What skills are needed in the current economic climate?

Undertaking a postgraduate programme can help you enter the labour market or diversify in other areas

The most recent Labour Force Survey for the fourth quarter of 2023 indicates that the economy remains strong, with the employment rate for people aged 15-64 years at 74 per cent. The number of persons aged 15 and over in employment increased 89,600 or 3.4 per cent to 2,706,400 persons in the 12 months to Q4 2023.

The estimated total number of hours worked per week in Q4 2023 increased by 0.3 million hours or 0.4 per cent on Q4 2022 figures to 82.5 million.

This ongoing growth is reflected in the exponential increase in corporation profits tax, particularly in the multinational sector, which has continued uninterrupted throughout 2023 notwithstanding a temporary slowdown in August/September, and into the first quarter of 2024.

The index for all persons employed increased by 3.4 per cent in the 12 months to December 2023 - the female index grew by 4 per cent while the male index rose by 2.9 per cent. Most economic sectors showed an annual increase when compared with December 2022.


How to use education to maximise your potential

As in any increasingly competitive jobs market, it is always worth considering what sets you apart from other candidates when applying for a job.

A further engagement with education as a way of entering the labour market or diversifying into other areas of economic activity will be an obvious option for many. Undertaking a postgraduate programme is one way of doing that.


Undertaking a level 9 or 10 postgraduate option is quite a commitment and will take time and money to complete. However, those completing a postgrad will have the advantage of adding a new set of cross-sectoral skills that will complement their CV and enhance their employability.

There is increasing confluence between sectors such as information and communications technology (ICT), business and engineering, which were once considered to be unique disciplines. ICT permeates all sectors of the economy and, similarly, strong business skills are relevant across many of them.

Accounting firms do not only hire accountants – they are also on the lookout for marketing, IT and engineering graduates. Arts and journalism graduates who can bring communications and social media skills are sought after by firms who need to expand their social media and online presence.

Data skills

Data analytics is now the fastest-growing skill in demand, and this is likely to continue in the years ahead. The combination of data and marketing skills is the most highly sought-after combination.

With so many people now working from home on a mix of company-owned devices along with their own equipment, there is an increased demand for dedicated cybersecurity functions within companies.

Evolving IT security threats, as seen with the cyberattack on the HSE in 2021, and Munster Technological University in 2022 magnified by the long-term shift to working from home and the corresponding need for greater data protection, is feeding demand for IT security roles. Ever-increasing investment in web-based services has created a shortage of software developers with experience in Java, NET, Python, Ruby on Rails and Scala, in particular.

The intersection between finance and technology has undergone a huge shift, which is changing the face of the financial services landscape.

With dozens of Irish start-ups operating in this area, the expectation is for significant growth in the coming years. The opportunities for hybrid professionals – graduates with skills spanning financial services and technology – will increase as the finance and technology sector sees more collaboration between Government, education and industry.

In addition to sector-specific skills, cross-sectoral employability skills are increasingly being sought by employers. These include people skills, critical/analytical thinking skills, management skills and creativity, design and innovation, entrepreneurialism, team-working, communications and business acumen. Sought-after skills also include ICT and languages.

One skill that comes with the acquisition of foreign languages is cultural awareness – something that will be vitally important in developing our markets in a post-Brexit environment.

Languages currently in demand include German, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and the Nordic languages. There is a growing demand for Mandarin as Ireland rapidly expands its trade in goods and services with China. With the inclusion of Irish as a full working language of the EU from January 2022, there are also growing opportunities for graduates with proficiency in Gaeilge.


For both undergraduates and postgrads there may be a gap between the skills employers are looking for and the skills you will be leaving college with shortly. Bridging this gap is a central focus of the Government through the Springboard+ programme.

Springboard is a strategy that targets funding of free higher education courses to enable jobseekers to upskill or re-skill in areas where there are identified labour market skills shortages or employment opportunities.

Springboard courses range from levels 6 to 9 on the National Framework of Qualifications. Courses are delivered in areas such as ICT, manufacturing, international financial services, hospitality, and entrepreneurial/business start-up skills. Work placements are offered on almost all courses.

The ICT skills conversion programme is targeted at jobseekers who already hold a level 8 or equivalent qualification and have the capacity and underlying aptitude, to undergo an intensive full-time programme of study and work experience, to acquire honours degree level ICT programming skills. The ICT skills conversion programme is also available to eligible participants on a part-time, two-year option.

Springboard courses and the ICT skills conversion programme are now run as a joint initiative under the brand Springboard+, and are free. Springboard, which incorporates Springboard courses and the full-time and part-time ICT skills conversion programme, provides for 9,266 places on over 300 courses in public and private educational institutions throughout Ireland.

All courses selected for funding under Springboard are in areas of identified enterprise skills needs. Courses were selected, following a competitive call for proposals, by an independent evaluation panel using published criteria that included value for money, flexible delivery, engagement with industry and skills relevance.

Further information on Springboard+, including entry requirements and eligibility criteria, is available on the dedicated information and applications website: springboardcourses.ie. Applications are submitted online and decisions around the award of places on the programmes are a matter for individual course providers.

Graduate recruitment and training

Every year dozens of companies, across a wide range of sectors, recruit graduates and postgraduates. A graduate training programme is a way of easing new entrants into the world of work and equipping them with the necessary skills required by the organisation.

Graduate training programmes tend to last up to two years and some will offer opportunities in different areas of the business. These programmes offer the opportunity to learn on the job, gain experience and earn money. Graduate training programmes can be a significant stepping stone to a permanent job.

Examples of graduate recruitment positions currently offered by some of Ireland’s leading companies are listed on the gradireland.com website.

Firms such as Kerry Group, Future Force, Google, Analog Devices, Aviva, IBM, SIG and AppDynamics have sought postgraduates for training roles in supply-chain management, R&D, business development, cloud technology, engineering roles in network, software, construction, financial reporting etc.

The Careers Portal website careersportal.ie also carries high-quality, up-to-date information about graduate opportunities.

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Brian Mooney

Brian Mooney

Brian Mooney is a guidance counsellor and education columnist. He contributes education articles to The Irish Times