Science suffers as youth has its fling

Published on 9 March, 2008.

The trend-driven Generation Y is seeking a career to fit its ‘image’. As a result, the less-popular areas of the economy, such as IT, are suffering, writes John Reynolds

AS education becomes increasingly trend-driven, the class of 2008 is likely to study law — perhaps attracted by the lavish lifestyle of solicitor Gerald Kean — or accountancy, architecture, design or media. 

Recent figures from the Central Applications Office (CAO), and the 2012 employment forecast from Fas and the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), point to a widening skills gap in other, arguably more important and more valuable, sectors of the economy, such as IT, science, engineering, healthcare.

Perhaps the notoriously demanding Generation Y is seeking a career that will fit in with its lifestyle and leisure priorities, whatever that means for the economy.

“It’s concerning because our economy needs people in the less-popular sectors. Health professions are increasingly important as our population ages and there is long-term growth in vital areas of the economy, such as science and engineering,” says Austin Hughes, economist with IIB Bank.

It may have more serious implications for the multinationals, such as Intel, Dell and Microsoft, who are the nation’s biggest employers.

“Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) figures show we’re low down on some skills lists. We’re competing with education systems that are as good as ours or better, in economies with a lower cost base. That means our education and knowledge base is crucial,” said Paul Rellis, head of the US Chamber of Commerce here and managing director of Microsoft Ireland.

“We need creative people in areas such as the media and design, but we’d like to see more people with a talent for maths and science in all levels of education. Those are the skills that will create more research and development value in our companies,” he adds.

The methods of teaching these more complex subjects needs to be addressed according to John Power, director of Engineers Ireland.

“On the curriculum, perhaps the teaching of subjects such as maths, needs to be more user-friendly, so it relates more to everyday life,” he argues.

James Ives, chief executive of Dublin-based tidal energy firm Openhydro, thinks the problem is one of image and status. Perhaps the idea of becoming a scientist or engineer doesn’t fit in with the aspirations of Generation Y.

“In Germany and France, engineering is seen as a prestigious profession, like a doctor. But in Ireland and the UK, it hasn’t got the same status. Although it’s not easy to qualify, the payoff is that it’s exciting work that can make a difference. It’s very rewarding but seems to be undervalued,” he says.

The five most popular career paths are:

Interior designers, fashion designers

CAO applications for art and design courses have rocketed by 650 per cent from 1,100 to 8,475 since 2000.

“Irish people are spending money on high-end Irish fashion and interior design. There’s a lot of support from Dublin City Enterprise Board with various grants so we can keep our homegrown talent, export overseas and benefit the Irish economy.

“I think people see fashion design as fun and glamorous, but it’s hard work and there’s a lot of risks involved,” says designer Jennifer Rothwell, whose label JRothwell was exhibited at Dublin Fashion Week last month.


STUDENTS can choose from any one of 24 degrees in law, not including those in private colleges, and the numbers of applications remain high with about 12,800 each year since 2000.

Possibly fuelled by the filthy lucre that can be made in tribunals that drag on for years — and despite the odd rogue solicitor such as Michael Lynn, who liked to hire private jets — Generation Y’s appetite for the profession looks set to continue.

Media, journalism & communications

MORE than 80,000 students apply for arts and social science courses every year, including 60 media-related courses. In a country the size of Ireland, however, there’s only room for one Kathryn Thomas and her much-envied jet-setting job, and a handful of media stars — such as RTE top-earner Pat Kenny — who earn six-figure salaries.

Horror stories emerge every year in the UK, where first-jobbing graduates work for free as runners for TV production companies and newly qualified local newspaper hacks earn less than binmen.


The number of business, legal and financial professionals, such as accountants, is set to rise by up to 48 per cent, according to the Fas/ESRI 2012 employment forecast.

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary started off as one, and the Great Place to Work Institute Ireland has just voted Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) the Best Company to Work for in Ireland 2008.

“The chief executives of many of Ireland’s top companies are accountants. It also provides excellent post-graduate professional training in areas such as business management and personal skills. It’s a passport to a successful career in business, anywhere in the world, and is recognised and respected internationally,” says Ronan Murphy, PwC’s senior partner.


FIRST preferences for architecture degrees are up by 25 per cent since 2000, according to recent CAO statistics, while applications as a whole are up by more than 70 per cent.

Despite tough and demanding work, long hours and a lot of responsibility, most architects enjoy their work, according to John Graby, director of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland.

“There are now more places in five colleges here. There’s a greater interest in areas such as design quality, sustainability, quality of life, and architectural design as part of our lives. It’s extremely stimulating and varied. Perhaps that’s due to a generation who don’t just want huge salaries. You wouldn’t be in it for the money,” he says.

But a skills gap is emerging in the following five areas:

IT workers

Since the fallout from the dotcom crash in 2000/2001, the shortage of software engineers, computer programmers and IT analysts is expected to persist in the future and enrolments on computer courses have been declining, despite a strong demand for IT skills, according to the Fas/ESRI employment forecast.

As Google scours the planet for the best IT talent, one of the latest courses on the market is an MSc in Cyberpsychology, studying how people interact with technology and in an online environment.


THE boss of Ireland’s biggest company, CRH, Liam O’Mahony is a qualified engineer, as is recent new-found multimillionaire and founder of Airtricity, Eddie O’Connor.

But the number of people applying to study engineering and technology-related degrees has halved since 2000. Graduates can work anywhere in the world, and many start on higher average salaries than many professionals.

“At the moment, there are 5,500 engineering graduates a year on the island. Our target is to increase that to 14,000 by 2020. The chartered engineer is to the economy what the consultant is to the medical profession,” says John Power at Engineers Ireland.


SCIENCE Foundation Ireland is pumping hundreds of millions into funding science projects, including €100m alone into Trinity College’s new Nanoscience Research Institute.

The annual BT Young Scientist competition continues to fuel young people’s curiosity in the subject, as do programmes like the Discovery Channel’s The Big Experiment. But this hasn’t managed to stem the tide as the class of 2008 turns away from everything science-related.

The Fas/ESRI employment forecast predicts continuing skill shortages in 2012. Applications and first preferences for science degrees have fallen by 20 per cent since 2000.


ALMOST one-third of chefs are non-nationals, according to Ibec’s report.

“Catering doesn’t fit into the younger X-Box generation whose priority is leisure time, so they won’t put up with the heat, stress and repetition of being a chef. So those who succeed tend to be those who love it,” says Ross Lewis, chef proprietor at Dublin’s Chapter One restaurant.

“Perhaps it’s a hangover from the day when a good job here meant being a civil servant or a professional. The restaurant industry is very young and grew very quickly, so there wasn’t enough Irish people to fill the jobs initially. But now even the third-level catering colleges can’t generate the students that we need and we need to address that,” he adds.

Healthcare professions

“THE number of dentists being trained hasn’t increased in over 20 years, leading to shortages,” Ibec’s report claims. Pharmacists, radiographers, medical practitioners and various types of therapists are also in short supply.

Applications to study dentistry have fallen by 10 per cent since 2000 and those for medicine and other healthcare have risen by about 50 per cent according to CAO figures; shortages are likely to persist.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.