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Monday, July 7, 2008

Jobs for the boys and girls

In what has been an appalling period for employment nationally Wexford Town appears once more to be thankfully out of step with the national mood on employment. While last week’s CSO figures on the live register show a significant local increase, the news that 2 blue chip names in financial services and soft drinks are to set up in the town holds some hope for opportunities in the town. Both Zurich and Coca Cola will roll into a town under a significantly different economic climate to that which existed just 10 years ago when Mary Harney hijacked a Coca Cola project west to shore up Beverly Flynn’s seat.

During President Reagan’s time there was a running joke that the presence of a Coca Cola factory in a country constituted a US national interest and its security a legitimate reason for invasion. However, it’s very unlikely that the US government will need to invade us as the government’s economic policy has effectively made us the 51st state of the union. Reaganomics over saw the economic expansion in some parts of the US while traditional jobs disappeared elsewhere against a background of tax cuts. Move forward 25 years and where does that remind you of? His successor George Bush presided over a downturn that elected Bill Clinton.

The prospect of Coke’s R & D being undertaken in the South East may provide a nucleus around which other R&D facilities may cluster. Zurich is not the only financial service company apparently interested in coming here and I would like to be optimistic for our prospects in employment. I believe however that these companies will bring many of their own staff with them and that directly few now on the live register here will be employed at the high end of the salary scale. Doubtless there will be a considerable additional spend in the local economies when Coke and Zurich are up and running and this will have a knock on effect on jobs elsewhere. I greatly welcome these jobs but if the government feel that this is Wexford sorted then they’ve another thing coming to them.

I’m worried that few young people now on the live register in Wexford District have the skill sets that make them employable at the upper end in terms of income in a modern economy. Wexford historically has a culture of early school leaving among males because well paid skilled jobs in engineering were available through apprenticeships. With the demise of these industries and changes in the economy as services replaced manufacturing these jobs are no gone.

This culture hasn’t changed and young people mostly males joining the workforce in Wexford are as a result disadvantaged in comparison to other parts of the country. I think there is more than just the collapse in the construction to account for Wexford District’s over representation of young males on the live register. Youth unemployment is hitting Wexford hard, 21% of those signing on are under 25. Add unemployment to consumerism, peer pressure and the cultural expectations of the values outlined above and I fear that these key factors will significantly alienate young people.

I am convinced that the government must prioritise tackling this type of disadvantage in the interest of equity in the jobs market. It’s not sustainable that 13.4% of our working population work in construction. More needs to be done to ensure stability in our jobs market, local economy and our community. We shouldn’t have to wait for years before eventually jobs are delivered for our young people, even in the case this week of Coke and Zurich it’s very much a case of better late than never.

3 comments:

Daragh said...

Joe,

What can WBC/CEB etc. do to promote an entrepreneurial culture in Wexford in non-traditional industries?

The move of R&D and innovation roles to Wexford is good, and I think that what we will see is a lot of Wexican commuters switching jobs to be closer to home, particularly people with 'niche' experience (for example someone with Financial Service compliance experience might find a role in the Zurich offices in Wexford).

But to trigger local innovation we need to build a local entrepreneur culture, and that means getting the necessary communications infrastructure in place in Wexford and its suburbs to allow innovation.

Also, it is worth looking at the interviews with James Dyson in the Sunday Business Post (if reading such a paper doesn't cause Labour Councillors to spontaneously combust) where he speaks about the need not to forget manufacturing - in terms of the design and engineering of solutions- as an area to be focussed on for economic development.

The problem that faces Wexford long term is similar to that facing communities in inner-city and north-side Dublin where there may be generations of early school-leaving builders (or in the Dublin case, unemployed) in a family and there are limited role-models of alternative career paths. Creating a valid set of local role models who either stuck it out in school and became innovators or who kept with vocational learning and skills development after leaving school and became leaders/innovators is necessary to break the cycle.

Developing and supporting an entrepreneur culture based on continuous learning (and every entrepreneur I know is constantly learning new things) is a key strategy.

Joe said...

In so far as strategies to encourage entrepreneurship the local autority is limited. To develop innovation you need to be wihtin reach of the broadband MAN. The availability of broadband in Wexford is key to developing local based entrepreneurship. Our problem is that we have the MAN in place but no one is using it.
Most observers would hold R&d up as an example of the direction we should be going as it can encourage 4th level education. National investment in R&D is well below the European average. Only a change in government priorities can deliver more R&D jobs.

To point up the challenge we face, can you name the junior minister wiht the specific responsibility for R&D, the last one that I can remember is Pat Rabbitte and that wasn't yesterday.

Daragh said...

If by R&D you mean "rumour mill and dissent", I'm sure there are a few Juniors who've taken that on for themselves.

But in terms of having a Government level leadership in terms of a strategy for R&D, I have to agree.. a google search for "minister of state r&D" turned up nowt. R&D strategy seems to be in the hands of Enterprise Ireland, but their modus operandi doesn't always suit the small inventive start up.

The next big question is why the MAN isn't being used in Wexford. A simple additional piece of infrastructure (a whacking great mast) in the Ardcavan industrial estate would allow the MAN to be used to plug the wireless broadband coverage hole east of the Slaney, and possibly at much faster speeds than currently available. Using the MAN as the backhaul rather than ESB, 'traditional' telcos would surely bring value for money to that project, improved comms infrastructure for Wexford town, and support development of 'knowledgework' businesses on the periphery of Wexford.

If access to State infrastructure which was built with taxpayer funding is now being priced out of the reach of the target audience, then there is something amiss with the way MANs are operated. That, combined with the difficulties getting planning permission for telecoms masts (a key part of our 'wireless' future), are big obstacles to getting decent comms connectivity and enabling innovation and a local entrepreneur culture.

Or am I just punchdrunk from early morning starts?