UNEMPLOYMENT FOCUS: DAY 2 - Cork jobless total has trebled since 2005

In the second of a five-day series, Eoin English finds that the jobless figures in the Cork City area have surged to almost triple what they were in 2005.

AS THE recession bit, the sight of hundreds of people queuing outside Cork city’s dole office on Hanover Quay, the queue snaking around the corner, over Parliament Bridge, and down Wandsford Quay, became a national symbol of the depth of the jobs crisis facing the nation.

The queue was at its longest between 2009 and 2010 and while it has shortened somewhat, mostly due to emigration, there are still over 26,000 on the Live Registerin the Cork Metropolitan area — almost triple the 2005 figure.

The figure, produced by the Central Statistics Office (CSO), includes people without work, part-time workers, as well as seasonal and casual workers entitled to jobseeker’s benefit or allowance.

And figures from Census 2011 show that only 18% of unemployed people in Cork city are non-Irish, the lowest of any of the five major cities, which means that Cork has the highest number of native Irish people on the live register.

The CSO has also identified 81 electoral divisions in Ireland as unemployment black spots where the jobless rate exceeds 35%.

Over half of these were in parts of the cities of Dublin, Cork, Limerick, and Waterford.

In Cork, Knocknaheeny has been recorded as the city’s worst unemployment black spot, with 43.3% of adults describing themselves as out of work.

The CSO figures for April show that the Live Register figure for Metropolitan Cork stood at 26,082.

Most of those, 17,285, are men, with 2,579 under the age of 25.

This stands in stark contract to the 2005-figure of 9,616.

As the economy began to falter, and in line with national trends, the numbers of people on the Live Register in Cork began to soar.

The Cork Economic Monitor, which is compiled by Cork City Council, shows a surge between 2006 and 2007 when the numbers jumped an incredible 10% — from 9,166 to just over 10,000.

As the economy’s collapse continued, the figures continued to soar year-on-year. In 2008, the figures jumped 63% to 16,486 and by 57% to 25,925 in 2009.

By 2010 in the wider county area, the figures on the dole were showing the largest percentage hike of any county in the previous year.

The county figures rose from 31,535 in Jan 2009 to 44,893 in Jan 2010 — a 42% increase — outstripping the national average increase of 30%.

The figure was driven up by large increases in towns likes Bantry, which saw a 64% increase, Skibbereen, a 67% increase, and Carrigaline, a 58% increase.

The rate of increase slowed in the Cork Metropolitan area in 2010 to 1.2% to bring the Live Register figures to 26,249.

It was followed by a 1.8% decrease in 2011 when the figures dipped to 25,767 but the economic monitor which has tracked the figures for the first four months of 2012, has recorded another slight increase to 25,794.

As was the cause nationally, thousands of those who joined the dole queues in the Cork region were former construction workers.

But workers in Cork’s vital pharmaceutical sector were not immune.

While accepting volatility in this sector, business leaders point to several positive announcements they say will ensure Cork retains in lead position in the pharma industry.

A €330m investment by Eli Lilly in Feb that will create 200 permanent jobs, US pharma giant Sangart is poised to apply for planning permission for its new European headquarters in Carrigtwohill, creating 200 jobs, and BioMarin Pharmaceutical plans to create 100 jobs over the next five years at the former Pfizer facility it bought in Shanbally just over a year ago.

This view is backed by a study on 10 years of job creation conducted by Dr Chris van Egeraat and Dr Proinnsias Breathnach, lecturers in the department of geography and national institute for regional and spatial analysis at NUI Maynooth.

It shows Cork and the South West region in general, outperformed all other regions over the last decade in attracting foreign investment and holding on to its existing stock of jobs in foreign firms.

The region accounted for 16% of all employment in foreign firms in 2001, but for 21% of all jobs created by new foreign firms since then.

And, while nationally one-quarter of all foreign jobs in place in 2001 had been lost 10 years later, for the South West Region it was just 15%.

The overall result was that, while employment in foreign firms across the country fell by 8%, it actually grew by 7% in the South West.

The main focus of growth in foreign firms was in the Cork city area, with strong growth in the software, computer services, electronics and medical devices sectors.

The strong performance in electronics was noteworthy as this sector experienced heavy job losses elsewhere, the academics said.

The city is home to Apple’s European headquarters, which is planning a huge expansion at its Hollyhill plant, and is adapting city centre offices to accommodate more staff.

Other leading companies based here include Big Fish Games, Solar Winds, Quest and McAfee.

In 2011, a survey by South and East Cork Area Development (SECAD) of employment opportunities and training needs of 301 local employers, highlighted a need for an increase in skills in the pharma and biopharma, ICT and business and financial services sectors.

With eight of the top 10 global pharmaceutical companies located in south and east Cork, it identified the need for graduates with engineering, scientific, technician and purchasing skills, and an increased demand for those qualified to masters and PhD level.

The ICT sector identified a sustained shortage of software engineers, computer analysts and programmers, while business and financial services saw the long-term need to develop people with high-level mathematical skills critical to areas such as actuarial science, quantitative finance, regulation, compliance and risk-management.

City GAA clubs hit as players emigrate

The wave of youth emigration which has devastated rural GAA clubs in previous years is now beginning to hit city clubs too.

As well as losing some of its brightest rising stars, the GAA is also losing those poised to take over club coaching and administration in the years ahead.

“It’s a throw-back to the 1950s. Even parents are telling their children to go now, to make better lives for themselves,” said Cork’s St Vincent’s GAA club stalwart, Thomas Gould.

“We are losing the cream of GAA talent, in the 21- to 25-year age group. These are the guys who would have provided the backbone of a club for the next 10 years.

“A few years ago, you could tell a young fella that there was a chance of getting a job but you can’t give them a solution now.”

And he said the pattern is being repeated right across the city’s GAA clubs, including the great nursery of Cork football, Nemo Rangers.

The Sinn Féin councillor, who is based in Gurranabraher, represents the city’s north-central ward, where unemployment has hit hard.

The CSO’s small population area statistics, drawn from the 2011 census, show that in the Gurranabraher A electoral area, 101 people were out of work with just 198 at work. The unemployment problem in the Gurranabraher B electoral area is worse — with 90 people out of work, compared to just 148 at work.

Mr Gould says because the scourge of emigration is now being felt in affluent areas as well as in traditional working class areas, the knock-on effects are being felt on the city’s GAA pitches.

It’s the younger generation — those without kids or mortgages — that are leaving.

“These are people who want to work,” he said.

“You try to be optimistic but the young people aren’t fools.

“They are educated people who want to make lives for themselves and they just can’t do it here at the moment.”

St Vincent’s alone has lost some of its rising young stars to emigration in recent years.

He cites examples like dual star Anthony Fenton, who played football with the Cork minors and U-21s, and who had also made it on to the senior football panel.

Peter Daly was a sub on the both the Cork minor hurling and football teams. Another player, Frank Murphy, played minor hurling and junior football for Cork, before emigrating. He is home for a few weeks waiting on a permanent visa for Australia.

Another promising Vincent’s player, James Long, left for England straight out of college.

But it’s not just the loss of the ‘star’ players that’s hitting city clubs — it’s the loss of great ‘club players’ too.

“We’ve lost about 10 of that type of player. They are the future coaches of the underage teams, the future selectors, the future club secretaries and chairman,” Mr Gould says.

“It’s great to have great players but you need good club men to make administrators too.”

Ex-Vita Cortex boss finds experience counts for little

After 37 years of loyal service to the same company, Greg Marshall is experiencing his first taste of unemployment.

The 54-year-old father of two, from Fair Hill in Cork, began working for the Cork-based foam manufacturing factory, Vita Cortex, straight from school, when he was just 17.

He rose through the ranks to become its dispatch, production and transport manager, overseeing a wide range of functions.

But Greg was among dozens of workers who lost their jobs when the factory shut last December.

He and his colleagues made history by staging one of the longest sit-ins in Irish industrial relations history in pursuit of redundancy payments. The sit-in, which made international news, ended in May when the workers voted to accept a resolution.

“The last few months were tough, but I loved working there,” Greg says. “You don’t spend 37 years in the same place unless you love it. I stayed there right through the Celtic Tiger era when you could walk out of a job on a Friday, and into a new job on a Monday.

“I went from almost 60 hours a week to nothing,” he says. “The biggest problem was adjusting to the new routine. I was always up at 6am, I’d have my breakfast and listen to the radio. I still wake at 6am. The latest I’d sleep in would be 7am. It’s hard to change the routine after 37 years.”

Greg has spent the last few weeks searching online for jobs in production or logistics.

But it can be a lonely, and at times annoying process, for someone of his age, he says. Given his background in production, warehousing and logistics, he has experience for several advertised jobs, but he has been precluded from even consideration because he doesn’t have a third-level qualification.

“I was even told by one person that I was too experienced.

“It’s soul destroying to see third-level degrees being put above experience, but I’m willing to work, and to put in a hard shift. After the Vita Cortex sit-in, finding a job should be OK.”

‘It’s very demoralising. You get to the stage where you’re close to giving up’

Like so many others, Margaret O’Keeffe, 50, lost her accounts job in a construction-related business in Dec 2008 as the construction industry collapsed and the economy began to falter.

It was a real shock for her, given her background.

“I’ve always worked,” Margaret says.

“I’ve been working since I was 15 or 16. My parents were self-employed and I worked for them before I got the job in accounts payable.”

Within six months of losing her job, Margaret, who lives in Bishopstown, Cork, got a temporary job in a call centre, which lasted 13 weeks.

She has been looking for something more permanent, and more suitable to her skills and experience ever since.

“I was out of work for 12 months and was close to just giving up,” Margaret says. “It is very demoralising. You get to the stage where you’re close to giving up.

“One day you’ll say ‘I’m giving up and I’ll start again tomorrow’.

“There are a lot of pyjamas days when you say you couldn’t be arsed, but I just couldn’t give up. It’s just not in my breeding.”

Despite her accounting experience, most of the accounts-related jobs she applied for required someone with accounting technician qualifications.

Margaret has since completed two Fás courses to update her skills as she continues looking for work.

She has also completed the Cork Job Club course, which she said gave her a reason to get up in the morning, and get organised.

She is now a third of the way through a nine-month internship with the Money Advice and Budgeting Service.

She jumped at the chance given her accounting experience, and because it would look good on a CV for future employers.

But the future remains uncertain, with no permanent job prospects on the horizon.

Margaret says life on the dole is tough for someone who can and wants to work.

“They shouldn’t be crucifying us,” she says.

“I would plead with the Government not to cut social welfare rates in the December budget.”

‘There is not a thing for young people in this country anymore’

After 18 months on the dole, plasterer Michael O’Callaghan, 25, has made the tough decision to emigrate to Australia.

“I just have to go. And my mother wants me to go. She says there’s nothing here for me,” he said.

Michael is from Killala Gardens in Knocknaheeny, on the northside of Cork City — described by the CSO as one of country’s worst unemployment black spots.

Dozens of unemployed people from his neighbourhood have already made new lives for themselves in Australia.

“Loads of my neighbours and most of my best friends are all in Australia. Every time they ring, they say ‘come over’,” he said.

He will pack one suitcase and set off for Perth with his girlfriend on Sept 21.

While he has a job in construction already lined up, his girlfriend, who works in a shop in Cork City, has yet to find a job.

The couple will stay with friends for the first few weeks until they find somewhere to rent.

“We’re going to give it a year at least, and if I like it, I’ll stay.”

Michael started a four-year plastering apprenticeship after leaving Farranferris school at the height of the building boom.

Once he finished his time, he began work almost immediately with a local plastering contractor.

Working with a team of up to six men around his age, Michael said they were always busy. “We were working six and sometimes up to seven days a week. We were making great money.”

They were working on a school in Limerick as the construction industry ground to a halt.

Michael said the contractor he was working for had no option but to let his team go.

“It was horrible. There wasn’t anything he could do. The work just wasn’t there any more.

“He might have had some small jobs here and there, just enough for himself, but he just couldn’t afford to keep us on.”

Michael has tried to get work over the past 18 months but there has been nothing available for him and he began drawing the dole.

Some friends of his, who also worked in construction, got work with firms such as Apple. Howe-ver, Michael said that while they got 18-month contracts, most were let go within a few months.

For someone like Michael, who has always worked, life on the dole has been tough. “It’s been mad, just trying to keep my mind going. You have nothing to do. You could be up all night watching TV and sleeping all day.”

He considered emigrating two years ago but scrapped his plans when his younger brother, Derry, was killed in a car crash. He felt he could not leave his mother at that traumatic time for the family.

However, he said his mother has in recent months told him that it would be better for him if going to Australia meant he’d get work. “It’s going to be difficult. My sister has young kids, and I’ll miss them all. But I just have to go,” he said.

He criticised the Government and said it was “not looking after young people”.

“There is nothing, not a thing, for young people in this country anymore,” he said.

Hi-tech worker visas ‘would make Ireland Silicon Valley of EU’

The Government must open the nation’s borders and introduce a hi-tech worker visa programme as a first step towards getting the country back to work, says tech entrepreneur Sean O’Sullivan.

The US-born, Irish-based businessman, who is one of the investors on RTÉ’s Dragon Den, said he has been encouraged by the signs coming from Government since he delivered a landmark ‘call to action’ at the Digital Ireland Forum in Dublin in March.

But he said the Government’s job creation policies must be backed up with action.

“I have been getting all sorts of encouraging reports and signs since that speech,” Mr O’Sullivan said.

“The Government is receptive, but what matters is action and it needs to happen yesterday.”

Mr O’Sullivan has founded several technology companies and organisations, including MapInfo, a $200 million software and services business with its HQ in New York State. He established Avego Ltd in Kinsale, Co Cork, a small technology firm with offices in China and the US. He is also managing director of SOSventures International, which has invested in Silicon Republic; in Harmonix, the creator of Guitar Hero; in Netflix, the entertainment distribution company; and in net.Genesis, an early internet company.

He was invited to address the Digital Ireland Forum last March setting out a vision for an “open Ireland”, and he proposed three strategies that would position Ireland as the Silicon Valley of Europe:

nThe population should be allowed to double in the next 20 years;

nThat up to 75,000 work visas should be issued every year to encourage highly educated, English-speaking technology workers to live and work here;

nThat the Government should create a powerful partner in China, having Ireland as the gateway to Europe for the Chinese, as it has been the gateway for America.

The speech led to the creation of the Open Ireland movement, which is backed by influential figures.

Mr O’Sullivan told the Digital Ireland Forum how he, and some top tech employers, including Google, Twitter, Facebook and leading pharmaceuticals, had difficulty in finding workers for key positions. When they found them, it was almost impossible to secure work visas because of red tape.

“There are 4.2m Irish in the Republic, but 100m Irish scattered through every other country in the world. And yet, despite having been a country that has generated so many millions of emigrants, we have a tight and closed border to accepting those from other countries, even when those people have so much to give us.”

Having such closed borders is a path for economic disaster, while opening up will lead to growth, jobs, economic development and prosperity, he said.

Ireland, he said, could replicate the model of Silicon Valley, where a cosmopolitan mix of cultures and ideas, and a willingness to experiment, attracts people from all over the world to live and work there.

“If we want to create Ireland as the Silicon Valley of Europe, we must open our borders and create a frictionless environment for creating jobs,” he said.

Doubling the population, created 75,000 work visas, and partnering with China, will do that, he said.

“Every 75,000 hi-tech, high-wage workers generate over €1 billion in payroll taxes to the exchequer, every year,” he said.

He also revealed how one of his business partners, Bill Liao, a philanthropist and serial entrepreneur, was refused an Irish work visa three times, before he was finally cleared to work here. Since then, Liao has gone on to fund several companies for SOSventures in Ireland, including Silicon Republic and Storyful.

He also joined forces with James Wheldon to create CoderDojo — a computer code-learning programme for kids — which is expanding worldwide.

The red tape, cost and delays associated with the work visa process are forcing firms to outsource abroad the work that could be done in Ireland, he said.

“We are allowing ourselves to be strangled by a bureaucratic death wish from our own government — a government which says on one hand, that it wants to create a digital economy, while on the other hand, it’s doing everything it can to prevent it.

“It’s been said often that one hand in government doesn’t know what the other is doing.

“I would add that this is especially true if you have one of the fingers from one of the hands up your ass.”

He urged the audience at the forum to imagine if five of China’s top companies set up European headquarters in Ireland, and invested €5bn here.

“We may find ourselves... trying to manage an overheated economy. I’m telling you that that is a much better option than managing our way through a recession and mind-numbing levels of public debt.”

Speaking from his Kinsale base, Mr O’Sullivan said that change will depend on the political will.

“If we can fill 20,000 tech jobs, we can generate 100,000 jobs in the rest of the country,” he said.

“Ireland should become the first English-speaking country to introduce a working visa for high economic-value tech workers.”

Joining the club to market yourself

Being unemployed and trawling the internet for a job for weeks on end can be a lonely process.

However, help is out there and if you’re open to change, and willing to try something new, then there is a job out there. You may even be able to set up your own business.

That’s the message from two of the best-known state jobseeker support agencies in Cork.

Orla Murphy, a training consultant who has worked with Aer Lingus and Dell, is the co-ordinator of the Cork Job Club — the only club of its kind in Cork City or county.

Funded by the Department of Social Protection, the free service helps unemployed people take their first step on the road to work.

“Being unemployed can be a very lonely place to be,” she said.

“People without work tend to have a lot of time on their hands, and it tends to get harder, as that time extends, to stay positive and motivated. You could be sitting at home planning to do your job search, and you might get up on a Monday and be positive saying ‘I’m going to send out loads of CVs’, but you’ll find that by Friday you didn’t see or apply for many jobs that were relevant to you.

“And you might find that you spent more time on Facebook, or going down rabbit holes on the internet, persuading yourself that you’re working. But it’s not productive work.”

And as the weeks and months slip by without job success, Ms Murphy said frustrations can rise.

Anyone in receipt of a social welfare payment — jobseeker’s, disability, or lone parent’s — and certain other categories, including women returning to the workforce, can register for a place on the course. Each course is open to 15 people at a time, and runs five mornings a week, 9.30am to 12.30am, for three weeks.

There is a three to four-month waiting list for places.

“We spend the first few days in the Cork Job Club re-motivating people. People develop a network with people in the same boat. Then you automatically have 14 other people looking for work for you too — who understand where you’re coming from, and who encourage each other. This immediately increases motivation.”

Participants meet with representatives from agencies including Fás, the Department of Social Protection, the adult guidance service, and the Cork Volunteer Centre.

Ms Murphy said it was important for people “to do something”, even if it was voluntary work once a week, because “it keeps you busy and opens up your network”.

The classes help people to:

* Identify their transferable skills;

* Develop a positive attitude towards the job search process;

* Begin a focused job search;

* Prepare CVs and cover letters that will make them stand out;

* Prepare for a job interview, including a full dry-run interview;

* Manage expectations and disappointments, including having the courage to contact companies afterwards to ask what went wrong in an unsuccessful interview.

“I tell people that you are now the marketing manager of your own marketing department, and you are the brand that you’re marketing, and if you don’t market yourself well enough, nobody’s going to buy your product,” said Ms Murphy.

The club contacts those on its register when suitable jobs become available. It has links with Fás and recruitment agencies but Ms Murphy plans to forge links with companies and business representative groups such as Cork Chamber, so that the job club becomes the “go-to place” for employers looking for staff.

Meanwhile, about 20% of the 200 unemployed people who took part in the South and East Cork Area Development (Secad) Ltd’s “time to change” scheme have gone on to start a business.

The scheme offers information and advice about setting up a business, about self-employment, about looking for a new role or pursuing training or education.

A total of 19% of those who did the course became self-employed and almost one third are pursuing further education and upskilling, while the rest have been given job seeking and interviewing skills.

Dr Fergus Heffernan, a leading psychologist in the area of stress management, has worked with the participants of the programme.

“The impact of this programme on participants is immeasurable. It helps restore and rebuild them following the trauma and stress resulting from unemployment.”

* Cork Job Club, Penrose Wharf, Cork, 021 2392834, jobclub@employabilitycork.ie, corkjobclub.com; Secad, 021 4613432, info@secad.ie

* UNEMPLOYMENT FOCUS: DAY 1 - Ireland's job crisis

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