Addressing ICT skills shortage

agendaNi takes a look at the issues around ICT skills and how these are being tackled.

It will come as little surprise to most that IT is one of the biggest growth sectors in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
The sector offers well paid and mostly secure jobs, but there’s one big thing holding it back – a shortage of appropriately qualified people. It’s particularly acute in Northern Ireland, where in the past multi-national companies have warned the shortage is hampering their ability to develop at the pace they would like.

In 2014 in Northern Ireland the level of ICT companies actively recruiting stood at around 34 per cent, that was more than double the level, 13 per cent of non-ICT companies seeking to recruit. And in 2010, during the worst of the recession and the global financial crisis, the disparity stood at 2.5 times, in favour of ICT companies.

Those statistics are from a survey by the Sector Skills Council for Business and Information Technology. On the flipside 26 per cent of companies believed it would be “very difficult’’ to recruit an IT professional while almost three quarters of companies surveyed reported a skills gap in technical skills, the highest proportion of any skills gap.

Worryingly a variety of surveys have highlighted that the IT skills shortage is causing firms to lose business. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, despite the negative data, the number of ICT workplaces in Northern Ireland has remained relatively stable, even despite the added problems of a recent recession.

Perhaps though, the most telling statistic is that IT and telecoms companies combined account for around 2 per cent of all business in Northern Ireland, below the average in both the Republic of Ireland and the UK as a whole.

It’s clear then that a shortage of suitably qualified people is a problem in the region. So then, what is being done to address the skills shortage for a sector that can help unlock Northern Ireland’s potential economic growth?

For its part the Department for Employment and Learning has set itself a target of increasing the number of graduates qualifying with STEM subjects, which includes sciences, maths, technology and computer science, to 30 per cent by 2020 from a rate of 18 per cent in 2008.

In part this strategy was adopted to address the ongoing decline in the study of science, technology and mathematics in Northern Ireland. As part of the program a “Software Testers Academy’’ has been introduced by DEL to respond to the shortage of ICT professionals.

The 14 week training program was designed with ICT industry leaders in Northern Ireland and in 2013 was expanded to include a Cloud Academy component and a Data Analytics Academy.

In addition to initiatives such as these Northern Ireland’s skills shortage has been partly addressed by fast-track IT graduate programs undertaken by multi-nationals based in Northern Ireland such as Citi and Allstate.

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