Companies shouldn't be afraid of upskilling, even if it makes their employees more marketable
Blogs | 15 Aug 2012 :
I was very pleased to see the story last week reporting that Datapac had reached the milestone of recruiting the 100th student (Gavin Downey, a multimedia student from Waterford IT) to its work placement graduate programme
According to Datapac, it has invested over €1 million in the initiative since 2004 and plans to put in €145,000 this year with 13 students on the placement scheme. Spending that much money at a time when things are so tough in the wider economy is a clear indication of the scheme's value to Datapac.
Through the work placement programme, the company has established strong links with a number of third level institutions around Ireland including Waterford IT, DCU, NUIG, UCC and NUI Maynooth.
And there's no doubt the initiative works. Former work placement student, Shane Molloy, who is now a network engineer with the Datapac professional services team, said the programme has given him "the opportunity to apply all the theory I was studying and put it into practice. I have been working with Datapac for six years now and I am still grateful for the work placement programme, as it not only introduced me to my future employer but provided me with the rounded experience I needed to be a fully qualified IT professional".
Speaking of the scheme, Datapac general manager for service delivery Karen O'Connor said: "The talent of some of the students coming through our third level colleges is very exciting and we have been delighted to be able to offer some of these exceptional individuals full-time employment. They have repaid us by becoming some of our greatest assets over the years."
To me, a graduate placement scheme makes perfect sense. In an earlier column I argued that "the IT industry is no different to the shipbuilding industry of yesteryear or any other skilled trade, so it surprises me that so few offer "apprenticeships" to help train the staff of tomorrow. It reflects an endemic short-sightedness, I suppose, on behalf of the IT industry, a sense that it is better and cheaper to buy in or poach skills from somebody or somewhere else than develop them in-house."
The problem is that far too many companies go for the option of buying in or poaching skills from somewhere else rather than training people themselves. I know the arguments as to why this is the case. IT is a fast moving industry and companies can't afford to take the time training people with the skills they need. Then there's the fear that a company could spend a lot of time, effort and resources on training someone only to have them poached by a rival. Very few could afford that to happen and even fewer would be inclined to start all over again if it did occur. No surprise, then, that short-termism is the norm.
But as I stated previously, there is an irony that an industry built on technology which effectively helped end the practice of people staying at a single company for their working career and learning more skills as they progressed should suffer the consequences itself. That's what makes the involvement of a company like Datapac in a graduate work placement programme so heartening. O'Connor says Datapac began the programme "to give something back to the local communities in which we operate and found it to be extremely successful for both Datapac and the students. We are fully committed to continuing to grow this programme over the coming years."
While I'm sure Datapac is not the only ICT company involved in providing a graduate work placement scheme, I would hope a lot more get involved in this type of initiative. Given the times that are in it, this could well be an opportune moment to start one. Anything that keeps graduates in the country and gives them the training to qualify for potential jobs in Ireland would be a welcome development.