Fujitsu has to recruit most of its PhD-level employees from abroad. Eh, so what? We’re in a globalised world aren’t we? They say there is a “disconnect” between Irish universities and professional research. First thing I’d say to them is: “Put your money where your mouth is and start connecting with the universities”. In all the years I’ve worked in the university sector, I’ve never seen companies make a serious and prolonged effort to engage with education, either at third level, or at fourth level. They fund very little research – most funding is provided by the taxpayer. So the Fujitsus of this world want the taxpayer to channel scare resources into research programs that suit them. The business world ‘bangs on’ about the need for young graduates to have initiative, to be self-starters and creative thinkers. Where’s theirs? This whinging is going on for years.
Indeed, I’d love to know what Fujitsu does to engage with kids at second level. If companies like this are seriously concerned with recruiting Irish people, they need to drive a process in which young people become aware of what the technology sector has to offer career-wise. I have very little idea what a PhD in Fujitsu would do and I’ve a PhD in chemical engineering. How is a 19 year-old supposed to have a clue? Most youngsters leave school with very little knowledge of a whole range of careers and inevitably go for the devil they know.
The pharmaceutical companies are equally prone to whinging. Their expenditure on sales and marketing is enormous. Have a read of Ben Goldacre’s book Bad Pharma and you’ll see what I mean. Why won’t they put some their huge marketing resources into the education system? Instead of spending money ‘educating’ (i.e. influencing) doctors, why not try to educate youngsters. Self interest, that’s why.
A second point I think needs to be raised is a demographic one. Ireland is a small country. We have a limited capacity to produce large numbers of PhD-level graduates. Increasing the funding available and tinkering with stipends can only achieve so much. I have talked about this before, but not everybody is capable of studying to PhD level. To assume that we can increase numbers willy-nilly and maintain the same standard is a fallacy.
Finally, an argument that annoys me, even though I’m an engineer, is one that implies that studying the humanities is somehow a waste of time and resources. It’s a cliché but a country is not an economy. If large numbers of people want to study the arts, or history or sociology, then surely that is their right. The idea that we should re-program our kids in some way so that they are channelled into technology jobs is ludicrous. People like to study subjects with a human element. It is quite natural for a person to aspire to working as a social worker in a deprived community rather than writing computer code all day.
Multinationals and policy makers need to start adopting a slightly more humble tone. They need to recognise that certain types of job might be inherently less attractive to young people and they need to pull out all the stops to attract people who have an innate interest and aptitude for science and technology. So, stop whinging and use your initiative.