICT Ireland director Paul Sweetman highlighted that the areas of greatest demand included software engineers, programmers and developers, chemistry and physics graduates, mechanical engineers, and project managers.

Language skills, as well as skills such as communications, collaboration, general problem solving, analytics and creativity, are also key attributes for technology-sector employees, according to Mr Sweetman.

With nine of the top 10 global technology firms having a significant presence here, as well as the top five international software companies, and with exports of more than €50bn per annum, Ireland remains a prime location for technology investment. ICT Ireland data shows that five of Ireland's top 10 exporters are ICT companies, and the sector comprises 8,000 companies in total, of which 780 multinationals employ 65,000 people.

The overall ICT sector in Ireland employs over 82,000, and employment growth last year was 4pc. Salaries increased by 8.4pc from early 2010 to the beginning of 2011, and there have been 2,300 ICT jobs created in the year to date.

Regina Moran, CEO of Fujitsu Ireland and chair of ICT Ireland, quoting from this year's ICT Ireland survey said: "Sixty-one per cent of companies had up to 10 vacancies, with an additional 20pc claiming to have between 10 and 50 jobs."

Another area of activity targeted by the Springboard initiative is entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is not just about starting new businesses, but also about growing businesses and driving innovation and growth through competent and ambitious leadership.

"It is this innovation revolution that will drive the productivity growth that will push our economy to new levels," said Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton at the MacGill Summer School in Donegal last month.

Tom Hayes, head of entrepreneurship at Enterprise Ireland, encourages anyone thinking of starting a new business to avail of the Springboard course offerings in entrepreneurship, innovation and business development.

Speaking of the wider trends in start-ups, he mentioned life sciences and ICT -- in particular web development and cloud computing -- as significant growth areas. Mr Hayes said there was always interest in any potential entrepreneur with an idea for a product or service that targets a niche in the market.

Enterprise Ireland's main business is in identifying and supporting what are known as High Potential Start-Ups (HPSUs). In 2010, they nurtured around 80 start-ups and anticipate an even greater number this year. Interestingly, Mr Hayes commented that the drive to bring new businesses to fruition was as good as or better than prior to the start of the recession.

There is a wealth of engineering courses on offer through the Springboard initiative and with good reason. Alongside ICT posts, engineering vacancies are proving to be some of the most challenging to fill across a range of industries. John Power, director general of Engineers Ireland pointed to in excess of 5,000 jobs having been created in the technology sector in Ireland since 2010. "With Ireland becoming an early mover as a hub for cloud computing and the digital games industry, we are at a pivotal turning point. Either we help our population nurture the skills to meet the needs of these emerging sectors or we miss a great opportunity. It's a stark but simple choice."

According to Engineers Ireland there are 1,200 vacancies in the pharmaceutical and biomedical sectors which companies cannot fill.

Significant further growth is anticipated in the skills needs arising in the medical devices and diagnostics sector, according to Sinead Keogh of the Irish Medical Devices Association (IMDA).

Ms Keogh said: "Statistics and recent announcements reinforce the importance of this sector to the Irish economy, in addition to the many existing and growing opportunities for graduates with skills and qualifications in this area."

Despite the current economic climate the Irish Medtech sector continued to perform well in 2010, with exports of €7.2bn -- up 14.5pc on 2008.

Ireland is the second largest exporter of medical products in Europe and has been extremely successful in developing an internationally renowned centre for medical technology, with over 200 companies, nearly 100 of which are Irish-owned.

The sector employs almost 25,000 people, which makes Ireland, per capita, the biggest medical technology employer in the EU with 11 of the world's top 12 medical technology companies located here.

The continued availability of skilled graduates is vital if the growth potential in this area is to be exploited. Key specific engineering disciplines that are predominant in the sector include: biomedical, production, industrial, manufacturing, validation, automation, process design, product design, R&D and quality engineers.

The IMDA also anticipates the need to address further skills requirements in fields including regenerative medicine, nanotechnology, sophisticated diagnostics, imaging, mathematics, advanced clinical trails management, pharmaceuticals , pharmacology, bioprocessing, biotechnologies and informatics.

Engineers are also much sought after -- along with those from environmental disciplines -- by businesses operating within the rapidly expanding green economy.

The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) strategic plan 2010-2015 identifies Ireland as a test-bed location for many new and emerging technologies.

GreenJobs, one of the biggest recruitment agencies for the green industry sector, says: "The rapid growth in renewable energy schemes has led to an explosion in the number of training schemes available, as there is a burgeoning demand for a properly trained green workforce. It is of critical importance that the workforce develops at the same rate as the renewable energy market."

There is something of a mismatch between the level of skills required to remain globally competitive and the skills levels available within the Irish workforce.

Ireland's strength lies in the vast experience of those within that workforce, already significantly educated and now being offered a unique opportunity to upskill and re-skill through participating in the Springboard initiative.

It may be easier to stay as you are, it may be difficult to re-invest the time and effort to return to education, it may even be frightening to contemplate starting a new career. The question is: can you afford not to?

Irish Independent Supplement

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