Wednesday 17 July 2019

Leading Irish entrepreneur hits out at 'astounding' education gulf

Jerry Kennelly, who sold Stockbyte in 2006 for €110m, says he has been forced to turn to foreign staff due to a lack of skills here. Photo: Chris Bellew/ Fennell Photograph
Jerry Kennelly, who sold Stockbyte in 2006 for €110m, says he has been forced to turn to foreign staff due to a lack of skills here. Photo: Chris Bellew/ Fennell Photograph
John Mulligan

John Mulligan

Ireland is suffering from a "strong disconnect between education and the real world," one of Ireland's best-known entrepreneurs, Jerry Kennelly, has warned.

Too many school-leavers are being directed by family and educators into jobs such as accountancy that are most at risk from automation in coming years, while the country is producing too few computer science graduates, he said.

Mr Kennelly - who made about €110m selling his picture business to Getty Images in 2006 - also said that he has no plans to sell any stakes in his venture, or to float the business. He has invested more than €20m in the venture.

"The reality is that the country is full of low-skill, low-salary jobs," Mr Kennelly told the Irish Independent. "We really have to look at where we're at. A lot of the high-salary jobs are with foreigners because we haven't educated or trained people for them.

"Most of the people who work in call centres in Ireland are graduates of third-level education and most of them are never going beyond where they're at €23,000 or €25,000 salaries," he added.

"There's an astounding, shocking disconnect between the education system and the real world."

"A lot" of the third-level courses are "nonsense," he said.

"For somebody who spends three years studying something, in some aspect of what they do they should be work-ready," said Mr Kennelly.

"They should be trained as well as educated and ready to start in a competent way at some junior level. They're not."

Only 1,397 people graduating from computer science courses this year, he said.

"That's why we employ mostly foreign software developers," he said, referring to his Kerry-based business, which enables businesses to design their own marketing and advertising material.

He's been deeply involved in developing entrepreneurial skills amongst primary school pupils, with as many as 50,000 having already taken part in his Young Entrepreneur Programme.

He started in 2008, and remains the sole investor in the company, which he said is profitable. Tweak's customers in Ireland include Voxpro and Savills.

Mr Kennelly, who declined to say what Tweak's revenue is, said he has no plans to raise any outside finance for the firm, to sell it, or to float in on the stock market.

The company receives approaches from private equity firms and potential acquirers "all the time" but that there would have to be a compelling reason to either sell the business or take on outside investment, he said.

"It's hard to beat a well-run business as the best investment that you can have," he said. "We get made offers all the time on Tweak and Tweak Cloud. If the right one came to partner and it was going to make a dramatic difference, absolutely, you'd consider it.

"It's not all about money. It's about getting it to the right stage to make it successful. It'll probably be the last significant business that I'll start and I just want to do a good job on it."

Ireland has "one of the most supportive environments in the world" for entrepreneurs in terms of State infrastructure, Mr Kennelly said.

"We've got a real problem with regard to skills though," he said. "I don't think there's ever been a time in history where things are moving so fast and where careers are being wiped out so quickly," said Mr Kennelly who was named this week as the chair of the judging panel of the prestigious 2018 Newsbrands journalism awards, sponsored by the National Lottery. He said "free news" can't continue to exist in the future. "

Newspapers need to come together to deal with it," he said. "There are significant costs involved in newsgathering.

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