Many of the world’s leading tech companies call Ireland home, providing a boost for the cash-strapped nation, but huge employment opportunities are being missed as Ireland marks the end of its bailout on Sunday.
Google, Facebook, Twitter, Paypal and a host of other tech giants have set up in Ireland or increased their presence since Dublin turned to the EU and IMF for an 85-billion-euro (US$115 billion) rescue program in late 2010.
Foreign direct investment in Ireland has actually increased during the bailout years.
“If you look at why multinationals came to Ireland before the crisis, they came for a number of reasons,” Industrial Development Agency chief executive Barry O’Leary said.
“The things that they came for were not affected when the international financial crisis hit,” he said.
The Irish economy crashed after a banking crisis and an overheated property sector plunged it into a downward spiral of rising unemployment and huge public debts.
On Sunday, after years of spending cuts and tax increases, Ireland will become the first of the rescued eurozone countries to exit its EU-IMF bailout program.
Dublin had to move the economy away from reliance on property “to move to a sustainable economy built on enterprise, innovation and exports,” Irish Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton said.
Ireland targeted the information technology sector because “it’s a very dynamic sector.”
“It helps a lot not only in the direct employment it creates, but it creates a very exciting enterprise culture where there’s a lot of start-ups happening — Irish-owned as well as foreign-owned,” he said.
Facebook set up in Ireland in 2009 and last month said it was moving its international headquarters in Dublin to bigger offices for up to 1,000 staff.
Earlier this month, Microsoft announced a second expansion of its data center in Dublin in an investment worth 170 million euros.
However, despite the willingness of high-profile firms to invest in Ireland, a skills shortage is leaving many of the jobs they create unfilled. A report from Fast Track to IT (FIT), a non-profit industry-backed organization that liaises with lawmakers and the education sector, revealed there were 4,500 unfilled jobs in the sector.
With nearly 300,000 people unemployed, a rate of more than 12 percent, the unfilled positions look to many like a missed opportunity.
“There’s a mismatch of skills,” said John Dennehy, project director of Make IT in Ireland, another industry-backed initiative.
“You cannot take someone who is unemployed that hasn’t worked in the tech sector and make them an experienced software developer in a short period of time,” he said.
One major attraction for multinationals is Ireland’s favorable corporate tax rate of 12.5 percent, long the ire of its EU partners.
However, O’Leary says it is not the defining reason why companies invest in Ireland.
“If you’re only concerned about taxes, you’d be in Singapore or Switzerland or even the Netherlands where they offer special deals on taxation,” he said.
“If you look at the big players in Ireland: the HPs, the IBMs, the Intels, the Apples — all of those companies have thousands of people working here in each of them,” O’Leary said.
“The most important thing for prospective companies is always the talent pool,” he said. “The second thing is a strong track record with a company’s peers or competitors.”