Get a job in 2020: Follow your heart, or follow the money

Science, computers, engineering and anything that involves data – study in these areas will prepare you for the 2020 job market. And learn a language while you’re at it

The advice is clear: study languages, go for an IT course, get a job in construction, think about science and engineering. This, students are told, is where the jobs will be when they graduate in 2019 or 2020.

The advice comes from the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs (EGFSN), whose track record on predicting the future – usually a notoriously fraught game for mugs – has been consistently solid. That said, students do need to consider what really interests them, and also what type of skills – such as teamwork and research – will really be needed in the workplace of 2020.

We asked three experts for their advice.


guidance counsellor Fergal Scully is a guidance counsellor at Dundalk IT and a part-time independent careers adviser.


He says that, much as students are wise to have one eye on future job prospects, they must ultimately choose a course that is right for them.

“My philosophy and advice is to go with your heart. It’s much easier to study and work in something you love doing, and to make a successful career from it. But a lot of 16-18 year-olds don’t know what they want to do. For those students, I tell them that there are more general courses, such as science and arts, which are good for developing analytic skills that are in demand across a broad range of employment.”

At this year’s Gradireland recruitment fair, around 40 per cent of companies were looking for people with a degree – any degree. This is because, often, employers want someone who they know has analytical, communication and research skills. These broad skills, valuable in themselves, can be developed in humanities, science, law and business courses.

Scully says there are some broad skills that are in demand now, and which will be in demand in five or 10 years time. The biggest skills deficit is in European and Asian languages. “We have a serious shortage of people with foreign languages; local companies based around Dundalk are constantly looking for them.”


expert on future skills Una Halligan,

chair of the EGFSN, agrees with Scully on the need for language graduates. “People don’t necessarily need a language to degree level, but many of them are going into college with Leaving-Cert Spanish, French or German, and they should try to keep it up. Go on an Erasmus year. Take a language module. Work in a European country during the summer. If we want to sell ourselves internationally, English just isn’t enough anymore.”

Cultural organisations such as Alliance Francaise, Goethe Institut and Instituto Cervantes also run regular language courses.

Third-level language courses have tended to focus on bringing language graduates to a point where they can teach the language themselves.

In its recent report, the EGFSN urged all business schools to incorporate a business language module – with less of a focus on literature – so that graduates can communicate with clients overseas. While it would be a retrograde step to remove literature from university language courses, there is an argument for helping every student improve their own basic communication skills.

There are other skills, besides languages, that will be valuable in 2020. Top of this list are computer skills.

“Students with maths and statistics are in demand, and this is a demand that will grow,” says Halligan.

“Every retailer needs people who can analyse data. So do insurance firms, accountants, finance firms and banks. Electronic engineering graduates are needed, both to develop hardware components and software. The biopharma and medical devices industries are huge, just listen to the job announcements.”

One of the fastest-growing areas is construction, but should students – many of whom will have seen older siblings, cousins and family friends emigrate when the last building boom collapsed – really trust the people who are telling them to learn construction related skills?

“There is a more measured approach to construction now,” says Halligan.

"By the time students graduate from quantity surveying or architecture courses, they will be coming out in a healthy position. Students with a good education from a recognised college will always be able to travel with those skills, and quantity surveyors and architects will always be wanted worldwide. Many of the Irish people with those skills are still in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. If they stay there, Ireland will have shortages in five years time."

But what if, for all the advice to take languages or ICT or construction courses, a student still really wants to take humanities, which is the most popular course in the State?

“If you can, take a technical subject as well. If you study history or art history and take a job in a museum or art gallery, you will still be using IT. Try to keep up IT skills on the periphery, or take an IT-related module so you will have those abilities in whatever role you take.

“Those who do this will be work-ready when they leave college.”


higher education expert Tim Conlon works with the

skills and enterprise engagement section of the Higher Education Authority, and is keen to highlight the growing need for people with computer skills. "That's where the demands are at the moment. But computer programmers alone are no use. Yes, core skills and disciplines are very important, but work is becoming much more interdisciplinary and team-oriented, so third-level students need to be exposed to other areas outside their core subjects."

This is a theme that was recently taken up by Prof Orla Feely, chairwoman of the Irish Research Council, where she encouraged colleges to include more elements of interdisciplinary learning in their courses. She said too many academic disciplines operate quite separately, with students being told from primary school that they are scientific but not creative, or business-minded, but not linguistic. "This leads them to think that operating in a silo is preferable to cultivating diverse skill-sets or collaborating with others whose skills and expertise are different to their own.

Although interdisciplinary research is more advanced at postgraduate level, these are the type of skills that learners need, and many colleges are moving to provide them. Dublin City University and the University of Limerick – notably, the two youngest universities in Ireland – are increasingly emphasising programmes that provide work experience opportunities and the chance for students to work with employers.

“I think as a country we have to be careful of getting too far away from the core skills that employers want and need in graduates – an engineer still needs to be an engineer – but much of the most exciting work happening in Ireland is being carried out by teams of technologists, designers and artists,” says Conlon.

“People have to work together across disciplines so it’s very important that they have an understanding of others skills, abilities and limitations. It’s never been more true that a problem shared is a problem halved.”