Post-Covid economy: what lies ahead for graduates?

Demand for finance, tech and professional services staff continues to grow amid labour shortages in other sectors

Covid-19 realtered the economy in many ways. With people confined to their homes, a rapid digital transformation meant that people shopped, socialised and worked at home.

In a recent bulletin, the Irish Business and Employers’ Confederation (Ibec), an organisation that represents business interests, said that a growth in employment has not been matched by an additional supply in labour, meaning that there are shortages in multiple sectors.

So, as we come out of the pandemic, what areas are likely to pick up?

Finance, technology and professional services grew during the pandemic and are continuing to grow now.

Retail, hospitality and the transport sector all took a hit during the pandemic but have rebounded to close to pre-pandemic levels. Public sector employment has expanded by 2.7 per cent, with most of that employment in the health sector.

Data from Indeed.ie’s Hiring Lab shows that job postings on May 20th, 2022, were up 57 per cent from February 1st, 2020. Some healthcare areas – particularly pharmacy, veterinary, dental and therapy – have seen growth in job postings. Other sectors, including media and communications, human resources, sports and administration are performing similar to the economy average. Job postings were below average for construction, legal, architecture and chemical engineering.

That said, many of these areas have nonetheless been rebounding.

“There has been a continuous increase in demand [for staff] in the ICT sector, as well as in the financial sector,” says Joan McNaboe, who heads up the Skills and Labour Market Research Team at Solas. “There is a lot of growth in professional activities and in a range of other areas including engineering, accounting, architecture, health, transport and construction, particularly for carpenters, plasterers, painters and electricians. There is also a growth in demand for nurses and healthcare professionals.”

McNaboe says that there has been a lot of movement in the ICT sector and that demand is high. She adds, however, that while there are vacancies and labour shortages, companies are facing particular difficulties in hiring highly-skilled staff.

“Shortages tend to be for particular skills and there is often a need for experience,” she says. “So the shortages are particularly acute in niche areas – for example, engineers with energy or pharma experience.”

Catherine Staunton, head of careers and employability at Dundalk IT, agrees that ICT demand is strong, and adds that science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) graduates are also in demand.

Staunton’s counterpart in UCC, careers consultant Mary McCarthy, says that the financial sector is booming, with high demand for finance, accounting and business information systems. Technical areas like computer software and engineering are also recruiting.

“Supply chain is also a big area and one that arts graduates have the skills to move into,” McCarthy says. “Organisations are also keen to get graduates with computer skills, particularly Excel. But it’s worth remembering that about 40 per cent of employers are open to graduates of any discipline.”

Most students will have heard of the “big four” firms – KPMG, Deloitte, PwC and EY – which provide professional services; many will have been eyeing up a placement or graduate programme in them.

Emer McGrath, the head of audit at KPMG, says that there are many opportunities in these firms, including audit, assurance, tax, deal advisory and consulting.

“We see from our own clients that some sectors have a particular dynamism about them. In Ireland, for example, financial services, technology, life sciences and agribusiness are all areas where we’re doing a lot of work – and they are particularly attractive sectors for graduates in Ireland. [This] reflects the fact that the likes of digital innovation, health and food are all obvious priorities both in business and wider society.

“In terms of employability, while there can be a cyclical element to certain careers, I’ll admit to a little bias in my own area, but there has never been a better time to become a chartered accountant. There’s such a diversity of opportunities available and we’re seeing more non-linear career paths for people with opportunities to develop skills in accounting, data analytics, IT and ESG to name just a few.”

Post Covid, more people are waking up to the consequences of the climate and biodiversity crises.

“Sustainability will continue to have a massive focus – businesses have both societal obligations and in many cases they also have concerns about getting ‘left behind’ if they don’t take action,” says McGrath. “More recently, sustainability has become increasingly linked with energy security and we’ve experienced the growing importance of this with almost all of the companies we work with.

“There are new and emerging areas of expertise with strong potential as a result of significant environmental and business change. For example, we now have people with biodiversity skills and experience in the business because it’s an area of focus and opportunity for our clients – demand for this would have been close to zero only a few years ago.”