Date Uploaded: 04/07/2016
Even before the ink had dried on her thesis, Deirdre Corr had a dilemma: which job offer should she take up?
She wasn’t alone.
The tech sector is facing a severe skills shortage and the education system is not able to produce enough graduates to meet demand.
That is why policymakers are desperate to try to encourage more Leaving Cert students to consider a career in computer science or ICT (information and communication technology) ahead of this Friday’s Central Applications Office (CAO) change-of-mind deadline.
Officials say the single biggest trend from the last four years has been the growth of the ICT sector.
“This is a global issue,” says Una Halligan, chairwoman of the expert group on future skills need, which advises the Government on employment trends.
“We are bringing in overseas workers but that is still not enough, so it may be worthwhile for young people to look at careers in this area. They are lucrative, in constant demand and very mobile, in that people can travel the world with them.”
A recent report by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) that followed the progress of the class of 2015 bears this out.
At honours bachelor degree level, computer science/ICT graduates were the most likely to get jobs and to be the highest earners, with 62 per cent earning €29,000 or more; some 73 per cent secured jobs in Ireland within six months.
HEA chief executive Tom Boland has urged students to consider the strong employment opportunities in the sector given the high levels of employment and pay.
Latest projections indicate there will be continuing growth over the coming years, with an average increase in demand for high-level ICT skills rising by about 5 per cent a year to 2018.
There is a problem, though: very few women, in relative terms, are opting to move into the sector.
In Ireland, as in many other countries, only a quarter of people working in science, technology, engineering and maths are women. In the education system, the situation is not much better. Since 2009, women have accounted for between 13 and 15 per cent of enrolments in ICT courses in year one.
“Traditionally, young men have pursued careers in ICT, but these exciting and rewarding careers are very much open to young women too where they will find an enthusiastic response from employers,” Mr Boland said.
Deirdre Corr can see why some women might think twice about applying for a course in a male-dominated sector. She is currently working as a technology analyst with BearingPoint Ireland.
By her own admission, she was no maths genius and did not know the first thing about computer programming when she started her computer science degree at the Dublin Institute of Technology.
But she says creative thinking and a passion to use technology to solve problems has helped her flourish.
“I think young women have a perception that they won’t fit in on a computer science course, but women can bring great balance and new ways of thinking to the industry,” she says.
Her interest in computers and the fact that a family member had a mild diagnosis of sleep apnoea prompted her to create a wearable device to help detect the condition. She went on to win an award for the device at the highly rated Undergraduate Awards.
“My advice to anyone considering a career in this sector is not to be afraid of it,” she says.
“There is no need to feel intimidated if you’re a woman. They need to know that computer science and ICT has the potential to make a contribution to improving our world – and young women should be part of that.”
Journalist: Carl O'Brien