On 22 June Forfás published a study, Key Skills for Enterprise to Trade Internationally, which sets out the skills and talent needed to drive Ireland’s trade and export performance in both existing and emerging overseas markets. The study provides a detailed blueprint for adjustments to our education, training and professional development to align skills with the needs of exporting businesses. The report makes a range of specific recommendations to ensure that our education, training and professional development meets the needs of our exporting companies. It recommends boosting the supply of foreign language skills (both numbers and proficiency) at third level including German, French, Spanish and Italian as well as Mandarin Chinese, Russian and Arabic. It also highlights the need to increase formal international sales training at third level, including compulsory modules on international sales in business courses and the introduction of a degree and post-graduate diploma in international sales with foreign languages.
The study has identified 2,200 potential job opportunities arising within exporting companies which could be filled through tailored skills conversion courses, developed in partnership with industry — in the areas of ICT computing, customer sales and service support with foreign languages. The Government's Action Plan for Jobs has identified the ICT sector as having potential for further significant growth in job creation. The Action Plan acknowledges that, for Ireland to achieve its potential, its labour force must be appropriately skilled and our education system must remain responsive to the needs of the ICT sector as a whole. It calls for action to address the range of high level ICT skills recruitment difficulties identified in 2011 by Forfás through the work of the Expert Group on Future Skills.
The findings of this study and the resulting action plans are documented in the Joint Government-Industry ICT Action Plan, which the Minister for Education and Skills and I launched in January this year. The Plan outlines a range of short, medium and long term measures to develop a sustainable domestic supply of high quality ICT graduates to support the further expansion and development of the ICT sector and support innovation and growth across other sectors of the economy. As part of the ICT Action Plan, 750 places have been made available on new Higher Diploma Level 8 Conversion ICT Programmes which began rolling out in higher education institutions across the country from last March. Access is free of charge to participants who will obtain a level 8 Higher Diploma. Graduates of these programmes will be available for recruitment in early 2013. In addition, 530 people with a qualification at level 8 or Masters level in ICT are now due to graduate from the first phase of Springboard. A further 2,200 places on ICT programmes from certificate to Masters degree level are now open for applications as part of Springboard 2012.
I understand from my colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills, that a number of other initiatives are being taken across the education sector to ensure that vacancies in the ICT sector can be filled by appropriately qualified personnel. The Masters in Applied Software Technology (MAST), which is delivered by ICT Ireland Skillnet, aims to equip unemployed computing graduates and those from an engineering background with high-level skills in a sector which continues to experience difficulty filling vacancies. Delivery is by means of blended learning, mixing academic input from DIT, interspersed with in-company placements throughout the academic year. The Masters level course commenced for the first time last September and is due to finish this August. I understand that the programme has been described as being a great success and due to the significant input of employers to the course and its work placement elements, a high job achievement rate following successful completion of the course is expected.
I am informed that FÁS plans to deliver up to 75,000 training places in 2012. To underpin its new training strategy, FÁS has reclassified and regrouped its existing course category framework into a career-themed approach to training (career training clusters), which will evolve on an on-going basis as new skills and occupations emerge. As part of that process, the current ‘computer applications' course category and the ‘computer hardware/networks/programming' category will be merged into the IT training cluster. Under the Labour Market Education and Training Fund, which will be managed by FÁS and will provide up to 6,500 targeted training places, funding will be utilised to provide training and education solutions to the needs of both unemployed individuals and employers within the context of four themes, targeted at sectors where vacancies are likely to arise. One of these themes relates specifically to the IT Sector.
Furthermore, Skillnets, which is an enterprise-led body funded through the National Training Fund to provide companies with new opportunities to develop relevant, effective answers to their training and development needs, was set ambitious targets for 2011 to train 40,000 persons, of whom up to 8,000 were unemployed. Similar targets to 2011 have been set for 2012 which will target the long term unemployed. In addition to all of the above it is important to point out that Irish employers also have access to the EU and EEA labour force in accordance with EU law on freedom of movement of labour. Ireland remains a very successful centre for ICT operations with almost 97,000 people employed in ICT firms in Ireland. In addition to the meeting the challenge posed by the high level of vacancies in the ICT sector, the Action Plan for Jobs identifies a number of other challenges that must be addressed in order for Ireland to realise the potential for future growth in the ICT sector. Specific actions are outlined in the Plan, for implementation in 2012, to ensure that these challenges are addressed.