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Column We're forced to bring skilled workers from abroad because of our educational failures

At a time when so many are unemployed, we have no choice but to to bring workers from abroad to Ireland. Why? We simply don’t have the skills ourselves.

OVER THE NEXT five years there will be an estimated 44,000 new jobs created in the Information & Communications Technology (ICT) sector in Ireland, according to jobs Minister Richard Bruton.

He has set a target, alongside education Minister Ruairí Quinn, that 75 per cent of those jobs will be filled by Irish people. That’s an aspirational target that still says that we’re going to be 11,000 skilled individuals short, during a period of time when still hundreds of thousands are expected to be unemployed or emigrate.

The Minister was speaking in the context of an expansion to work permit programmes that allow skilled individuals to come to Ireland. After the IDA does its stellar job at bringing companies into Ireland, one of the most meaningful things governments have been doing in recent years has been to make it easier for them to import talent from abroad to fill many of the most skilled and lucrative jobs.

We need these workers

The Employment Permits (Amendment) Bill 2014 will bring in nine different ways for a work permit to be issued, and will make it easier for skilled workers to move here with their families and allow them to find work also.

Make no mistake, we need these workers. A study by Fast Track to IT (FIT), a non-profit funded by the IT industry here, found last year that there were up to 4,500 open vacancies going unfilled for a dearth of local talent. As Minister Bruton pointed out this week, every high-end tech job that’s filled is likely to help create another 4-5 in other parts of the economy.

Though we can and should rightly look at an ‘imported’ worker as taking a job that could be filled by an Irish person, this is an aspirational view. In reality each job left unfilled is several jobs not potentially created for our mass of unemployed.

We cannot turn around highly experienced, very skilled individuals overnight. The types of roles that are being filled from abroad tend to require experience as well as qualifications, and this is not a pipeline we can fill quickly. Besides, each individual we bring into Ireland to work in these roles will likely help to train and improve the skills of native workers.

We need to bring in talent from abroad, and we should welcome these folks for playing their part in our economic recovery. No matter how good we get at producing the talent at home, we will always need to bring specialist talent in at some level or another. But in ICT in particular, we have a shockingly obvious shortcoming.

A failure to properly resource and think ahead

Successive governments have been carping about how important high-skilled sectors like IT are to our future. It has been apparent for as long as many of those doing their Leaving Cert this year have been alive that we will need skilled individuals to work high tech jobs.

That we will need to bring in at least 11,000 individuals over the next five years to fill jobs in the sector is an admission of failure to properly resource and think ahead in our education system.

One arm of the State has most people from the age of four until either the end of their secondary schooling or their third level education. Another arm of the State falls over itself to bring in companies that will hire these people if they can do certain types of jobs. It seems to me that there may be a disconnect here.

The Government, in fairness, is taking some steps to try and rectify this. That the jobs and education Ministers are talking and setting targets – no matter how soft they may be – is an improvement. Additional points for doing things like higher-level maths is a gentle prod to students, and poor old Ruairí slipped on an impressive banana skin while trying to extol the virtues of maths to teachers during the week.

Practical career guidance

More could be done to help point students and academic institutions in the direction of marketable skills. For example, we have estimates of how many jobs will be created where over the coming years. We also have a rough idea of the pipeline of places to be filled in colleges on courses that will help someone get such jobs. Does anyone bar proactive career guidance teachers tell secondary school kids anything about this while they’re considering their CAO?

And what of previous performance? We could be reporting on fads in education by pointing out where we have produced graduates and where jobs have actually come from over the past several years. Individual institutions could be rated against how marketable the skills they impart actually are. One of the key things people look at when investing in an MBA course is the job placement rate at the end of it. Why not the same for most other courses?

We need to empower students to go find courses that will get them a job, and that will reduce our reliance on foreign workers over time. Where students want to go, courses will be provided. We need to start telling them where jobs are to be found when they’re teenagers, not when they’re in their mid-twenties and considering emigration.

Aaron McKenna is a businessman and a columnist for He is also involved in activism in his local area. You can find out more about him at or follow him on Twitter @aaronmckenna. To read more columns by Aaron click here.

Follow us on Twitter: @TJ_Opinions

Read: The Government is making it easier for skilled workers from abroad to work in Ireland

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