Selling jobs in Cork, Limerick and Waterford

Research from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) showed that stress in the workplace has increased significantly over the past five years, which is probably a reflection of the strong recovery in the economy over that period and the consequent pressure on workers to keep up with a much busier work environment.

In addition, it is probably the case that many businesses are now finding it more difficult to recruit and retain workers in an environment where the economy is steadily moving towards full employment with all of the consequent implications for both workers and employers.

The CSO’s labour force survey last week highlighted the challenge.

In the year to September, the number of people at work in the economy increased by 66,700 or 3%, taking total employment in the economy up to a new high of 2.27m.

In the six-year period to the end of September, which effectively tracks employment growth from close to the bottom of the labour market in the third quarter of 2012 to date, the sectoral improvement in employment was very broadly based.

Total employment in the six-year period increased by 386,200, which is an impressive growth rate of just over 20%.

Not too surprisingly, the construction sector leads the way with the creation of 63,700 jobs, accounting for over 16% of the overall increase.

The accommodation and food services sector came in second place, with an increase of 53,800 in employment, accounting for almost 14% of the total.

The reduced Vat rate was very supportive of job creation in that sector. Industry jobs came in third, at 51,800.

The growth rate in public sector employment was considerably lower.

Interestingly, two sectors actually recorded a decline in employment over that period.

Total employment in the agriculture, forestry and fishing sector declined by 5,200 and employment in the financial, insurance and real estate sector declined by 2,300.

In the case of agriculture, it may be the case that employment in the sector was statistically overstated back in 2012 due to survey anomalies.

But, it is probably also the case that it is proving much more difficult to attract employees into what is a tough working environment, and farmers are being forced to achieve increased labour saving efficiencies.

In the financial services sector, the big theme over the past number of years has been consolidation and reducing the exposure of customers to staff.

It is now quite a challenge to go into a bank and meet a person, unless it is one directing you to a machine.

For the Irish economy in general and the business sector in particular, it is clear that labour shortages will become a constraint on growth and a significant challenge over the next couple of years.

Last week, the ESRI suggested that we would have to import workers to deliver the level of housing supply that is required over the coming years.

The problem with this notion is that these workers will have to be given accommodation.

It is also the case that employers are experiencing considerable difficulties and delays in getting work permits for staff coming in from outside the EU.

It is surely not beyond the ingenuity of our policymakers to provide solutions to the accommodation needs of incoming workers, and more particularly the work permit delays.

It is essential for future economic prosperity.

One of the other interesting aspects of the labour force survey was the regional disparity in labour market performance.

In the third quarter, the average unemployment rate across the State stood at 6%.

However, this varies from a low of 4.9% in the south-west to a high of 8.6% in the south-east.

These variations in unemployment rates are another indication of the regional economic development challenges facing policymakers.

It is not correct to suggest that the current rising economic tide is not lifting all boats.

It is clear from anecdotal and real evidence that the whole country is steadily improving on a range of indicators.

But, there are still considerable disparities.

Given the obvious congestion now being experienced in the Greater Dublin Area, a more serious effort has to be made to sell the wares of towns and cities such as Limerick, Cork, Athlone, Kilkenny and Waterford as locations for job creation.


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