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Opinion: Will the push to encourage more science and technology graduates be worth it?

There has been a series of initiatives put in place to encourage interest in STEM subjects for school leavers; will the effort be rewarded with good jobs?

Tanya Duncan

IT IS SAID that education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs only to the people who prepare for it today. Tens of thousands of Leaving Cert students have gotten this passport stamped as they embark on a new journey to third level education and beyond.

It was very encouraging to see the increase in interest in science and technology courses in this year’s CAO selections this year. In the past number of years, there has been a series of initiatives put in place to encourage interest in STEM subjects – from additional points for honours maths and the introduction of project maths, to investment in science education and the provision of extra course places in technology disciplines. Meanwhile, a Government ICT skills strategy is driving significant increases in graduates with a total uplift of 70% – 110% of graduate output forecasted by 2018.

These efforts are now beginning to bear fruit so it is important now to look at the next steps and to ensure that working in the information and communications technology (ICT) industry in Ireland is a viable and attractive prospect for these students when they come out at the other end.

When Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg is asked for career advice, she says to look for growth and for a place where you feel that you can have a lot of impact. The new generation of technology companies setting up in Ireland are providing the ideal environment for graduates to do just that.

While the benefits of working for larger organisations such as Google or Facebook are well documented – who doesn’t want the prestige of working for such a brand, not to mention the occasional massage at their desks? – the roles on offer can be very specialist from the outset. For graduates starting out, it can be easy to become pigeon-holed in these enormous global companies and possibly to miss out on the broad based learning and understanding of a business that can come from working for a smaller organisation.

The new wave of organisations such as Workday, LinkedIn and LogMeIn, which are successfully established in the United States and now have a presence in Ireland, provide potential employees with the security of working for a global technology brand, coupled with a start-up mentality within the Irish operation. Six of the top 10 companies on Forbes magazine’s list of the World’s Most Innovative Companies 2014 have Irish operations and many of them are smaller companies, still in rapid expansion mode. When working for these types of companies, employees are exposed to a much wider spectrum of activity and generally have more opportunities to learn and develop in a challenging environment.

Searching for a first job 

When looking for your first role, I would encourage candidates to look at the company as a whole and not necessarily just concentrate on the role itself. Entry positions can be very much what you make of them and so the company and its culture is just as important.

In general, women, more so than men, can have a tendency to be put off by a job if they don’t tick every box on the job spec. This can be especially prevalent in the male-dominated ICT industry where women can already feel intimidated, and so when they are confronted with a challenging list of competencies, they can become completely discouraged. My advice would be to put your best foot forward and present yourself well at interview stage.

I have interviewed many graduates in my nine years as a managing director. In recent years I have really seen a shift in terms of how well prepared and polished candidates now are. Perhaps its because of the increase in competition for jobs, or perhaps the next generation have grown in confidence, but they now come for interview very well researched, keen and extremely engaged. I would be very assured that our industry is in very safe hands in the years to come.

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Embarking on your career is a very exciting time and the ICT industry in Ireland is a very attractive place to be doing it. If I was to give advice to students or graduates looking to pursue a career in technology, it would be that the only real failure is the one you didn’t learn from.

In my career, I have learned much more from my mistakes than my successes and how you overcome these hurdles will shape you in the years to come. Don’t be afraid to take risks, enjoy the adventure and in the words of Steve Jobs, “stay hungry, stay foolish”.

Tanya Duncan is Managing Director of Interxion Ireland

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Read: Are women the ‘untapped answer’ to Ireland’s IT skills shortage?

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Tanya Duncan

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