By far the most fascinating point in the BBC’s new replacement for Hearts and Minds, The View [catchy title, eh? - Ed] was this sequence in which Bro McFerran Managing, Director of Allstate Northern Ireland, cuts to the chase, pointing out that the campaign for lower corporation tax and long (and thus far rather sterile) dialogue between the Stormont Executive and HM Treasury is somewhat beside the point.
In his view, technology provides a viable route to economic growth in Northern Ireland’s economy. But he also argues that it depends on the local development of talent, rather than tax breaks.
He also, correctly, points out that the Republic’s prosperity took thirty years from reform in the 50s to regeneration in the 80s to reach pay off and suggests that we should not wait so long in Northern Ireland.
Instead of belabouring the politicians for what they are not doing (and in education they are not doing a lot), he makes an appeal over their heads to the primary decision makers in Northern Irish education:
…if I could make a plea in your programme tonight, would the mothers and fathers encourage their kids into technology subjects as opposed to turning out doctors and teachers and all things that we turn out too many of…
Adds: This is from another of Northern Ireland’s clutch of high tech CEOs, the extraordinarily successful First Derivatives in Newry, writing in yesterday’s Sunday Indo
We seek people who are intelligent, motivated and prepared to travel. We differentiate ourselves from our competitors by supplying people who combine an understanding of the workings of capital markets with technology expertise.
Natural intelligence is only one part of the equation. We have a rigorous internal training programme to help provide our graduates with the skills they need to work with our customers. Many of the world’s largest technology companies have operations in Ireland and the indigenous software sector is performing well. Yet — like many of my peers — I believe that our education system does not produce enough people with the requisite skills to fill the available jobs.
This demand is being met by recruiting staff from overseas or, in many cases, the position goes unfilled. The cumulative impact of these missed opportunities for Ireland is damaging in the long term. Any perception of a skills shortage will be seized upon by competitors for FDI (foreign direct investment) and potentially undo some of the great work being done by the IDA and Invest NI.
Much of our training programme is designed to make people with non-relevant degrees more technology savvy. This process takes months, but we still have to provide basic technology training to bright people who have accumulated a wealth of often useless knowledge after 20 years of education.
Given the vast opportunity cost, there must surely be room for technology modules at the heart of our education system. Why would a teenager not relish being taught how to develop their own iPhone app?