Tech sector in skills shortage 'crisis'


THE IRISH Internet Association is calling on the Government to introduce tax credits, PRSI waivers and repatriation grants for workers in the technology sector to combat skills shortages in Ireland.

“We are in crisis mode and this is about investing in a wealth generating sector,” said its chief executive, Joan Mulvihill.

With 2,500 unfilled jobs in the IT, communications and gaming sector, the association believes it is time to address the supply and demand shortfall. Incentivising tech jobs would prevent a brain drain and help attract foreign talent to Ireland, said Ms Mulvihill. Irish students would be encouraged to take third-level tech courses, confident there would be a well paid career at the end of it.

The association has launched a policy document, Critical Skills Retention and Development, highlighting the problem and possible solutions. Part of the plan is a process of assessment to draw up criteria and identify skill sets that would make employees eligible to apply for relief schemes from the Revenue Commissioners.

The criteria would be drawn up by industry bodies such as the association and Animation Ireland, according to Ms Mulvihill, rather than groups such as Ibec which represent multinationals. “They already soak up the talent we’ve got because they can afford to pay for them, leaving nothing for smaller firms or start-ups,” she said. The association represents more than 300 member companies and more than 6,000 individual supporters involved in web-based businesses that find it difficult to find talent at home or attract it from abroad.

At home, the root of the problem is undersubscribed technology courses but Ms Mulvihill says the State cannot wait for the system to sort itself out.

“Every time we have a conversation about skill shortages, it becomes deflected into a discussion about the education system,” she said. “The Government has to look at the digital skills shortage now rather than looking at longer term solutions related to education.”

The failure to draw overseas talent comes down to Ireland’s overall lack of competitiveness. “I have evidence of English people who have turned down jobs here. The salary has been as good if not better but the net income goes further in the UK,” said Ms Mulvihill.

She distanced the policy proposal’s incentives from the Special Assignment Relief Programme scheme introduced in 2008 to attract senior executives to Ireland. “It’s not about the super-well paid: it’s for development and digital marketing people on between €40,000 and €80,000 a year.”

Ms Mulvihill said the policy proposal is effectively a job creation scheme, pointing out that the 70,000 people currently employed in the tech sector in Ireland are supplemented by a further 200,000 in supporting jobs.

“Protecting our smart economy people is the best route for economic recovery and that’s the best route for everybody,” she said.