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Dublin: 13 °C Saturday 1 November, 2014

Column: Why are so few computer science graduates getting jobs?

The Government and higher education system could be nurturing our potential world-changers much more effectively, writes Paddy Cosgrave.

Paddy Cosgrave

IN THREE WEEKS’ time, NASDAQ will become the first major global stock exchange to open or close a market from Dublin when they will be joined by 200 of the CEOs behind the world’s most valuable private technology companies.

It will be a historic moment for our country, with CNN, the BBC, FOX News, CNBC, Bloomberg and many more on hand to broadcast images around the world of the Taoiseach opening the market from Ireland.

Over a half a trillion dollars worth of private technology companies will arrive in Dublin on October 29th from across the globe for the Web Summit. The combined value of these companies exceeds the entire GDP of our country, and many times over. They’ll be joined by hundreds of partners, managing directors and global heads of TMT from the world’s leading investment banks, hedge funds, private equity funds, venture capital firms.

All of these people, including the more than 400 international journalists and 8,000 international attendees will be in Dublin to meet the CEOs of these revolutionary technology companies, all of whom, without exception, have been built by software engineers.

The next generation of software engineers

So if software engineers are driving a huge wave of innovation the world over, how good a job is Ireland doing educating the next generation of software engineers across our Universities and Institutes of Technology?

Despite lots of recent good news in relation to the technology sector, there are some disconcerting facts about the employment prospects of highly educated Irish graduates employment.

Over the summer I asked the Higher Education Authority of Ireland, of which I am a recently appointed board member, for statistics on unemployment rates in 2013 for those who graduated in 2011 across all degree and diploma courses.

I wanted to see how graduates were faring two years after completing various courses. At the time, I was sure the employment statistics would show incredibly low levels of unemployment for computer science graduates, or what are termed ‘computing graduates’ in official statistics.

What I discovered not only surprised me, it shocked me.

There is clearly something very wrong

Unemployment rates amongst those who graduated in 2011 in computing courses in Ireland are higher than almost any other degree or diploma course.

Surely the statistics were wrong, I thought. Demand for computing graduates is at an all time high; Ireland, Dublin in particular, has quickly developed a reputation as a high tech hub in Europe; there are thousands of vacancies for “technology workers” at the moment.

The demand exists. So much so that the Government has very publicly committed themselves to increasing the number of places available on computing courses.

But the closer I looked at the statistics the more alarmed I became.

Those who graduated with a graduate diploma in computing in 2011 are almost three times as likely to be unemployed today as every other graduate. There is clearly something very wrong.

The exact statistics are as follows: 7 per cent of people who received graduate diplomas in 2011 are unemployed today, but a full 20 per cent of those who received a Computing Graduate Diploma in 2011 are without jobs.

So why is unemployment so much higher for recent computing graduates compared to those of less practical courses like philosophy and religion, and almost every other course available in our third level institutions for that matter?

There are numerous theories: teaching quality is below market need; student quality is below market need; demand for computing graduates is overstated and more.

With a good knowledge of the sector I don’t know what the best answer is, I just know this is the reality; computing course graduates are more likely to end up unemployed than any other graduate. It’s a reality I think our current Government and our third level institutions should examine more closely, and soon.

With hundreds of the most influential software engineers in the world visiting Ireland at the end of the month, we could be nurturing our own potential world-changers more effectively.

Paddy Cosgrave is the founder of the Web Summit, Europe’s biggest festival of ideas and events. This year the Web Summit will have over 10,000 attendees and features among its invited speakers skateboarder Tony Hawk, Irish rugby captain Jamie Heaslip, Shane Smith, founder of Vice Magazine, Jay Bergman, founder and CEO of Hailo, Jimmy Maymann CEO of the Huffington Post, Aaron Levie founder of Box, Phil Libin CEO of Evernote and Joe Lonsdale founder of Palantir.

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