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Can NI take advantage of high-tech jobs coming our way?

NI Direct maintains a ‘Skills in demand’ page which currently indicates there is strong job demand in Northern Ireland for individuals with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) based skills.

That demand is fuelled by Northern Ireland’s growing reputation for creating successful companies that compete globally in the Information Communication and Technology (‘ICT’) sector, and which create highly skilled roles such as software and database developers. In addition, much of Invest NI’s success in attracting foreign direct investment (‘FDI’) has been with businesses that provide roles within ICT.  

However, does the NI labour market have the necessary skills to fill the demand for those roles?

According to the ‘CBI migration report’, September 2017, 96% of firms surveyed believe that NI is facing a growing skills shortage. The shortage becomes even more alarming when considered in the context of Brexit and the uncertainty surrounding a hard Brexit/’no-deal’ scenario, and what it means for access to the European labour market and our ability to import the skills we need.

What does this mean for the ICT sector in Northern Ireland?

Unfortunately, as things stand, employers in this sector may struggle to fill roles in the short-term. A growing skills shortage indicates that the jobs being created are not being filled by local graduates, either as a result of degrees which are not aligned to the NI economic strategy or as a result of graduates leaving NI in favour of careers in Great Britain, ROI and further afield. Regardless of the specific cause, it indicates that there is an immediate need to understand the scale of the skills gap and what can be done to redress it.

One government funded scheme, ‘Bring IT to NI’, is in operation to help secondary school pupils debating a career in ICT, which may help in the medium to long term but does nothing for the immediate term gap. An interesting concept which is appearing globally is that of ‘developer boot camps’. These promise to take a student from zero coding experience to an employable level through a 3-6 month intensive course, essentially fast-tracking the route to a developer role.

Employers in the South, for example, PayPal, appear to be actively engaging with boot camp providers, helping to align course content to what they need from new employees. This gives an indication that employers are valuing applicant experience and demonstrable skills alongside degrees, opening the door to those who do not have a computing related academic background, such as a degree in computer science.

Could software developer boot camps be a possible solution to address the current skills gap and alleviate the concerns of employers who are currently expecting this gap to grow? Is there a role that a local government could provide in supporting those who might want to undertake such a course?

If nothing else, it’s food for thought.