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January 10th, 2011: Don't Limit Career Options by Una Halligan

A piece by Fulbright Chairperson, Una Halligan

Monday January 10 2011

A key question for people considering their CAO application is which course will most enhance my future job prospects?

You will be applying for a course that will take several years to complete. It is best to avoid a narrow subject choice which may limit your future career prospects and to instead remain open and adaptable to continuous learning for job opportunities that arise.

Some of the top jobs being advertised today did not exist six years ago. You also need to be clear about your career interest and personal strengths when considering which programmes to apply for.

It can seem that few job opportunities are likely to arise over the near future given current economic uncertainty. But in fact, significant employment opportunities will arise from expansion demand within companies starting up or increasing their business activity as well as from replacement demand across companies due to staff retiring or leaving the labour market. Examples of this include the information and communication technology sector which offers rewarding career opportunities in the fields of computing, software and electronic engineering. Graduates with such skills will also find employment in other sectors.

Within the digital media and content sector, there is a demand for business, ICT and creative skill sets within social networking, animation and multimedia production.

A recent report by the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs on the ‘green’ economy which includes the renewable energies and energy efficiency subsectors, anticipated that 14,500 employment opportunities could arise over the next five years – including for managers, engineers and scientists, technicians, sales, office staff, skilled workers and operatives.

Within manufacturing there are signs of a pick-up in engineering business activity. This is generating a demand for professional engineers and technicians as well as skilled workers.

The life sciences sector is a major employer with many internationally renowned companies engaged in the pharma, biopharma and medical devices business. Here the demand is for scientists, engineers and technical staff who can work in a multidisciplinary environment.

The Irish agri-food sector has considerable growth potential, driven by global consumption trends. The demand is for graduates with a broad knowledge of the core food science, business and engineering skills required for working across all aspects of the industry. Ireland is attracting a range of international headquarters and business service centres resulting in a demand for business and technical skills.

Within international financial services there is a demand for accountants with regulatory skills and business analysts.

Across sectors there is a demand for people with marketing and sales skills as companies drive to increase their exports of goods and services. A related need is for language skills. Arts, humanities, business and social science disciplines are valuable for career choices within finance, business services, legal services, communications, tourism and culture, education and social services.

A significant number of job opportunities will also arise from ‘replacement’ demand – indeed around 44,000 job opportunities per annum. These will arise across all occupational areas including within traditional sectors where employment has recently been affected, such as transport and distribution, tourism and hospitality, wholesale and retail and professional and business services. Replacement demand will also arise within personal and caring occupations driven by demographic change.

It is essential to have the right skill mix in your personal skills portfolio. As well as the core professional skills, there are generic skills essential within the modern workplace.

Mathematical proficiency is a key requirement for maths-based occupations such as scientists, electricians and accountants as well as across all jobs. Foreign language fluency and ICT proficiency are other key generic skills. ‘Add on’ specialism knowledge for specific work areas can then be acquired within the final years of undergraduate programmes and through masters degrees and post graduate diplomas.

There is a need for people-related skills as well as creativity and innovation, problem solving, planning and organising skills. You should check whether the programmes you are interested in offer a structured work experience placement with business. These are hugely valuable in making you more employable.

Una Halligan is the Government & Public Affairs Director for Hewlett Packard, Ireland and Chairperson of the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs (EGFSN) at Forfás. www.skillsireland.ie

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