Who’s hiring? Where the skills shortages are

From science to construction, skills shortages continue to be a challenge for employers across industry

Between the fourth quarters of 2015 and 2016, the strongest employment growth was in the construction sector, rising by 9.2 per cent. Photograph: iStock

Between the fourth quarters of 2015 and 2016, the strongest employment growth was in the construction sector, rising by 9.2 per cent. Photograph: iStock

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It’s a fortuitous time to be a graduate: there are many opportunities to be found across a relatively broad range of sectors.

But the growth in employment opportunities has come at a cost for employers and employees alike. For employers, the rental and housing crisis has meant they struggle to attract workers from overseas to Dublin, Galway and Cork. Meanwhile, many Irish graduates see little chance of building a viable life for themselves when they can’t even find a place to rent, and are looking abroad for opportunities.

It remains to be seen whether the recent establishment of the Land Development Agency and the announcement that 30 zones in Dublin city centre, and 10 in Cork city, are to be released for housing will make any impact on the housing crisis.

While employers increasingly value the broad skill sets of arts, science, law, commerce and other graduates – good news for arts graduates – the housing crisis has left them struggling to fill specific roles.

In the meantime, filling these roles remains a challenge for educators and employers alike.

In 2014, the National Skills Strategy, published by the Department of Education with the input of stakeholders including the further education and training agency Solas, set out the likely skills shortages that Ireland is likely to experience up to the year 2025.

In the short- to medium-term, however, it’s the National Skills Bulletin, compiled by Solas, which gives a more immediate indication to graduates – however, many of the employers are looking for candidates with five or more years of experience.

Tony Donohue, chair of the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs, says their role is to scan the horizon and prepare reports. “We look at broad sectoral trends and issues coming down the line, such as Brexit. ICT and language skills continue to stand out, as do call-centre staff and health professionals.”

“Even in the worst days of the recession, there were sectors with skills gaps,” says Alan McGrath, director of strategy, research and evaluation at Solas. “These included ICT, advanced manufacturing, biopharmaceuticals, scientists and chemical analysts – they’re still there but are now joined by other skills gaps. Part of our role is to provide the courses, retraining and skills that industry needs.”

In demand: What the ‘National Skills Bulletin’ says

Science: The biggest skills gaps are to be found in pharmaceuticals, biopharma and the food innovation industries. Chemical and analytical scientists, especially in product formulation and analytical development for roles in biopharma, are in high demand. There are also shortages of quality control analysts including drug safety roles in the pharmaceutical industries.

Engineering: This year, the highest rises in CAO points were found across engineering courses, with students seemingly listening to industry calls about long-term shortages. Process and design (including research and development), quality control and quality assurance (including standards, compliance and regulatory affairs), automation, validation and computer validation system (CVS) and certified quality engineer (CQE) certification, chemical engineers, electrical engineers (including safety, mechatronics, electrical and software systems, power generation and transmission), mechanical engineers with skills and experience in polymer (plastics) engineering, and quality assurance/ control technicians are all in short supply.

ICT: Software developers, especially those familiar with Java and JavaScript, Oracle/ SQL, mobile iOS and Android skills, C++, .Net, PHP, CSS, F#, Python and Ruby on Rails are in high demand. Network engineers for open source and Linux as well as in DevOps, system solution architects and database architects are needed, as are graduates with cybersecurity and IT analysis abilities. Any graduate with ICT skills who also has a second language, particularly German, has an edge. Database administrators, especially those with a language, are also in high demand. In web design, employers are crying out for people to work in web-related applications which focus on enhancing users’ online experience (UX). Business intelligence solutions specialists and big data analysts (including Hadoop, Cassandra and SQL) are needed, as are IT technicians.

“It’s worth pointing out that IT graduates are not necessarily going to be working in IT firms,” says McGrath. “Instead, they may be working in public service, consultancy, a hospital or indeed working with any company on their IT systems.”

Business and finance: There is a shortage of financial and management accountants with expertise in solvency, taxation, international financial reporting and regulatory compliance, accountants for roles in industry with ERP system and reporting skills, actuaries, business intelligence and risk analysis, financial systems analysts, entry-level and experienced revenue managers (especially in hospitality), experienced statisticians, economists, data scientists (specialising in big data, data visualisations and quantitative modelling), business and financial professionals with skills in specific software packages, multilingual financial clerks, credit controllers, accounts payable and receivable, payroll specialists, fund accounting and transfer-pricing specialists.

Healthcare: There are ongoing shortages of medical practitioners, especially locum and non-consultant hospital doctors, registrars and medical specialists (including in general and emergency medicine, oncology, psychiatry, orthopaedic, anaesthetists and paediatricians), nurses and advanced nursing practitioners in intensive care, operating theatre and theatre nurse managers, registered nurses (including general nurses, cardiovascular care, elder persons’ care, paediatric, oncology and intellectual disability care), radiographers and niche-area specialists including audiologists, cardiac technicians and dieticians.

Construction: In recent years, Solas has been rolling out new apprenticeships in areas such as finance and insurance. The more familiar and traditional apprenticeships – including plumbing, scaffolding and carpentry – fell off during the recession but demand for those skills is back with a bang. The National Skills Bulletin says the demand for qualified tradespeople is likely to become an issue in coming years, with curtain wallers, glaziers, steelfixers and steel erectors, pipelayers and shuttering supply skills needed. Welders and toolmakers are also needed. Construction project managers with relevant experience and specialist knowledge are highly sought, as are quantity surveyors, building services and structural/ site engineers.

Chefs: A shortage of chefs and commis chefs presents an ongoing challenge to the restaurant industry. Lower-skilled hospitality roles are becoming harder to fill as waiters, bar staff and catering assistants struggle to find suitable – or even basic – accommodation.

Transport: Depending on the outcome of talks between the UK and EU, Brexit may lead to an increased demand for supply chain and logistics specialists. Purchasing managers, senior buyers, senior planners, distribution specialists with technical expertise (in biopharma), and administrative roles in procurement, supply and logistics will all be needed. Again, those with a second language have an edge.

Childcare and teaching: The National Skills Bulletin identifies that some employers may experience difficulty in attracting and retaining qualified care and childcare workers. In teaching, there are subject shortages across both primary and post-primary schools.

Sales and customer service: Technical sales, vendor managers, CRM roles with European languages and marketing experts who can lead product and brand management are all needed.

Where the growth is

Between the fourth quarters of 2015 and 2016, the strongest employment growth was in the construction sector, rising by 9.2 per cent.

Employment in agriculture, professional services and construction have all grown by at least 28 per cent since 2011.

In 2016, the majority of vacancies advertised on IrishJobs.ie were in professional and associate professional occupations.

There were 7,700 new employment permits issued to workers outside the European Economic Area in 2016, a rise of 27 per cent from 2015. Almost half of these were issued to employers who had a critical skills gap that could not be filled within the EU.

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