Ireland acts over high-tech skills shortage

April 30, 1999

DUBLIN

The Irish government has announced an initiative aimed at heading off potential skill shortages in the information technology sector.

An additional 5,400 higher education places will be created in the engineering, computer hardware and software areas.

About e95 million (Pounds 63 million) will be spent on capital investment, and each extra place will cost up to e7,600 a year to maintain.

Many of the world's leading computing firms, such as Intel and Hewlett Packard, have large plants in Ireland, which has a good record in competing with the United Kingdom and other countries for investment in high-tech areas.

The numbers employed in the sector in Ireland more than doubled between 1990 and 1997 to 53,000 and are expected to more than double again by 2003.

A high percentage of the jobs in the sector are for those with technician or degree-level qualifications.

Since 1995, companies have become concerned about the lack of technologically skilled labour. The pressure was particularly acute in the computer software, electronic technician and tele-services skills areas.

An initial response was to allocate 1,800 university places to engineering and software, and this was followed in 1997 by an extra 3,200 places in software professional, electronic technician and teleservices staff courses. A e317 million scientific and technological investment fund was announced in November 1997, and was followed last year by a e228 million research and development fund.

But even these measures were not enough to allay industry fears that a shortage of skilled personnel would slow down further investment.

A report from an expert group on future skills needs last year called for an additional 5,400 higher education places. The government has now agreed to implement this recommendation.

The package is yet another political boost for education minister Michael Martin, regarded as the rising star of the Irish cabinet.

It follows a related initiative to boost the numbers of secondary school students taking science subjects through increased grants to update school laboratories and the provision of additional in-service training for teachers.

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