Speaking at the third Global Irish Economic Forum, which opened in Dublin yesterday, chairman and chief executive of Glen Dimplex Seán O’Driscoll said one of the major issues that needed to be addressed was the huge shortage of skills in the economy at a time when 420,000 people were out of work.
“There has been a lot of discussion in Ireland about competitiveness and the focus has been on costs and rightly so, but being competitive is about more than costs,” said Mr O’Driscoll. “One of the issues we have in this country is that we have a great mismatch of skills across the economy.
“In many sectors of the economy, there is a shortage of skills and yet we have 420,000 people unemployed and we have to address that issue. I think one of the reasons for that is that we have a profusion of university courses that are producing graduates for which there is no market and we are adding to the mismatch of skills.”
Mr O’Driscoll pointed to a recent Europe-wide skills index study which found Ireland was in the bottom three countries, along with Portugal and Spain.
The skills shortage in Ireland at a time of high unemployment is something that has been highlighted on numerous occasions in recent years.
For example, during the boom, about one quarter of all young men were employed in construction-related businesses. Last year, one fifth of all jobs advertised were IT-based.
A number of reports published this summer pointed to skills shortages in a range of sectors.
The National Skills Bulletin 2013, produced by the Expert Group on Future Skills, pointed to a persistence of skills shortages in the areas of ICT, hi-tech manufacturing, agri-food, sales, marketing, business, finance, and healthcare.
Chairwoman of the Expert Group, Úna Halligan, said the lack of foreign languages spoken by members of the Irish workforce was a key skills shortage.
“Multilingual skills are a key aspect of some of these shortages,” she said. “For example, shortages of multilingual IT technicians, finance account managers, marketing associate professionals, financial administrators, and some supply chain occupations exist.”
This lack of language skills was also highlighted by PayPal last year, when the e-commerce giant said it had to import some 500 employees from abroad as the necessary language skills were not available here.
Louise Phelan, the global operations vice-president of PayPal, said Ireland suffered from a “deficiency” in workers with second languages and said grassroots changes were required in the education system to ensure those entering the workforce in the future had the necessary language and science qualifications the business world needed.
A study by UCD and Dublin City Council, included in a major international study by the World Class Cities Partnership in Boston, found that more than half of the ICT jobs in Dublin are being filled by talent from abroad.
This was mirrored by a study by non-profit training promotion agency, Fastrack to IT, in May which found that some 4,500 jobs available in Ireland’s IT sector are not being filled because of “the severely limited supply of suitably skilled applicants”.
The study, based on a survey of 38 IT multinationals and SMEs, found that many of the vacancies are at the intermediate skills level, and could be filled after training programmes of six to 24 months.