What skills are needed in the current economic climate?

A postgrad may help you gain in-demand skills to match the needs of employers

The extraordinary growth in the multinational sector of the Irish economy continued uninterrupted right through the two years of the pandemic and throughout the first full year of economic activity following the United Kingdom's departure from the European Union and the single market.

Large sections of the domestic economy, particularly relating to the food and agriculture sectors, also continued to perform strongly throughout the past two years of the pandemic.

Given this level of economic strength, it is not surprising that the Central Statistics Office reported the overall strength of the employment market has increased 6.1 per cent in the numbers in active employment between quarters two and three of 2021, and that the Covid-19 adjusted unemployment rate for January 2022 stands at 7.8 per cent, down from the pandemic high of 19 per cent for all persons including those on the Pandemic Unemployment Payment.

There could not be a better time to strategically plan your entry into such a positive and dynamic labour market as now following the recent loosening of Covid restrictions.

Many who have progressed through the education system throughout this turbulent period, or who were in employment but lost their job due to the restrictions imposed on many economic sectors, are now looking to hone their existing skills base.

A further engagement with education as a way of entering the labour market or in diversifying into other areas of economic activity rather than returning to the role they held prior to the pandemic.

Considering postgraduate opportunities in order to secure a desired position in Ireland’s dynamic economy is no surprise. As in any 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

Undertaking a level nine or 10 postgraduate option 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, as seen with the cyberattack on the HSE in 2021, magnified by the long-term 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 skillsets 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.

With the inclusion of Irish as a full working language of the EU from January 2022, there are also growing opportunities for graduates with proficiency in Gaeilge.

Upskilling, training and further training

For both undergraduates and postgrads 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 the 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 skillset, 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 321 free, part-time and intensive conversion courses in higher education at certificate, degree and postgraduate level under the 2021-2022 initiative.

There are currently 11,259 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 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 1,869 places in 79 graduate conversion courses through 27 providers over three years under Pillar 1 2021-2022. These courses are full-time, over 12-18 months, leading to both level eight and nine awards.

Places are available in artificial intelligence, smart factory technology, sustainable energy, medical device technology and cyber security.

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 restrictions, firms such as Kerry Group, Future Force, Google, Analog Devices, Aviva, IBM, SIG and AppDynamics were 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.

Brian Mooney

Brian Mooney

Brian Mooney is a guidance counsellor and education columnist. He contributes education articles to The Irish Times

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