Educated to emigrate

comment1Director of the Nevin Economic Research Institute, Tom Healy, discusses the problems that persist around youth employment and emigration, and calls for more to be done for those at the bottom of the career ladder.

College has traditionally been seen as a passport to a well-paying job. Until the 1980s, third-level was seen as the privilege of fewer than half of school leavers. The Leaving Certificate was a passport to many employments, from the civil service to the banks, to companies like CIE and ESB. Today, a higher education qualification at degree level is the minimum entry requirement to many sought-after jobs. You know that the labour market has changed beyond all recognition when postgraduates join the ranks of thousands applying for the first stage of a temporary clerical officer position in the civil service. Recruitment to posts such as Third Secretary or Administrative Officer are severely restricted as the ban on any significant recruitment stays in place. A story was recently carried in the media of 18 qualified teachers in the Donegal Gaeltacht parish of Gaoth Dobhair who have emigrated – 13 to Qatar and the rest to Australia.

In the private sector, there are opportunities for some graduates in new and up and coming sectors and occupations such as information and communication technology, and in some areas of business, finance and technology. Signs of a recovery in construction, especially in large urban areas, suggest a recovery in demand for graduates in some disciplines. However, overall, the picture still looks depressing, with echoes of the late 1980s. The choice for many is between emigration and assimilation into the ranks of the new precariat reliant on sometimes questionable internships, low pay, below-their-skill jobs and lack of hours or progression. Estimates by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) show a heavy concentration of higher education graduates among those emigrating.

Yet, the CSO estimate a significant (and rising) number of higher education graduates among those immigrating into Ireland (and these are not likely to be mainly Irish nationals returning from a stint abroad). The fragile economic recovery that can be observed is having a different impact across different regions, groups and age-brackets. Employment started to recover significantly in 2013 but to everyone’s surprise, perhaps, it benefited some of the following: the self-employed, males, persons over 35 years of age, agriculture and hospitality/tourism related businesses. All very welcome even if subject to some statistical estimation reservations.

In the meantime, many young highly qualified Irish men and women will be forced to emigrate because of a lack of job opportunities.  Many emigrate not only because there is a lack of employment but because there is a lack of sustainable well-paying jobs in the areas in which they have studied and qualified.

If Ireland needs a break from austerity with some pay-back then we should think about targeting quality training, employment growth and inclusion at the younger end of the labour market.  The gradual reduction in jobseekers’ allowance to €100 per week for new entrants to the live register under the age of 26 in successive budgets sends out troubling signals.  Does it suggest that Ireland is no country for young people who cannot find work or useful education and training? Let’s hope that some of those qualified teachers from Gaoth Dobhair will return some day to teach a new generation the foundational skills for how to run businesses, banks, public services and the political economy differently.

Illustration: Maria Kavanagh