In February, I had a conversation with a client who had just begun the recruitment process for a senior software engineer. There was nothing unusual about the role: his company required someone with five years of relevant experience in the telecommunications industry.
I spoke to the client again in June and he still had not found anyone that fitted the criteria. Finally, in August, my client called to say the role had been filled. He told me that a process, which a couple of years ago would have taken about eight weeks, was now taking his company more than six months.
My client is not alone. Not just in Ireland, but globally, IT companies are struggling to recruit for technical roles. Job websites are awash with posts from recruiters reeling off lists of available technical roles in the hope that the right candidate will click on their advertisement, as opposed to the hundreds of others they have to choose from.
It’s a jobseeker’s paradise, but it is a serious problem for Ireland as our economy becomes increasingly reliant on the ICT sector. The sector currently employs 105,000 people – up 40 per cent since 2010.
With demand far outstripping supply, our policymakers are concerned and rightly so. In June, Education and Skills Minister Richard Bruton, and Training and Skills Minister John Halligan issued a plea for school leavers to include ICT courses on their CAO Change of Mind forms.
But that is only addressing some of the problem. Businesses are struggling to fill senior positions too, particularly in the areas of Java and .NET. It will be 2026 before today’s school leavers have the required qualifications and experience to apply for senior technical jobs.
Until supply meets demand, companies will look abroad to fill the gap, as they have been doing for some time. A 2015 report from the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs showed that the IT sector accounted for 43 per cent of all new employment permits issued to people outside the European Economic Area in 2014.
Based on the conversations we are having with customers today, the problem seems to be intensifying and as companies embrace digital transformation, demand will continue to increase. The simple truth is that if companies cannot recruit here, they will not be able to expand, they will not increase their contribution to the Irish economy and, eventually, they will take their business elsewhere.