Caitríona Meehan was nearly finished college when the Covid pandemic first reached Ireland.
She was halfway through a work placement in March 2020 at her dream job.
A performance analyst intern at Sport Institute Ireland, Caitríona, 24, had been working towards the placement since her second year of college at Galway Mayo Institute of Technology.
“I worked so much to get it, and when I got offered a role as a performance analyst intern, I cried, basically, because I was so happy,” she said.
Working with athletes from all over the country ahead of the Olympics, Caitríona said the experience with her colleagues, hot-desking and collaborating, was the most fulfilling start to her sports analysis career.
“Every day was versatile, you felt like you had a real purpose,” she said.
“There was just so much value in the work. It really felt like it was what I was good at.”
Moving home to Carrignavar, Co Cork, after the placement was cancelled and her course was moved online in March was difficult for her as she found herself isolated from college friends.
Missing out on her college graduation, Caitríona struggled to find work for her qualification due to Covid disruption, and trained as a personal trainer as the next best thing.
Employed since June 2020 when gyms reopened, she said that she was glad of the work after her placement was cancelled, as her mental health had started to decline during the lockdown.
Now working in Blarney in Cork since April at a different gym, she said her experience of the new position is positive as the role is varied and involves working with children.
She likes the ethos and culture of the gym as well.
“I was really happy to get that, because you are delving into a different side of personal training,” she said.
“It was a really good place to work myself, mentally, because you are trying to work through for a more positive mindset.”
However, Caitríona is keen to pursue future positions related to her qualifications, especially as she nears the completion of her Masters in sports performance analysis at IT Carlow.
As the sector is small in Ireland, she is not confident of securing a new job, and is considering positions abroad.
She had hoped the Olympics cycle would produce some opportunities, but the disruption of the pandemic has also hit hiring within the industry, and fewer positions are opening up.
Caitríona also said the practise in Ireland of entry-level sports analysts working on a volunteer basis for local sports teams in order to make contacts and experience is a barrier.
“You kind of have to do almost your six months, your one year, two years of that before you can even actually start pricing your services,” she said.
“And they’re not the cheapest because there is a lot more time that goes into this kind of work than people expect.
Comparing opportunities available abroad to options in Dublin, where most sport positions tend to be based, poses quality-of-life questions for Caitríona.
“You are kind of always looking abroad to see if there are better options, not even just the job, you are looking at life experiences and quality of life,” she said.
Caitríona said she knows of ten to 12 people who have moved abroad in the last two months to pursue new opportunities in Germany, Italy, the UK, and the United Arab Emirates.
“In the past two months I probably know maybe ten or 12 people that have moved out of the country, even if it is not to work in their field, it is just to get out and work because the quality of life in the likes of Italy is probably much better than a year living at home here,” she said.
While crediting the Government and the education system for training graduates for professional services and pharmaceutical positions, she does not think there is the same support for graduates in different sectors.
“If you are kind of in a sector where there is not a lot of jobs coming up, and you kind of have to graft all the time for it, and you kind of take every hit as it comes, you would be kind of getting angsty that there is nothing being done to help you, I suppose,” she said.
Leaving Certificate student Leona Buckley says being out of work for 16 months has caused her great stress and anxiety as she prepares to take off for college in September.
The 18-year-old from rural Wexford relied on her waitressing job to cover her driving and transport costs, while also trying to save for accommodation when she goes to college.
“I already suffer from anxiety, which makes the simplest of tasks very hard for me.
“In relation to jobs, it’s making me very very anxious about how I am going to pay for my driving lessons, car insurance and tax, not to mention that I am starting college in September and somehow need to fund a laptop and accommodation plus living expenses,” she says.
“If I had a secure job and some sort of money coming in, my anxiety wouldn’t be as triggered.”
While she has recently found employment, the job hunt was not an easy one for Leona, particularly as she has to rely on her parents to bring her to work.
“In my search for a job the last few months, I’ve only been met with very unorganised and unresponsive employers, who only meet me with uncertainty, not honesty.
“I’ve had it happen to me and another person I know at the same place,” Leona said.
“There is not much employment rurally and, if you don’t drive, you are really at a loss at getting a job.
Leona said it has been "difficult enough" to secure driving lessons at the moment due to the enormous backlog.
“Transport in rural areas is simply just not reliable or good enough to bring me into work on time, so I rely heavily on getting a lift into work with my parents.”
Emigration is not an option Leona is considering at the moment, largely due to the career she would like to have in the future.
“I’m going to college to study geography and Irish to become a teacher.
“Obviously, wanting to be an Irish teacher, my options are limited to staying here in Ireland.”