I give speeches and courses on all matters to do with careers and employment, and most people have been surprised by the data I provide and the advice that I give… because I’m very positive about Ireland and the future of the country. Ireland has faced things in the last few years that only a few other developed countries have faced. We have not been helped by policy, or an almost comically negative media. However, our biggest asset remains, and that is the Irish people who have shown courage and determination to win through. Whatever the ups and downs, in the long run, it all boils down to people and we will not be beaten.
The economy has faced incredible challenges and the debt burden will remain for the foreseeable future. What we have to do is understand and accept that a national debt is here to stay. No country ever fully repays a national debt, what happens is the debt is managed. First, we have to get it to a sensible level – and the next 3 years will be a challenge, but then, as the economy grows and inflation occurs, the debt of x billion does not appear so large e.g. your €100,000 mortgage taken out in 1980 is massive, but the same €100,000 mortgage by 2000 is small and manageable.
There are some particularly difficult sectors, but most are now doing fine. In most of the country, property prices have stabilised and this will continue so that some people will be brave enough to buy again and will make good money (have you tried finding a decent property let in Dublin or Cork recently)?! But let’s not get carried away by illusion again, barring the odd test case, there’s no such thing as ‘easy money’ and there never was. Anyone who is successful has to work very hard, and they always did.
The Construction industry is in trouble and there are quality people unable to find work. However, in almost no other fields is this the case. There has been a massive pick-up in IT, Accountancy, Pharmaceuticals, Insurance, Supply Chain – even Legal, Human Resources, Retail and Banking have seen a pick-up. The facts are that the Live Register increased by only 13,000 last year and emigration is expected to be 50,000 to April 2011 (70,000 to April 2010). Much better than expected and no doubt the next 12 months will be better again. The last quarter of 2010 saw growth in professional employment, so that any employer of white-collar staff is in the same boat as their international counter parts… they face a skills shortage.
Irish business people recognise opportunity and in a very recent survey by Grant Thornton (conducted worldwide), just 21% of Irish businesses are optimistic about the Irish economy, but 73% expect their own businesses to increase, or stay the same in 2011! In other words, there is a big discrepancy between what people are seeing in the own businesses as how they perceive the whole and this is a nonsense. If 73% of businesses do the same or better in 2011, then it will be a good year for Ireland Inc! Indeed, the business confidence index increased to + 13 in Q4 2011 which is best for almost 3 years.
Salaries and remuneration have gone down in Ireland over the last 3 years, but the amount has varied incredibly. Some companies and sectors have continued to give pay rises – like IT and pharmaceuticals, but most others have taken a pay drop. The overall drop is about 5%, so while Ireland has dropped 5%, the outside world has risen about 5% giving us a 10% competitive advantage. What this means is that Irish salaries are now only 20% higher than the cheapest Europeans in NI and Poland, and 20% cheaper than the more expensive Europeans like the English and Benelux. In some areas, like Legal, a recently qualified solicitor in Dublin will be paid up to €40,000 where in London they can get up to €50,000. I think Ireland is set about right now, but with salaries expected to rise by only 0.4% in Ireland in 2011 versus over 2% in Europe as a whole, we’re going to need to start paying again soon lest we lose our top talent, which so far has remained in Ireland.
Where everyone was once flooding into Construction and Engineering, they’re now flooding into IT. The way to address most trends is counter-cyclical. For example, in the 1990’s with the dot com everyone wanted into IT, then after the dot com collapse in 2000 people moved into other areas… so that by 2009 when thousands in Ireland were losing their jobs, it was reckoned there were consistently over 7,000 unfilled IT vacancies in Ireland. When I advise a young person what they should study at University, I’m happy to advise things like construction, legal, finance and banking because by the time that young solicitor qualifies, Ireland will be booming again and there will be a dearth of recently qualified solicitors and that young solicitor will be in very high demand! The only sectors that I would never bet against would be pharmaceuticals (people always get sick), food (people always eat) and IT. IT is simply going up and up because every country, sector, company et al are ever increasingly using IT. My only worry with IT is that it evolves so quickly, so that unless you are ready and able to keep up with the rapid changes you can be left behind, and younger people are usually more adept at change than older people.
I would bet my future on Ireland! I read the International Herald Tribune, Wall Street journal and Financial Times and it is interesting to note how differently they view Ireland from afar than we do up front. They talk about a fundamentally strong economy that has just suffered a housing bubble collapse… leading to banking and national debt. They differ Ireland’s economy from Portugal, Greece and Spain who have fundamentally weak economies. Here are a few reminders of the reasons they have confidence in Ireland’s future:
- Number of companies investing in Ireland for the first time up 20% in 2010.
- 9 of the world’s top 10 software companies have substantial operations in Ireland.
- World’s No.1 provider of employable graduates (EU commission study Nov 2009).
- 1st for FDI and Corporate Tax regime (2009 Global Innovation Survey).
- 1st for investment incentives (IMD 2010).
- 1st for immigration laws that allow companies to employ international skilled labour.
- 1st in Eurozone countries for doing business (Forbes 2010).
- 2nd most globalised economy (EIU / E&Y 2011).
- Plus we have great people… young, well-educated, flexible, multi-lingual and growing.
- One of the most attractive corporate tax and R&D investment rates.
- A pro business environment – for example our employment laws remain flexibly balanced between employer and employee and this remains a massive incentive for US companies who worry about the labour laws in most of Europe.
- English speaking and part of the euro-zone.