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The Monday Interview: “It’s a great time for graduates and people starting out, the world really is their oyster.”



There has never been a better time to be a graduate of the science, technology, engineering, and maths (Stem) disciplines — but personality and character go an awful long way also, according to managing partner of recruitment firm Fastnet - The Talent Group.

Headquartered in Little Island, Co Cork, Fastnet was founded in 1999 by Niamh O’Driscoll and her father Pat O’Driscoll, a decades-long veteran of management in Cork’s most lucrative sector, pharmaceuticals.

A real family affair, Ms O’Driscoll’s sister Eimhín Russell is also a partner, having joined the business in 2002.

The team of expert consultants in Fastnet provides a diverse portfolio of talent to many leading multinational and indigenous firms, and while many elements of business has changed in the past two decades, the focus of Fastnet has not, says Ms O’Driscoll.

“Over the last 20 years or so it has been a niche focus, both in terms of the sector that we serve but also how we go about our business.

“We offer that deeper strategic support to the companies that we work with, and we now offer end-to-end talent solution to organisations.

“What do I mean by that? It’s not just about attracting and recruiting the right talent into the organisation. It’s after that.”

It doesn’t end when an employee has found a job, or the company has filled a role, says Ms O’Driscoll. “Do the employees in your organisation have a real connection to the work they are doing, are they engaged, are they productive? Is the leadership strong enough in the organisation?

“It’s really looking at all the elements from the talent acquisition of attracting the talent into the company, to how they are developed, managed, and engaged, to ultimately retained. We’re excited about offering an end-to-end consultancy service to clients.

“It’s really about adding value towards optimising their talent outcomes, which is very much linked towards competitive advantage, ultimately to bottom-line results.”

Now is the time for graduates to grasp the opportunities out there, says Ms O’Driscoll.

“The likes of UCC and CIT are hugely important.

“We would get quite involved in giving career advice and presentations to students in specific faculties that are relevant. We would attend careers fairs in Dublin, Cork, Waterford and Galway.

“There is no doubt there are some really super graduates coming out of those universities. It’s making the dots join in terms of collaboration between third level and industry, which is very important.

“In one sense, it’s never been a better time for graduates. In our day, a lot of people were siloed — you were an accountant or journalist or recruiter or whatever.

“Most of our kids now will have three, four, five careers. That’s the way the world of work is changing. You have to be positive in the way that you view it.”

What is becoming more and more apparent is that as well as qualifications and raw ability, the skill of relating to those around you is vital.

Ms O’Driscoll says: “STEM being so important, we all know there is a major shortage of skills and attracting graduates is very important. But with a lot of work being automated in the future, some of the softer skills are going to be really crucial — emotional intelligence, leadership agility, communication. That’s something that people don’t necessarily focus on.

“A lot of us can acquire those skills through life and work experience. You can’t underestimate the value of those skills in a world where a big percentage of work can be handed over to robots, you really have to look at the opportunities in the human aspects of work. It’s where we can all add value.

“A lot of that is through being able to develop your interpersonal skills. It’s not necessarily going to be the people who get straight-A grades.”

In an increasingly automated world, creativity is coveted, says Ms O’Driscoll.

“One of the most sought-after skills in the future is going to be creativity. Things are changing so fast, we have to be able to innovate, we have to be able to think differently.

“No matter what business you are in, there is always someone out there who has a way of doing it better.

“A lot of those skills may be perceived as softer but are going to be crucial in the future.

“Even law or accountancy or traditional careers like that, a lot of the more straightforward work will be automated, so you have to ask what value can you add. That is the human side of it.

“For future leaders, those skills in addition to doing your technical career in college, will be crucial. It’s not only about the qualification but the person.”

Embrace the challenge head on and make yourself valuable, advises Ms O’Driscoll. “It’s a great time for graduates and people starting out, because the world really is their oyster.”

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