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Engineers may see the rising sun

27 Feb 2018

Cathal O Donnell

We recently did a survey with a number of Irish engineers on the reasons for deciding not to come home to Ireland. With the changes in the economy and the media constantly telling us that we are out of recession, why is now not the ideal time to come back to the “auld sod”? Our survey turned up some very interesting reasons, most being obvious, and some that varied between lifestyle and career. The possibility of “getting a job” wasn’t a barrier as people feel there are jobs here. However, are they the right jobs? Ireland has a lot to offer people at the moment but here are the main areas of concern for Irish professionals abroad who are considering coming home.

Cost of living

Ireland has, for a long time been regarded as an expensive place to live. On European standards, Eurostat show Irish prices for a broad cross-section of consumer goods and services were the second highest in the European Union. On a global scale, Ireland was ranked 25th.

High costs across areas such as:

  • Insurance: You have to consider car, house and health. However if you’re out of the country for any longer than a year, then you’re treated as having no record of insurance and the premiums are therefore sky high
  • 3rd level education
  • Consumer goods: groceries and general day to day food consumption
  • Travel
  • Fuel

Tax

Ireland’s high tax rates and particularly USC are a real deterrent when deciding to return. Taxes and wages go hand in hand and places like the UAE, a PAYE tax haven, are seen as more favourable as you get in your hand what you’ve actually worked for. Costs are high from a tax perspective however, the perception that you are limiting your tax obligation makes it a lot easier for people to “live well, save well”.  Canada on the other hand offsets its tax system with very high wages, again making it easier to think for the future.

In Ireland the recent water charges and housing tax were also mentioned

Wages

As mentioned above, tax and wages are very closely linked. There is the perception that engineers in Ireland are not paid on the same scale as their global counterparts. One individual cited the length of time it takes to get chartered related to that of a financial/banking professional qualifying and the salaries in both professions, the financial ones being significantly higher. Also, engineers get better salaries overseas, it’s a fact. There is a major disparity in salaries for civil engineers in Ireland v’s Australia.

Housing

Housing is a very hot topic in the Irish economy at the moment. The shortage of housing and apartments to rent in places such Dublin is at a very worrying level. Rents are high, I know this from my own experience, and the competition is simply hiking the price up and up. Deposits can be hard to come by and people have lost out on accommodation by simply not having the money to put down to secure the premises.

Also, one thing to bear in mind as well is that, if someone has been living outside the state for over 2 years, it can be hard to get a bank account/mortgage/car insurance etc, making it even more difficult to secure accommodation in a desired location. As a result, people are now buying further out and suffering the dreaded commute on trains and motorways. With this increase in fuel cost, again people are suffering, not to mention the health implications that long commutes can have.

Healthcare

The Irish healthcare system is widely documented in the media as being a crisis point. Every day we see higher numbers of people on trollies across all hospitals in Ireland. As the media publicise this to the diaspora, there is a widespread feeling that coming home to Ireland is a risk, especially for people with families and young children.

Transferable skills

As people had to travel for work in the downturn, they also had to adapt to their surroundings and to the work available. People who travelled to Canada, GCC or Australia have now gained valuable engineering experience however, this experience could be in the Oil & Gas or Mining sectors. Both sectors are not vibrant in Ireland so the lure to advance your career in Ireland is limited. Employers who are looking to recruit don’t always see this experience as valuable or transferable. They tend to focus on the exact skill type needed, thus limiting opportunities for a return.

The above seemed to be the major reason people are reluctant to come home to Ireland. Other areas such as faith in the government, the weather and threat of a future crash and the implication of Brexit on Europe were mentioned but it seems that people are still wounded from the difficulties they endured during the downturn. Sometime the grass is greener, or is it?

Speaking from my own experience, I lived overseas for nearly 4 years. I wanted to come home so I came home. I had to come to that decision myself. It wasn’t for money or to buy a house, it was because I’m Irish and I wanted to live in Ireland. Yes, the weather is poor and the taxes are high but I’m ok with that. Until you come to that conclusion, maybe overseas is better. But should that day come in the future, you’ll be welcomed with open arms.

Cathal O Donnell is Manager of Brightwater’s Engineering division – c.odonnell@brightwater.ie