The gradireland GRADchances IT event showcased the skills of students and the needs of employers in a vibrant and growing tech-sector, writes Fergal Browne.
This event was held on January 29th at Chartered Accountants House, on Dublin’s Pearse Street, with over 70 specially selected students and five major technology employers present.
“The IT sector is booming. There’s a lot of jobs out there, so it’s just a matter of gaining the necessary skills, putting together a strong application and communicating well”, says Joanne Anderson who is doing a Honours degree in Computing at National College of Ireland.
“The industry has performed well, even during the recession”, says Trevor Joy, a Digital Forensics and Cyber Security student in IT Blanchardstown. “Even through those difficult times, the industry continued to grow”, he adds.
“It’s still a challenge though, because you’re competing for jobs not just with Irish applicants, but with applicants from all over the world. But there are definitely jobs out there and tech-security, I believe, will be the buzz word over the next five years or so,” Trevor added.
The annual IT event run by gradireland brings together pre-selected, soon-to-be graduate, IT students with employers eager to promote their businesses and graduate programmes.
“Nowadays, competition is fierce and we are competing with a lot of other big-name companies so it’s an opportunity to interact and engage with students and give them an insight into what we do”, says Denise Airlie from software development company, Guidewire.
A diverse range of businesses participated in the event, ranging from communications company Ericsson to Smyths Toystore, reflecting the range of sectors that IT transcends.
“IT is required across every field and is one of the strongest and most diverse sectors in which to work”, says Swati Sehgal, who is currently doing a Masters in Computer Science in Trinity College, and says she is “very optimistic” of employment after graduation.
Companies not typically associated were IT were eager to demonstrate how important tech skills are to them.
“It’s probably something people don’t realise straight away, but we are a digital company”, says Katherine Norton, from Aer Lingus, which is currently accepting applications for its 2015 IT graduate programme.
This event is the first of two gradireland events in 2015 with a focus on technology. The second, taking place on April 8th, will target the STEM sector (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths), and will offer IT students another chance to interact with some of Ireland’s top graduate employers.
As part of the GRADchances IT event, each employer set students a task where they were looking for them to demonstrate appropriate skills. “First of all we are looking for people with a strong technical aptitude. But we require our employees to become technical consultants, so communication and teamwork is very important also”, says Denise from Guidewire.
Aer Lingus set the task of students working in groups to come up with ‘the next big thing’ in mobile phone technology. “We are looking for people who are very good at problem-solving and are analytical. They have to have a passion for IT but also be aware of the business elements”, adds Katherine.
“Events like this are brilliant because IT is so vast in terms of the roles on offer. I feel I almost need to be in a company to see what I can offer them. Therefore, here it’s fantastic to see what companies are looking for and to see if I can demonstrate those abilities”, says Maurice Walsh, a final year student in Network Security and Digital Forensics.
“It’s great to have this first-hand knowledge of companies and to meet with them face-to-face to know what they’re looking for,” says Joanne. “It’s a great boost in terms of deciding on a future career.”
An article in last week’s Irish Times advised college students to pursue languages, learn IT skills, examine the burgeoning construction sector or get excited about engineering. That’s where, it is forecast, the jobs will be in 2019 or 2020, when the current intake of first year students graduate. Planning ahead is very important for first year students. The benefits of early engagement with careers advisers and potential employers at college is becoming increasingly apparent, with more companies making their presence felt on campus early in a student’s college life, and these same companies also view students who get active and stay involved with all aspects of college life and career planning as valuable future employee prospects. A student who is engaged early with their careers advisor will obviously be far more likely to be in tune with the employment landscape and where the jobs are being created. So how is this landscape shaping up?
According to Una Halligan, chair of the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs (EGFSN); languages, IT (particularly data skills), construction, engineering, surveying and architecture are all disciplines with a healthy prognosis for the future. For languages, she told the Irish Times that English simply isn’t “good enough any more” and if we want to sell ourselves at international level, students need to take what language skills they have at Leaving Cert level and work to develop them, even if they are not studying them at university. She suggests Erasmus programmes, fitting a language module into your studies or working overseas during the summer, anything that adds a level of immersion to your linguistic abilities. At gradireland we have been reinforcing the importance of languages over the past 18 months, with our languages fair, videos on the subject and articles on what differences languages have made to a student’s career. For our ‘Your career with languages’ sector guide, we spoke to graduates like Constance O’Brien of Slaney Foods International, who told us; “Initiating business with international clients through their own native language is a common courtesy that can often work to secure profitable and long standing business relationships in the future. If you want to travel for work, which is one of the main aspects I love most about my job, languages are obviously a distinct advantage, but even if you want to stay in Ireland, languages are still a great advantage to your career.”
Besides language skills, Una Halligan also earmarked IT as a sector that will continue to grow and require new graduate talent, particularly in the data sector, with the insurance, finance and banking sectors all requiring data analysts, with mathematical and statistical skills particularly in demand. This backs up the EGFSN and Forfás data from May of 2014 which said that Ireland has the potential to create 21,000 jobs by 20202 in the area of ‘big data.’ This finding anticipates 3,630 positions for ‘deep analytical roles’ and 17,470 for data ‘savvy’ roles. Find out more about the IT landscape in the gradireland IT sector guide.
Sectors such as biopharma and medical devices are also undergoing large recruitment drives, with skills such as electronic engineering and quality engineering in massive demand, added Una Halligan.
She added that the resurgent construction sector was seeing growth now that was more ‘measured’ than the explosion which preceded the financial crisis. Indeed the construction sector became the poster child for all that went wrong. With the resurgence in construction, the EGFSN are also predicting a knock-on boost for related disciplines such as quantity surveying and architecture. “By the time students graduate from quantity surveying or architecture courses, they will be coming out in a healthy position and those skills will always be wanted worldwide.” Una Halligan also reinforced the importance, where possible, of students studying a technical subject alongside an arts’ or humanities subject. Or if that is not possible, for students to get a part-time job that will exercise their technical or IT skills. “Those who do this will be work-ready when they leave college,” she added. Employability is what it is all about these days after all, and that is one thing that will not change for the class of 2019/2020.
Some simple, straightforward tips from gradireland on how you can start the year on the right foot, whether you’re still considering your career path or are seeking a job.
Take control of what you can control
The graduate jobs market is demonstrably improving, but it’s still tough out there. There’s no point in stressing or complaining about things you can’t influence, so channel that energy positively into things you can control, such as planning your career path, focussing your mindset, building your network and seeking to boost employability skills. Oh yeah, what are they again?
Focus on employability skills
As we said in this blog, quoting a Manchester Director of Student Life, employability=qualifications + experience + skills x contacts . You need to view yourself as a portfolio of skills, in need of constant development. Focus on what value you can bring to potential employers. You can brainstorm your career options by assessing how your skills can meet the need of the employers you wish to work for and, of course, how you can fill in the gaps. In the current competitive economic environment, companies need their staff to deliver results quickly, so you need to demonstrate an ability to be dynamic, results driven and commercially aware.
Never stop learning and informing yourself
Even after you graduate, you need to look at how you can continue to develop yourself and your career. Someone who is constantly seeking to learn a new skill, boost an existing one or simply taking the time to listen and network with those who they can learn from makes for a well-rounded candidate. It’s not all about burying your head in study books either; online tutorials, YouTube videos and blogs all have a wealth of information which can be of assistance.
It’s important to keep a sense of perspective. You will lose as well as win, so don’t take every setback as a mortal blow. If things aren’t going well in your final year or if your job-hunt has stalled, get support, seek advice, show initiative and prove that you’re a problem solver. As Einstein said, it’s insanity to do the same thing over and over and expect different results.
Don’t waste your time (or an employer’s)
Don’t apply for a job in which you don’t think you will be happy, a recruiter will see right through this at interview (even if your application ticks all the necessary boxes). There are no sectors that are bulletproof in an economic recovery, and there are plenty where opportunities exist (contrary to popular opinion). Stick to what you believe and know you are good at, if you invest the time, application and dedication to obtaining the skills and putting together a good application, you will get noticed.
Check out gradireland’s careers advice section for more tips.