Future-proofing in a pandemic-hit jobs market

A postgraduate programme may help you gain stills to match the needs of employers

In an increasingly competitive jobs market, it is always worth considering what will set you apart from other graduates. Photograph: Getty

In an increasingly competitive jobs market, it is always worth considering what will set you apart from other graduates. Photograph: Getty


The Irish labour market was in a very healthy place before Covid-19 hit last year. The unemployment rate had fallen to 4.7 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2019 and with more than 2.36 million people working, the economy was close to full employment.

However, the introduction of essential public health measures to contain the spread of the virus led to the largest monthly increase in unemployment in the history of the State. By the end of March 2020 hundreds of thousands were laid-off and had to avail of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) support. The worst-hit areas were in the services industry - accommodation, food services, retail and construction were among the most affected.

Many have naturally looked to reskilling or further education as a way of diversifying into other areas. That is no surprise as in an increasingly competitive jobs market, it is always worth considering what sets you apart from other candidates when applying for that job.

Undertaking a postgraduate programme is one way of doing that.

Opportunities It is quite a commitment and will take time and money to complete. However, those completing a postgrad will have the advantage of adding a new set of cross-sectoral skills that will complement their CV and enhance their employability.

There is increasing confluence between sectors such as information and communications technology (ICT), business and engineering, which were once considered to be unique disciplines in their own right.

ICT now permeates almost all sectors of the economy and, similarly, strong business skills are relevant across many sectors. Accounting firms today don’t only hire accountants – they are also on the lookout for marketing, IT and engineering graduates.

Arts and journalism graduates who can bring communications and social media skills are sought after by firms who need to expand their social media and online presence.

Data analytics is now the fastest-growing skill in demand and this is likely to continue in the years ahead. The combination of data and marketing skills is perhaps the most highly sought-after combination.

Evolving IT security threats magnified by the shift to working from home, and the corresponding need for greater data protection, is feeding demand for IT security roles.

With so many now working from home on a mix of company-owned devices along with their own equipment, there is an increased demand for dedicated cyber- security functions within companies.

Ever-increasing investment in web- based services has created a major skills shortage for software developers with Java, NET, Python, Ruby on Rails and Scala, in particular.

The intersection between finance and technology has undergone a huge shift which is changing the face of the financial services landscape.

As with all sectors of our economy, Covid-19 has dramatically escalated this movement of financial services into the virtual online world, as exemplified by the exponential growth of services such as banking services company Revolut.

With dozens of Irish start-ups operating in this area, the expectation is for significant growth in the coming years.

The opportunities for hybrid professionals – graduates with skills spanning financial services and technology – will continue to increase as the finance and technology sector sees more collaboration between Government, education and industry sectors.

There are abundant opportunities for graduates with large financial institutions and smaller global tech companies operating in the financial sphere as traditional companies work towards adapting to the rise of finance and technology.

Skill overlap There are increasing overlaps in the skill- sets required across different sectors and job roles. In addition to sector-specific skills, cross-sectoral employability skills are increasingly being sought by employers.

These include people skills, critical/ analytical thinking skills, management skills and creativity, design and innovation, entrepreneurialism, team working, communications and business acumen. Sought-after skills also include ICT and foreign languages.

One skill that comes with the acquisition of foreign languages is cultural awareness – something that will be vitally important in developing our markets in a post-Brexit environment.

Languages currently in demand include German, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and the Nordic languages. There is a growing demand for Mandarin as Ireland rapidly expands its trade in goods and services with China.

Upskilling, training, and further training There may be a gap between the skills employers are looking for and the skills you will be leaving college with shortly. Bridging this gap is a central focus of Government through the Springboard programme.

Springboard is an initiative for higher education that offers free part-time courses at certificate, degree and master’s level, leading to qualifications that are in demand among employers and where there are employment opportunities in the growing economy.

Springboard+ is co-funded by the Government of Ireland and the European Social Fund. Most courses are one year or less. In a rapidly shifting economic environment, Springboard courses have provided more than 35,000 people with a new skill-set, specifically tailored to the needs of today’s market.

All the courses aim to reskill people in areas where job opportunities in skilled employment are growing: ICT; high-level manufacturing; medical devices; biopharma; international financial services; skills to trade internationally; entrepreneurship and business start-up; and niche skills in the construction industry.

The current Springboard+ programme through 35 providers offers a choice of 392 free, part-time and intensive conversion courses in higher education at certificate, degree and postgraduate level. Most are part-time, but there are also some full-time courses. There are 12,940 free places available throughout the country.

Springboard qualifications are available in cross-enterprise skills such as innovation, enterprise/entrepreneurship, digital marketing and project management. To find out more, visit springboardcourses.ie.

In 2020 the Government introduced a Human Capital Initiative (HCI) pillar 1 programme. Higher education institutions (HEIs) were invited to submit applications for funding under the HCI call for proposals for graduate conversion.

Some €300 million has been allocated for the HCI from the surplus in the National Training Fund (NTF), in line with recommendations contained in the independent review of the NTF on the use of the surplus and the development of labour market skills.

This HCI initiative is currently offering 5,994 places in 99 graduate conversion courses through 27 providers over three years. These courses are full-time, over 12-18 months, leading to both level 8 and 9 awards. Places are available in artificial intelligence, smart factory technology, sustainable energy, medical device technology and cybersecurity. Graduate recruitment and training Every year dozens of companies, across a wide range of sectors, recruit graduates and postgraduates. The larger companies typically have graduate training programmes in place. They recruit graduates who can demonstrate strong academic ability, but who may have limited or even no experience of the world of work.

A graduate training programme is a way of bridging this gap by easing new entrants into the world of work and equipping them with the necessary skills required by the organisation.

Graduate training programmes tend to be up to two years long. Some will offer opportunities in different areas of the business before settling on a specific career area within the company.

These programmes offer the opportunity to learn on the job, gain experience and earn some money at the same time. Graduate training programmes can be a significant stepping-stone to a permanent job.

Examples of graduate recruitment positions currently offered by some of Ireland’s leading companies are listed on the gradireland.com website.

Even in the depths of Covid-19 level 5 restrictions, firms such as Kerry Group, Future Force, Google, Analog Devices, Aviva, IBM, SIG and App Dynamics are seeking postgraduates for training roles in supply chain management, R&D, business development, cloud technology, engineering roles in network, software, construction, financial reporting etc.

The Careers Portal website also carries high-quality, up-to-date data on graduate opportunities. See CareersPortal.ie for details.