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.