Forum: 'Lucre of the Irish' holds lessons for NZ

I'd glibly ascribed Ireland's success to its membership of the EU

As Napoleon Dynamite said, “You’ve gotta have skills.” Napoleon was talking about skills such as nunchuku, bow hunting and computer hacking, but we’ll concentrate on the last category for now.

I’ve been asking a few industry types about the kind of IT skills you’ve got to have and been getting some pretty diverse answers. It seems as if just about every category from core development to business analysis is in demand right now. In that respect things don’t seem to have changed much since Computerworld probed these shortages last July.

Then, AUT’s Tony Clear said there was strong demand for Java, C# and .Net, web services and SQL server, Oracle and other database skills, Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP, web design and usability skills. On the business side, he said business systems analysis, project management, software architecture, systems and network administration, analysis and design, operations service planning, delivery and management and business intelligence were also in demand.

That doesn’t really leave a lot. However, when you consider a May 2007 survey by the Department of Labour that showed ICT job vacancies in Auckland quadrupling in four years, that should not be too surprising.

Now, vendors and analysts alike are suggesting these shortages have reached the point where New Zealand’s economic growth could be affected. I’d like to suggest it already is and has been for a long time.

I was listening to a podcast recently which analysed Ireland’s phenomenal success over the last 15 years. Like many people, I’d glibly ascribed Ireland’s success to its membership of the EU and the subsidy gravy-train that followed.

However, a far more sophisticated analysis from the BBC’s “Thinking Allowed” podcast provides some ideas for New Zealand to ponder. The show featured commentary from John Murray Brown, who wrote an article titled “Lucre of the Irish” for Prospect recently and Roy Foster, author of Luck of the Irish and professor of Irish history at Oxford University.

Irish economic growth has averaged 7.2% over the last decade. At one stage, one in every five jobs created in the EU zone was being created there. But that has been driven by a whole host of factors: a low tax regime, light regulation of inward investment and smart and active government activity to invite such investment and make it feel welcome.

But one of the most startling figures revealed in the podcast is that over the past 30 years, the number of people in tertiary education in Ireland increased 20-fold. Coupled with that were demographic changes meaning Ireland offered a body of skilled, educated, English-speaking young people at a time when the world was getting hungry for talent.

More and more, talent is the key to economic success.

If you accept that the EU subsidies were of limited value, then the Irish model becomes much more relevant to New Zealand. And to me, a massive emphasis on multiple forms of tertiary education is the key.

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