Published: Business Plus – June 2013
The absolute state of it.
Why with Ireland exporting her unemployment problem to far flung parishes across the globe, do 2,500 seats lie empty in tech businesses across the country? Are young Irish people simply not equipped with the necessary skills, experiences and outlook to fill these positions?
Apparently they are not.
Young people’s fast adoptions of technology surely tells us about their desires to be in this space and to learn about it. But, so far, those who learn are those who teach themselves, learn from older siblings, go to programming classes during their free time; but this requires serious dedication.
CoderDojo, the independent Irish free programming school, has already taught more than 16,000 kids in 23 countries to learn how to code. Is this not the job of a school? CoderDojo has just established a school in LA as even schools in America have not introduced programming classes into their curriculum. If young people aren’t equipped with the skill-set then how can we expect to drive technology forwards?
Although demand from employers is here, Ireland is not providing the skilled workforce. We have an opportunity to lead the world by example and show all countries what changes need to be implemented so the system can meet this demand. Programming in schools should be a compulsory subject. Everything we do today is dependent on a machine of some description – and we need to understand them and how they function. Often costs and resources are to blame for the lack of education but at a minimum at least we can teach the principles of programming? When I read Computer Science in Trinity, I didn’t own a computer. We learned in a classroom from a book and then went to a community computer room and put it down in code.
So not only is Ireland experiencing a massive brain drain – we are not giving our graduates the skills they need to fill the available positions in the country.
Implementing changes in our educational systems will help fill this skills gap while also providing a platform for the innovators of today and tomorrow. Young people are creating value, employment and wealth. Take Ben Silbermann (30) founder of Pinterest (market cap – $2.5 billion), Daniel Ek (30) founder of Spotify ($3 billion), Drew Houston (30) founder of DropBox ($4 billion) and our own homegrown Collison brothers (22 & 24) of Stripe ($500 million), James Whelton (18) from CoderDojo and Conor Murphy (31) from Data Hug ($110 million).
Companies really have to work hard to attract expertise and talent. Start-ups in particular seem to be the most creative and innovative in their recruitment process. But it’s no surprise they have mastered the art of communicating with the youth demographic, as most of them are that demographic. They understand the importance of a work-life balance, what it means to employees to be socially aware and feel like you are making a difference in the world and the difference a bit of flexibility can make. For example, take Grouper: If you work here, you will “Put a dent in the universe, make lives more awesome, build a real business, work on hard problems and have way too much fun!”. Larger corporations can really learn a lot from tactics that starts-ups have employed.
Smart brands start with youth. Let’s take Apple for example. Apple took control of the youth market when it launched iTunes and the iPod. With an accessible product it managed to establish a loyal fan base who are now owners of Apple Macs, iPhones and iPads. They took a long term approach, invested in the youth and developed a relationship with that market as it moved income brackets.
Where would they be today if they had launched the iPhone before the iPod? Priced in an improbable price bracket for younger markets, the iPhone was unlikely to have made the impact the iPod did when it first hit stores, and therefore having a knock on effect on the rest of their products.
In my household we have iPads, iPad minis, iPhones, iPods and MacBooks. It took years of shouting their praises from the rooftop before my parents saw the light, but they did nonetheless. My point being, youth are the influencers in technology. I showed my mum how to use the app store, download music, play her bridge games, find friends on scrabble and make free skype calls. I rarely know any other household where it was the other way around.
Ireland is the first choice for large tech giants EU headquarters. For good reason – we have competitive wages, office rents, business rates, electricity costs, an attractive corporate tax regime etc. It’s the stomping ground for every major player and 8/10 top global ICT companies are based in Ireland. At the moment technology companies account for 90% of venture capital in Ireland, compared to 31% in Europe. We also have one of the youngest populations in Europe with ⅓ of the population under 25. Is the current education system missing a valuable opportunity here?
We need to build our techie future in a single-minded way. By focusing on youth innovators we will be prepared for an even more tech-rich future. Ireland has strong foundations to build a self-sufficient state of technology that can really help change the world forever.