The Digital Skills Crisis

There’s no doubt that we have a crisis in Skills in the Digital and ICT sector. We’ve had conversations with big IT employers in Northern Ireland and they’ve stated categorically they would hire 100 people tomorrow if they could find them. The skills selection pressure in Northern Ireland is driving salaries up (good for short term gains) but long term it means we become less attractive to FDI (foreign direct investment) companies particularly as many Invest NI support packages are EU-supported and this support ends in 2020 and medium to long term we end up with a massive skills deficit for indigenous companies, specifically those in the start-up sector. There’s no other sector that could absorb skilled workers like this – and who would be being paid enough to make it worthwhile (in terms of tax returned and sheer spending power).

Why hasn’t government fixed this?

Government hasn’t put in place the mechanisms to solve this. They automatically limit university places – pitching computer science against law or social sciences for spaces. They don’t necessarily understand the similarities between the terms “coder”, “developer”, “software engineer” and “programmer” (which was made clear when we met the previous department (Department for Employment and Learning).

It quickly becomes evident to us that Government is working with poorly formed and outdated data as they believe that only 93% of computer science graduates are employed. While there may be a percentage of graduates who are potentially unemployable for many reasons, there are also many reasons to suspect that their methodology is very poor and therefore the data they have been working from is, effectively, worthless. For example – the data was collected in 2012, it was based on a single data point of asking Alumni if they were employed six months after graduation and it didn’t necessarily ask if they were employed in their sector or whether they were self-employed or contracting remotely. Repeating these statistics to Digital Circle representatives at the recent Digital Skills Summit, illustrates to us that Government still doesn’t understand the sector and there is a lack of leadership within the sector capable of refuting these erroneous numbers.

Of course, we said something.

And we will continue to say something. We are unafraid to represent the industry and lobby for changes in education, training, investment, market access and anything else that helps our industry. We are unafraid because we aren’t competing with our industry – and like it or not – there is no way that we can have repercussions put upon us for telling the truth. We’ve been informed over the last decade of multiple times when an agency reacted poorly to criticism and denied a letter of offer or refused to deal with a company. With a trade body – you can avoid that potential conflict of interest and we can get on with raising the tide to lift all ships.

The Digital Circle Steering Group

Early in 2020, we will be recruiting for the Digital Circle Steering Group from our membership. WE think it’s vitally important to host a conversation between large and small companies, academia and event government representatives. This will be an opportunity for you to steer the direction of our lobbying. I know hundreds of you have benefited from the work of Digital Circle since it was formed in 2008, and I know that hundreds more will benefit now we have found a new home and restarted our work. Membership of Digital Circle is very cheap and every penny goes towards the lobbying, education and outreach events we hold. The stronger you support us, the louder our voice.

So, join!

Every one should be a member of the Digital Circle Mailing List as it costs nothing but a little time to open the messages and read. And if you think the work we do is valuable considering there is no representative body or trade association for ICT since Momentum collapsed in 2014, then join up as a paid member of the Digital Circle. Every voice we add gives us more strength and bargaining power with government and academia. (also – paid members can get access to Member Deals – we currently have one from our first member that could potentially pay for the whole membership four times over!)

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