Shortage of skills in graduates a concern for firms

Irish companies have more concerns than foreign employers about skills shortages and are less likely to collaborate with third-level colleges, a survey has found.

The research with almost 400 indigenous and foreign organisations based here shows that almost three-quarters of employers are satisfied with the workplace attributes of third-level graduates. There is 87% satisfaction with personal attributes.

Satisfaction levels were slightly higher for workers with further education and training qualifications, according to the National Employer Survey, which was launched by Damien English, the skills, research, and innovation minister.

Some 40% of employers indicated that there were skills not currently available that would be needed now or in the next three to five years. The same proportion of indigenous companies believe there will be an adequate supply of graduates in the next three to five years, compared to just one in four foreign employers.

The potential lack of graduates could affect small to medium enterprises, which, it was claimed, will be competing with multinationals for the same range of skills.

Employers’ group Ibec warned about the shortages in key skills, in which engineering, languages, ICT, and specific quantitative skills were prominent. It also pointed to lower levels of satisfaction among Irish firms, a sector which it said the country increasingly depends on for jobs growth.

“Employers appear less positive about graduates’ entrepreneurial skills, business acumen, and awareness. Given that entrepreneurship is a powerful driver of economic growth and job creation, the education system must support young people and adults to acquire skills required to both take up and create employment,” said Ibec head of education policy Tony Donohoe.

Just over two-thirds of indigenous companies said they collaborate with colleges, but the figure is almost 80% among foreign-owned firms. The most common interactions are internships or work placements, but one-third of firms which employ third-level graduates work with colleges on research and development.

Among foreign companies, the biggest targets for recruitment are engineering graduates, who are also in high demand in manufacturing. Business and law graduates are high priorities for Irish employers, firms in the services sector, and those with more than 250 staff.

Asked what colleges could do to bridge likely skills gaps, employers suggested more promotion of science, technology, and engineering subjects among second-level students. They would also like larger numbers taken into specific courses, the addition of a language to many degrees, and the creation of specific courses to satisfy demand in areas like injection moulding and games design.

Meanwhile, teacher unions have welcomed the ranking of Irish teenagers as the 15th-highest scoring out of 76 countries on maths and science. The data in an OECD-published report compares the scores of 15-year-olds in 2012 tests with those from other countries in additional international studies.

Although the above-average scores by Irish students on the OECD’s 2012 tests in 65 countries were made public 18 months ago, Teachers’ Union of Ireland president Gerry Quinn said the wider ranking is an emphatic endorsement of the work done in Irish schools every day.

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