Internet search giant Google says that it's being forced to hire Russian and Ukrainian graduates to fill out jobs at its EMEA headquarters in Dublin because Irish grads simply lack the necessary skills to do the work.
The disappointing news comes amid ongoing expressions of dissatisfaction from Irish industry chiefs unhappy with Irish graduates' lack of skills in mathematics and technology, which they say is forcing them to either offshore these jobs abroad or else find foreigners resident in Ireland to do the work instead.
Not enough tech grads to fill jobs
As Irish Central's Cathy Hayes reports in an article last year, Ireland's precipitous slide down an Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) ranking table assessing educational skills, from 5th to 17th place in literacy -- the most sudden drop among any of the developed nations polled -- was cause for alarm, and recent developments bear out why this was so.
Speaking at the recent Intel Open Forum on Education, Intel Ireland Chief Executive Éamonn Sinnott said that transforming Ireland' second level (high-school) system was the only way that Ireland could feasibly improve its chances of getting enough hi-tech grads out of its colleges to satisfy the demands of big industry players like Intel and Google, for whom these skills are a must.
Students who don't take Higher level mathematics and sciences for the Leaving Certificate (broadly, the Irish equivalent of the SATs) are prevented from entering into many of the scientific and numeracy-based courses the recruiters are looking for graduates from, so addressing the skills shortfall here seems a logical place to start.
Increased use of Informations and Communications Technology (ICT) and netbooks in schools were just two of the ideas floated at the Forum to try bring about an improvement in these skills, although coming from the Intel boss, the conflict of interest here is admittedly not hard to spot!
The two stories, though, do really drive home the dangerous economic bed Ireland seems to have set for itself when it chose luring foreign direct investment (FDI) - almost invariably comprising companies from the high tech sector: Microsoft, Google, Intel, etc - as the catalyst with which to fuel its explosive economic growth in the glorious but long-dead Celtic Tiger era.
Rock-bottom corporate tax rates of just 12.5% and a 'young, skilled, educated work force' (implicitly in IT) were the twin pillars of Enterprise Ireland's many successful sales pitches to US bosses and companies, who flocked and opened operations here to our financial delight, but it now seems as if the future of these two advantages looks dicey at best, and is going to look ever less convincing given our relatively high wage-base compared to countries in the Far East like India, who often also boast a more suitably skilled pool of graduates.
As the Irish Times' Caroline Madden reports, Ireland landed €21bn ($30.4bn) worth of FDI last year alone, the second highest net amount landed from outside the EU, but it remains to be seen how much of this windfall can be sustained if graduates lack the skills necessary to fill the jobs employers are demanding of them, and if migrant workers from Eastern Europe continue flocking home it seems as if even they, the Russians and the Ukraonians of the Google case, may not be available to fill these jobs. Fears justifiably run high that the ship may eventually simply set sail.
The fact that badly needed jobs are having to go to migrant workers at a time when our own unemployment rate stands above 14pc is a tragic one, but hardly an unsurprising one given the economy's seismic shift from agriculture-based to hi-tech in the space of not even fifty years.
Universities are also not renowned for acclimatizing to what's going on in the outside world, and it may be the case that the more vocationally focused institutes of technology will emerge as the leaders in supplying the needs of hi-tech industry (a case in point is Cork Institute of Technology (CIT), which this Fall is starting enrolment in the first cloud computing degree in the world).
Broadband not up to scratch
The all powerful search engine, currently spinning out a social network that it hopes can rival Facebook, also said that Irish internet is not up to scratch, which makes you wonder whether it's our government, which has long been slow in bringing out a decent national broadband scheme, or our graduates, that are really at fault for the skills shortage problem.
"I am very surprised [by the internet quality], you were doing very well with broadband until the financial crisis hit," Google CEO Eric Schmidtreportedly told workers at the firm's Dublin base recently, before adding that Ireland needs to be taking more steps to ensure that it gets more businesses online.
If there was one thing the now deposed Fianna Fáil government didn't specialize in, it seems to have been planning for the future. Let's just hope improvements are made before more of Ireland's young generation are forced to leave Ireland because there are no jobs -- or because they're too unqualified to take the ones going.
Larry Page replaced Eric Schmidt as CEO of Google on Apr. 4 of this year, however he remains an Executive Chairman at the company. Schmidt's comments cited above were made a recent gathering in Dublin (27th Jun.). Link to a report from The Irish Times is here.