UNEMPLOYMENT FOCUS: DAY 4 - Limerick region has potential despite black spots

The Limerick and Clare region has advantages when it comes to creating jobs and supports are available, writes Mid-West Correspondent Jimmy Woulfe

SEVEN of the country’s 10 worst unemployment black spots are located in Limerick City, according to a recent report from the CSO.

In Limerick, St Mary’s Park and O’Malley Park are the only two areas in the country where more than half the working population are unemployed.

According to the figures, 55.8% of adults in St Mary’s Park said they were unemployed when the census was conducted in Apr 2011, while 55.2% of adults in O’Malley Park said they were not working.

Limerick City has a total of 17 unemployment black spots — the highest for any local authority area in the country.

Co Limerick in contrast has just one — Rathkeale Urban where, according to the figures, unemployment at the time of the census was 39.2%, the lowest of any of any unemployment black spot in Limerick.

In addition to having the highest number of black spots, the census figures also reveal that Limerick City as a whole had the highest unemployment rate in the country at 28.6%. The unemployment rate in Co Limerick was 17.5%.

Given Limerick’s location, this statistics are shocking.

Just look at the Mid-West and the Limerick/Clare region in particular and it has one of the most enhanced environments for the creation of jobs in Europe.

The city itself is a third-level centre of excellence with University of Limerick and Limerick Institute of Technology.

Both have made a huge thrust into the area of job creation with imaginative and very productive linkages with multinational companies, many of which have set up in the national technological park at Plassey to tap into the wealth of graduate talent at UL.

Many graduates from both colleges have set up companies which have become world leaders, branching out globally.

The region also has a modern international airport, strategically placed on the atlantic corridor between North America and Europe. We all know too well of the ailing fortunes of Shannon, with passenger figures down from 3.6m four years ago to circa 1.5m in 2011.

However, Transport Minister Leo Varadkar is displaying a very laudable interest in reviving Shannon as an international aviation hub.

He is not hanging around and it is anticipated that in the coming months, a whole new management structure will be put in place as the airport is given independence from the control of the Dublin Airport Authority.

This could be the dawning of a new era at Shannon, with a new mandate and a minister who is supportive but expecting results for the new trust being place in the airport and the region to take greater control over it’s fortunes, with Shannon as a central driving force.

The Shannon Estuary is one of the great waterways of the world, with a 24-hour deep water port at Foynes as well as the port of Limerick.

Down the years many exciting projects have been proposed in various reports, but nothing has become of these. It was suggested that the estuary could be developed as a shipping transhipment hub, with cargoes from Asia, North, and South America being brought in to the estuary for transhipment to other locations in Europe.

On the tourism front, the region and particularly Co Clare is endowed with treasures such as the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher.

All this awesome promise stands in stark contrast to the cold and dark figures on the jobs front.

With the unemployment crisis, Clare County Enterprise Board, like most others in the country, has seen applications for money to help set up small enterprises (10 jobs or less), increase.

Last year, the board assisted 29 enterprises with total funding of €480,000. These enterprises have the potential to create 55 jobs.

The maximum allocation an enterprise board can approve to any one applicant is €150,000. Eamonn Kelly, CEO of the Clare board, said that on average new ventures usually get €10,000 to €15,000. To date in 2012, they have allocated €343,000 to help 18 ventures.

Mr Kelly said already this year all projects approved by the board have received their funding.

They expect further funding in September and this will be in the order of €150,000 to €200,000.

This additional money, he said, will help up to 15 more projects.

About 40% of funding given out by county enterprise boards has to be refunded within three years.

Usually a client can expect to get funding, if approved, within three months of sending a business plan. Once a venture is approved those behind it can get full training and mentor services from the enterprise board.

Enterprise Ireland has also set up an export development department aimed specifically at promoting and supporting early stage exporting and non-exporting companies to explore new opportunities in export markets. Supports include workshops, seminars, mentoring and advocate support, access to market information, and a dedicated helpdesk for enquiries.

The most recent Potential Exporters Workshop for the Mid-West was held in Limerick in June where up to 40 companies availed of one-to-one meetings after the workshop to further discuss exporting opportunities.

* Information on supports which Enterprise Ireland offers to companies can be obtained at www.enterprise-ireland.com

‘I had to leave people go, one by one, until I didn’t have work for myself’

By Jimmy Woulfe, Mid-West Correspondent

Damien Keane saw the good times of the Celtic Tiger and like many others was left floundering in its wake.

At the peak in 2006, Damien had six others working for him in his carpentry business in Ennis.

“I went out on my own when I was 21 and had over six great years and we would hardly keep up with the work. Then it slowed and got worse and I had to leave people go, one by one until I was by myself and then I did not even have work to keep going,” he said.

Damien, 30, and his wife have one child, aged nearly two.

Due to the fact he was self-employed, he had no income whatsoever for 10 months before he got onto Jobseekers Allowance.

“We had no money coming in, nothing from the State and our savings went as we kept up with the mortgage and our day-to-day living costs,” he said.

But things are beginning to look up and Damien is confident that a business he intends to set up has strong prospects.

He is seeking €5,000 to set up the power wash enterprise, and has applied for funding from the Clare County Enterprise Board.

However, the board has allocated all the funds it had for this year and expects further funding from the Government in September.

Damien said if he gets the go-ahead from the enterprise board, he will be back at work in a matter of weeks. He needs the money to buy good equipment and kit-out properly.

“I want to get off Jobseekers Allowance and get back to work. That’s what most people want. It is very demoralising to be out of work, when you have worked all your life. I don’t want to be sitting at home.

“I have no doubt about the viability of my new business plan with the contacts I have. It will take a while to develop and there may not be a lot of money at the start, it might be small, but it will be some money. There is definitely work out there people want houses powerwashed before they start painting and the front areas of houses.

“I could get up and going, but I want to have the right equipment and not have breakdowns when doing a job. I want to do a proper job with the right equipment. If I got one house in an estate, the word of mouth would lead to a lot more with the quality of service I aim to give. I am very confident that I can succeed in developing this and get back working.”

Optimism for city to bounce back

By Jimmy Woulfe, Mid-West Correspondent

Higher rates of unemployment in the wider Limerick area are an extreme example of what we see nationally, according to a leading academic Dr Niamh Hourigan who is head of creative studies in sociology at UCC.

“If you look at the city and the region you have an intense focus on manufacturing, so the region experiences the sharp end of the recession.

“The problems that you see in a disadvantaged area during a recession are experienced more sharply here in Limerick.

“Being honest, if you look at what happened in Limerick during the bleak mid-’80s, I would think there is more cause for optimism now in terms of the city’s capacity to bounce back from recession.”

She said a lot of money put into the much criticised regeneration programme will yield results in getting young people from disadvantaged unemployment black spots integrated more into society, through sport, music and other activities.

“We will see the dividends of this in coming years, the critical thing now is that young people in these areas have the opportunity to reap these dividends. In terms of unemployment amongst young people, if you look at the focus nationally, there has been a big focus on graduates, on internships and job bridge, which I agree with, but I would like to see a focus on more disadvantaged kids who are really doing well to stay in school until after Junior Cert.”

The economic situation in Limerick and the Mid-West, Dr Hourigan said, cannot be separated from what is happening internationally and we need to gear ourselves to link with industries which are growing on a global basis.

“It is easy to recognise the growth areas in the global economy, but then the challenge is to position yourself to connect and benefit from this growth. You have to have a skilled workforce at the right price and the infrastructure, such as roads, airport, broadband connectivity and all these issues.

“If you look at Limerick, historically, it has always had a strong manufacturing base and that is why in my view it is a city which has been sharply affected when there is a global downturn, because manufacturing gets hit very quickly in a global downturn.

“We saw when the US sneezes, Limerick caught a cold which resulted in the loss of manufacturing jobs at Dell. If we go after jobs in the global economy that will always be the case, but it still not a reason not to go after them.”

Dr Hourigan said it is now time to take a new look at how Limerick can position itself to better link with growing global industries.

“With regard to the region we need to look for industry which provides a cushion to the local economy when we have these global recessions. I think that is an area where we may struggle, because we don’t have a big tourism industry to give us a cushion.”

The bypassing of the city by tourists is now facilitated, she said with the opening of Shannon tunnel, as visitors arriving at Shannon or travelling between the West and South West, are encouraged to skip Limerick.

In France, she said, cities of similar size that are bypassed, flag what they have to offer by a series of huge signs along the roads.

“One initiative which has been very successful in Limerick has been the branding of it as a city of sport.”

Limerick has been branded the Irish city of culture for 2014, and Dr Hourigan said she would like to see a major legacy project resulting from this.

The amalgamation of the city and county under one local council in 2014, will also help.

“It is much easier to market a region which has a city as its centre.”

Enterprise drive to support small firms

By Jimmy Woulfe, Mid-West Correspondent

As the role of Shannon Development is now being reassigned, its one enduring legacy will be the part it played in cultivating entrepreneurs to develop small homegrown enterprises, many of which expanded with global portfolios.

Enterprise Ireland now holds this remit and has a team of 35 charged with its mission in Limerick (county and city), Clare, North Tipperary and Kerry.

It is tasked with cultivating small indigenous industry which have an export focus.

Its Shannon office deals with people who have what is termed high potential start-up (HPSU) concepts and which they adjudge to have the potential and capacity to grow into viable businesses.

These businesses must have the potential to employ more than 10 people with revenue of more than €1m within three to five years and which will be export driven.

There are 259 such companies in Limerick employing just over 6,000 full time and 722 part time. In Clare, there are 119 small indigenous companies with a full-time workforce of 1,493 and a further 238 part-time workers.

This year, it is expected that Enterprise Ireland will help and back the setting up of about four new small indigenous companies in Limerick and Clare who fill the criteria.

Harriet Cotter, senior regional development executive with Enterprise Ireland, said the criteria in which they operate is narrow and if they meet 10 clients with business ideas, they would be happy to get one to fill all the criteria before they would agree to get on board and guide and support the project.

Many, she said, are referred by them to area enterprise boards and to leader groups.

Most of the ground work in this area in the Limerick and Clare area was done by Shannon Development, whose role in this area was transferred to Enterprise Ireland five years ago.

The Shannon Free Zone is to be transferred from the remit of Shannon Development to the IDA when the work of a task force set up by Transport Minister Leo Varadkar is completed in November.

Of the 110 major foreign companies which employ 12,900 people in the Mid-West, 55 are located in the free zone where they employ 4,800 people.

The setting up of the free zone was a major initiative which has yielded huge dividends.

Up to 70% of the major companies located in the Shannon zone and wider region are US owned.

It has been a solid high performing core of the region and it has been replicated by many other countries.

Sean Denvir, mid-west manager of the IDA, said they anticipate some more very important announcements before the end of this year as the jobs ‘pipeline’ was very encouraging.

So far this year, the IDA has arranged 19 site visits for foreign industrialists with Ireland on their expansion plans. Of these, all 19 took in Limerick and 10 visited locations in Clare, mainly Shannon.

The IDA expects that site visits from foreign industrialists this year will at least meet last year’s figure of 41, which was three more than the number of visits organised in 2010.

With the Shannon Free Zone being transferred to their remit, the IDA believe Shannon will play a major role in their objective to get 50% of new job approvals located outside Dublin and Cork.

It has been designated a gateway location for job creation.

Mr Varadkar wants Shannon to be a hub for the international aviation industry and the Shannon Free Zone will be a huge element in implementing his policy targets.

The task force will propose what management structures will need to be put in place, as Shannon embarks on its new remit to win new industry and recover its passenger business which has seen a disastrous slump from 3.6m four years ago to 1.5m last year.

Indications are that the figure for this year will see a further fall in passenger numbers.

This has been mainly due to the withdrawal of many Ryanair services due to ongoing differences over charges since the ending of a five-year agreement.

‘Education improves your chances’

Jonathan’s story

By Jimmy Woulfe

Jonathan Kelly quit his secondary education at St Enda’s in Limerick before the Junior Certificate, feeling school was not for him.

However, after a few years with bleak prospects of work, he felt there was only one door still open — education.

Now 20, he picked up where he left off three years ago and has completed his Junior Cert at a further education centre in Limerick.

His sights are now set on sitting his Leaving Cert and getting the points to take a course at the University of Limerick.

“There is little or no work out there and if you have a good education your chances improve big time. I have my sights set on a fitness and health course at UL and it is something I would like to do and I know I would be well able to get through college. At present I am getting €188 a week back-to-school allowance.

“I plan to do my Leaving Cert next year and I know the points I have to get in order to get into the course at UL. I would like to get the experience of a college campus and mixing with other students at UL.

“It is a fantastic college and it is here in Limerick. I feel that the course I want to get into will be of huge benefit for me in going after a career.”

During the summer, Jonathan and other young people have embarked on a clean-up of their own area with the backing of a businessman who has supplied them with paint and equipment.

“This has been very rewarding and it has kept me and the others busy for the past few weeks. But it will be back to the books shortly and I am looking forward to doing the Leaving and getting those points to get me into UL.”

‘I’d do anything for work. Any job that would pay a wage’

Lee’s Story

By Jimmy Woulfe, Mid-West Correspondent

“I’d do anything right now for work. Anything that would pay a wage.”

The sentiment of Lee Casey is one which shouts from across the land.

Even at the age of 17, he is very aware of how bleak things are on the employment scene.

Lee has just completed his Leaving Certificate at CBS in Limerick and his subjects included French, history, maths, Irish and English.

As grim and all as things are in the construction industry, Lee feels his future lies in building..

He likes getting stuck in when there is a job of work to be done and for the past few weeks he has been engaged in voluntary community work cleaning up parts of Limerick with other young people.

He plans to embark on a Fás course in September, and in the long-term, he sees opportunities for him in the troubled Limerick regeneration project.

Minister for Housing Jan O’Sullivan has pledged that the regeneration will now concentrate on rebuilding the four black-spot estates of Southill, Moyross, St Mary’s Park (Island Field) and Ballinacurra Weston, rather than demolition.

To date up to 800 houses have been levelled and up to 1,500 people relocated in other parts of the city and its suburbs.

Lee wants to get a trade as a bricklayer with the help of Fás.

“I am confident that when the construction work in the regeneration gets going, there will be plenty of block layers who will be in a position to take on an apprentice and that’s where my hope lies. I hope to do a 12-month Fás course which will be over six months’ time. That should open the way for me to get an apprenticeship and it will be a question of getting a block layer to take me on when the work gets going on the regeneration,” said Lee.

Unemployment among Europe’s youth soars by 50%

By Dan Buckley

In a rare display of political sensitivity, Harold Wilson, the former British prime minister, once responded to the news that unemployment in Britain was “only” 10%. “To the man on the dole it’s 100%,” barked Wilson, who had suffered his own share of youthful deprivation.

More than 50 years on, his words will still resonate with the millions of young unemployed in the EU.

Unemployment among Europe’s young has soared by 50% since 2008 and almost half of young people in work across the EU do not have permanent jobs, according to the European Commission.

Figures by Eurostat show in Feb 2012, 5.46 million young people (those under 25) were unemployed in the EU, of whom 3.27m were in the eurozone. Compared with Feb 2011, youth unemployment increased by 262,000 in the EU overall and by 106,000 in the eurozone.

In the percentage terms much maligned by Wilson, that brings the youth unemployment rate to 22.4% in the EU27 and 21.6% in the eurozone. In Feb 2011, it was 21.0% and 20.5% respectively.

Even within the eurozone there are major disparities in youth unemployment. The lowest rates were recorded in Germany (8.2%), Austria (8.3%) and the Netherlands (9.4%), and the highest in Spain (50.5%) and Greece (50.4% in Dec 2011). The latest Eurostat figures, published in May, show a further rise, with youth unemployment in both Greece and Spain now over 52%.

Ireland lies somewhere in the middle, but still represents almost one-third of our working age youth. Of the 302,000 unemployed in Ireland at end of 2011, 59,700 were aged 15-24, representing a rate of 31.6%. Even more worrying is the number of long-term unemployed among the under-25s in Ireland which currently stands at over 27,000.

Yet even these figures do not reveal the full horror that many young Irish people face, depending on gender and where they live.

Young, largely unskilled men are the hardest hit and in places like Limerick where two-thirds of youths aged 16 to 24 are neither at work, in training, nor in education. Parts of inner city Dublin and the northside of Cork experiences similar levels of youth jobless.

Globally, the situation remains critical with almost 75m young people out of work. Their situation is unlikely to improve for four years, according to the report Global Employment Trends for Youth 2012 by the International Labour Organization (ILO), which is part of the UN.

The ILO has warned of a “scarred” generation facing a life of uncertainty with more than six million young people so disillusioned they have given up looking for work.

EU employment commissioner László Andor has said “without decisive action at EU and national level” the crisis will create a “lost generation”.

That sense of despair is something that worries youth organisations both here and abroad. Last year, the National Youth Council of Ireland published a report entitled Youth Unemployment in Ireland: A Forgotten Generation. According to a survey they conducted, 90% of respondents said that being unemployed had negatively effected their sense of well-being while seven out of 10 said they were likely to emigrate in the following 12 months.

Last January, the extent of our youth unemployment prompted the European Commission president José Manuel Barroso to lament the lack of action on the crisis being taken by Irish political leaders and said Ireland needed to come up with specific proposals.

Ireland is one of eight eurozone states which Barroso has targeted for re-invigoration. “We need to make a special effort to boost growth and tackle the problem of youth unemployment,” said Barroso who added that Ireland should set up an action team to come up with a strategy for getting young people back to work.

He said the team should focus on supporting small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which could be a source of jobs.

“In relation to SMEs support, the action teams should focus particularly on opportunities to increase or accelerate access to finance for SMEs through use or redirection of EU-supported financial instruments,” Barroso said.

Spain, Greece, Slovakia, Lithuania, Italy, Portugal and Latvia have been advised to do the same.

The Irish Government’s response was lacklustre, to say the least. Addressing the Dáil during a visit from a Commission taskforce the following month, Taoiseach Enda Kenny acknowledged Barroso’s initiative but stopped short of committing funds to new youth unemployment strategies. “We will, in the first instance, be looking at whether employment programmes might be re-focused to better effect,” Kenny told TDs.

That kind of weak response prompted the think-tank TASC to make a submission last April to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Jobs, Social Protection and Education. TASC, pointed out that youth unemployment levels are exacerbated by inequalities in the labour market within and between generations.

Among the specific challenges facing young people:

* More likely to lose a job during a downturn.

* Specific barriers to entry, often stemming from lack of experience.

* Early unemployment increases likelihood of subsequent unemployment.

* Many young people with incomplete second level education entered the labour market during the boom to take up employment in construction and related sectors.

* Many graduates are leaving education with little prospect of employment.

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

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

* UNEMPLOYMENT FOCUS: DAY 3 - Tipperary signs of downturn painfully visible

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