How Ireland can nurture a generation of blockchain professionals

This isn’t a lofty ambition – there’s already a groundswell of momentum behind the technology.

By Emma Walker MD, Wachsman Ireland

SIMILAR TO HOW the internet lit up the 1990s, we are now witnessing the emergence of another groundbreaking technology – blockchain.

Described as a global game-changer and the next great enabler of cross-sectoral innovation, blockchain is the underlying technology behind bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

A distributed ledger, blockchain is simply a digital, chronological and immutable record of transactions.

However, as blockchain technology is still very much in its nascent stage, the industry is inevitably confronting a shortage of blockchain workers such as analysts, developers, coders and engineers.

If efforts are made now to nurture a new generation of blockchain literate professionals, Ireland’s robust tech credentials will be copper-fastened, and swathes of workers will be able to forge dynamic, fulfilling careers in an evolving industry — while giving them the chance to take part in the movement towards decentralisation.

This isn’t a lofty ambition; there is already a groundswell of momentum behind the blockchain revolution in Ireland.

As far back as May 2016, Deloitte Blockchain Labs revealed plans to build a team of 50 people in Dublin. So far this year, Mastercard, ConsenSys and ourselves here at Wachsman all announced blockchain-related jobs in the capital.

Demand for blockchain technology experts is skyrocketing both in Ireland and abroad.

From startups to multinational corporations to PR agencies – companies operating in the space cannot hire quickly enough, but finding the talent remains a key challenge.

Exciting opportunity

The elevation of blockchain careers in Ireland can showcase exciting new employment opportunities and strengthen Ireland’s tech credentials.

Blockchain can be a source of inspiration for new entrants to the workplace, while also providing an exciting option for workers keen to redirect their career trajectories towards a new and innovative sector.

The pursuit of stimulating employment opportunities is a major motivation behind workers’ decisions to leave for greener pastures.

For many, Ireland’s job market doesn’t adequately cater to their aspirations and career goals. If Ireland goes ‘all in’ with blockchain technology, we can create an employment landscape on a par with elite world cities such as New York, London and Hong Kong.

We are in the era of the ‘career portfolio’ in which many workers value job satisfaction ahead of job security, contributing to a fluid jobs market with many workers moving on after two to three years of service.

Speaking from experience, a blockchain career can become the highly coveted opportunity that delivers new levels of innovation and job satisfaction for a myriad of cross-sectoral workers – but getting to this stage will require a concerted effort from educational institutions and the business community.

Education

So how can Ireland make a career in blockchain more attractive?

Well, it starts with an education system that evolves in tandem with the latest innovative technologies. This is the key to unlocking the full potential of blockchain technology.

As the power of blockchain will continue to extend to a wide variety of sectors, far beyond computer science, business, or even technology degrees — it is crucial to take steps now to facilitate the emergence of these additional employment areas.

People hear the word ‘blockchain’ and automatically think of technical developers, programmers, and coders. And while these roles are naturally prominent within the space, there are incredible opportunities for workers from a wide variety of disciplines.

While blockchain-specific college courses will take time to become embedded in mainstream institutions, short-term education on the subject is important too.

Additionally, developing skills through initiatives in which employees avail of short-term blockchain courses can help nurture interest in the sector.

While incorporating blockchain technology in our education system is intrinsically linked to its smooth ascent into the mainstream, Ireland’s business community has a role to play in making this vision a reality.

We are beginning to see blockchain being embraced at a national level with Enterprise Ireland recently announcing a new €750,000 fintech and deep-tech fund to support emerging technologies including fintech, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things (IoT) and blockchain.

This is a positive stepping stone and gives expression to the government’s firm belief in the long-term viability of the technology.

Advice

If I could give one piece of advice to people trying to hire in the blockchain space, it would be to remember that the background knowledge and education is not there yet and we can’t expect people to understand the nitty-gritty of blockchain right now.

Ireland proudly boasts one of the largest, brightest and most educated workforces in the world, and we should be looking at people from all kinds of different backgrounds — finance, economics, journalism, technology, education, and healthcare — and taking a chance on them.

At the heart of blockchain is a globalised, decentralised community of people who want to make the world a better place by powering a movement around decentralisation. As a nation, Ireland has a lot in common with the blockchain community and so it’s important that we use that to our benefit.

In my eyes, what Ireland needs to do now is show confidence in the technology as a lodestar for future innovation in our country.

This can only be done if the small, medium and big players pull together — from national government to local authorities, multinationals to startups, along with educational institutions — in order for blockchain to flourish.

Emma Walker is managing director of Wachsman PR Ireland.

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