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Ireland needs to address skills shortage for new tech careers

Posted by Francis O' Toole on April 26, 2012

As National Cloud Week draws to a close in Ireland, industry leaders are concerned about whether the workforce is ready to take advantage of this growth area

The potential for job growth coming from cloud computing is well-known; ensuring there is a properly skilled workforce there to benefit from that is the latest challenge for industry and policy leaders.

With Microsoft, IBM, Amazon and many others basing cloud centres in Ireland, the country has done well in its attempts to become a global force in the area. With that has come the significant potential for jobs growth, as multinationals seek to staff their large data centres and SMEs reskill to provide relevant services and tools to other businesses.

However, with many ICT companies already uneasy about the lack of skilled talent in Ireland and many jobs already going unfilled, there are doubts about the readiness of Ireland’s workforce to take advantage of this growth. “There is a great opportunity within this industry and Ireland is creating talent, but there’s no doubt we could be producing a lot more,” said Paul Rellis, managing director of Microsoft Ireland. “The potential is there for people with any IT heritage and background, but you have to have some kind element of forward planning, some kind of retraining in place.” According to the Microsoft/Amarach Cloud index launched earlier this week to tie in with National Cloud Week, there is the potential for 9,000 jobs to be created through the early adoption of cloud computing by Irish users. Mr Rellis said there is the possibility of a broad range of job types as a result of cloud’s growth, in creative areas as well as technical, and the key will be to find the right people with the right mixture of skills and talents. “You have this problem in most countries, not having enough people trained in an area,” he said. “

The US is no different, for example.” Consultancy company Sogeti Ireland is one firm that has already created a number of jobs due to the move towards cloud computing. According to its chief executive Jeff Schmalbach, as an increasing number of their clients move to cloud it is critical that they are equipped to consult and provide expertise in the area. He said the type of work the company is doing has not changed much as cloud has grown, however there are issues they need to be able to help with that did not exist before. “At first, it didn’t matter a lot to us as to where the application actually sat, but now we’re looking at things like scaleability, speed to market and so on,” he said. Mr Schmalbach said the process of finding the right staff to fill these new roles has not been as easy as he would have liked, however in the end he found that graduates coming through conversion courses met most of his needs. “The first couple of candidates that are coming in are from the conversion courses,” he said. “They’re not helping my high-end needs, but in terms of the bulk of people we need it’s starting to change.” Conversion courses have become quite popular in the past few years, as people seek to turn their qualifications into something that suits the current jobs market.

According to Michael Bradford, of the School of Computing in the National College of Ireland, people from many other areas are going through their Springboard-backed courses with a view to moving into cloud and IT-related jobs. “Demand is high and we’ve had students coming from an architectural background, engineering and even business trying to move to something else,” he said. “We’ve also had people who have an IT degree that’s maybe 15 years old and they want to upskill.” NCI has been quick to adapt its prospectus to include cloud-related courses and, according to Mr Bradford, it has been well received by students and industry. At present it offers a Master’s in Web Technology, which covers many areas of cloud computing, as well as a post-graduate diploma in the area.

Mr Bradford said as a fast-moving industry it was difficult to teach specifics which might be outdated in five years time. He said the most important thing for someone working in the cloud was to be flexible. He said NCI’s approach so far has been to teach people about all aspects of the cloud, from the technical through to the impact it has on business, and ensure they leave with good problem-solving skills and the ability to adapt to new standards as needs be. “The feedback we’ve been getting from industry is that they’d like them to have more of a feel for the broader landscape that cloud solutions are coming through in,” he said. “That includes entrepreneurship and the different business models it creates.” In September, NCI will launch a new master’s course focused solely on cloud computing, while in 2013 it hopes to start a course that looks primarily at the industry from a business point of view.

According to Mr Rellis, education is a vital element in ensuring the country can staff the various cloud jobs that become available, though he feels a better standard of maths is vital, even for those working outside the industry. “We need to continue to keep investment in education, that is extremely important, and we need to start to look at how you use cloud computing to reach citizens,” he said. “The maths issue is one for sure; we want more engineers, developers and coders, but that’s not for everyone. The vast bulk of people will be doing very broad jobs, but everyone needs to have a much better understanding of what technology can do.” Mr Schmalbach said he could see the progress being made by Government efforts, as well as by companies such as Microsoft, to ensure there is a suitable workforce for cloud-related jobs, He said increasingly-even competing companies are talking more to try to find solutions to common problems. “I’ve seen more open dialogue between myself and my competitors to say, ‘How do we solve this together’,” he said. “Sometimes we say no and walk away, but there are creative discussions going on.”

Schmalbach, Rellis and Bradford all agree that cloud computing is more than buzz and predict that it is in reality on its way to becoming the norm in the technology world. All are positive that change is happening to ensure Ireland is ready for that, however the speed of execution may not be as fast as many would like. “This is not just a once-off campaign, it’s a lifestyle change,” said Mr Rellis. “It’s something totally new, the rules of the game are different and there are some good things happening.”

Irish Times Full Story


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