Karen O’ Connor, General Manager ICT Services and Solutions, Datapac, writes about how Datapac is working with the education sector to close the IT skills gap and improve local employment opportunities.

Since our founding in 1982, and as one of Ireland’s largest and most successful ICT solutions and services providers, Datapac has seen the Irish technology sector go from strength to strength. This looks set to continue into the future, with the digital economy in Ireland predicted to be worth some €21.4 billion, or 7.9% of GDP, by 2020. However, a considerable challenge facing the tech sector in taking full advantage of this forecasted growth, is the skills gap evident in the industry.

While it is positive to see that some businesses are embracing training and development programmes to empower their workforce, the skills shortage in Ireland is a much larger issue that requires the solution to be extended outside of organisations and tackled at a grassroots level.

At Datapac, we strongly believe collaboration between the education and technology sector is essential to closing the IT skills gap which exists in Ireland today. That’s why – way back in in 2004 – we took the lead in this area and began working closely with third-level institutions to provide high quality work placement opportunities for students and graduates. Over this time, we have invested €1.5 million in supporting the initiative and established strong links with a number of leading third level institutions around the country, including Waterford IT, IT Carlow, IT Tallaght, University of Limerick and NUIG. Our programme is open to both graduate and undergraduate students, and offers continuous on-the-job development as well as the opportunity to work with the latest technologies and applications.

More than 150 students have now taken part in the programme since 2004. Eric Maloney, who is studying for a BSc in Information Technology Management at IT Carlow, was our 150th participant, a milestone we enthusiastically celebrated with Eric.

The practical work experience that I have received at Datapac has been really invaluable and rewarding. It’s given me a much deeper understanding of what it’s like to work in this fast-paced industry, and learn about real-world situations and customer interactions. It’s given me a much clearer vision of the career I want to pursue.”       – Eric Maloney

Our experience of running the work placement programme has demonstrated to us the impact collaboration between industry and the education sector can have on closing the IT skills gap. However, to address the root of talent development, we need to engage with students long before they reach third-level education and encourage more young people to choose technology related programmes when it comes to their CAO application. Following the success of the work placement programme, we took the decision to extend the programme into secondary schools and Transition Year classes in particular.

Students are being placed on one of two specialist paths that Datapac has developed, providing practical, hands-on experience of both the technical and business aspects of the industry. Mentors are assigned to every student to provide ongoing training and development. Members of the Datapac team will also visit transition year classes in participating schools to provide practical advice about building a career in the technology sector.

Through the extension of our programme to secondary level, we hope to illuminate the range of opportunities available within the tech sector to encourage future innovators in our industry. This extension is also a major step in Datapac’s strategic approach to IT skills development and part of our long-standing CSR programme that seeks to alleviate youth unemployment in our local communities.

As well as collaborating with schools and universities, Datapac has a long history of partnering with a wide range of educational institutions to encourage and promote technological advancement and career opportunities among students of all ages and backgrounds. One such example is when 17 students from the PC maintenance course run by Clane College in the Wexford Enterprise Centre visited Datapac’s Enniscorthy facility. At Datapac, we believe that such opportunities go a long way towards motivating students.

The students were particularly excited to hear from some of Datapac’s IT professionals who joined the company as graduates and progressed to more senior roles, where they now provide technology solutions in collaboration with many of the world’s leading technology companies. We all came away from the event with heightened knowledge levels and there has been a general feeling of elevated motivation and enthusiasm among the students following their hands-on experience.”    – Perri Williams, industry liaison officer, Clane College

Overall, closing the IT skills gap and addressing youth unemployment in Ireland are ambitions close to the heart for everyone at Datapac. We believe it’s vital that young people are encouraged towards STEM careers, which can offer so many exciting opportunities and rewards for people from all backgrounds. With greater collaboration between schools, universities and the technology industry, we can vastly improve the opportunities for young people to develop relevant skills before joining the workplace. Ultimately, these efforts will be crucial in driving Ireland towards the top of the global digital economy as a true digital leader.

To find out more about graduate career opportunities at Datapac click here 


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