Wild Geese: Bridging the gap between Irish companies and the diaspora

Connecting employers and employees with a shared interest in Ireland proves a smart move

Will Norton: “Just by being in London with a good degree, you have a lot going for you.”

Will Norton: “Just by being in London with a good degree, you have a lot going for you.”

Fri, Oct 25, 2013, 01:00

It is not only Irish workers who have been moving overseas in search of better opportunities since the financial crisis hit in 2008. Irish companies too are increasingly looking across the water to Britain for a new market for their services.

One enterprising young Kilkenny man has recognised an opportunity in this for himself and, for the past two years, has been running a recruitment company in London connecting employers and employees with a shared interest or background in Ireland.

At just 27, Will Norton has a wealth of international experience behind him already, but his first stint abroad was far from typical. With a civil engineering degree from UCC, he was selected to take part in a Glanbia graduate programme in 2009, which saw him working as a project manager on the construction of a $90 million cheese-making facility on the Texas-New Mexico border.

“It was a very conservative town just off the Bible Belt, which parachuted me out of my comfort zone,” he recalls. “I matured very quickly that year and learned a lot.” On returning to Ireland, he spent six months working at the company’s Co Cavan plant, before quitting to head Down Under.

Settling in Melbourne, he was managing up to 60 people on large infrastructure projects. It was a well-paid job which afforded him a great work-life balance, but he felt he was too far from friends and family. He always liked London, which was closer to home, and decided to make that his next destination.

After a few months working with an Irish construction company in the city, he handed in his notice at the end of 2011 to concentrate on his own business, Sonas Recruitment, which had started to grow wings. “All these Irish tech companies and construction companies were moving over here to the UK because of the crash, but the structures didn’t seem to be in place for them to connect with individuals, especially young educated professionals,” he explains. “I was 25 at the time, and I thought, who better to tap into this new phenomenon of young Irish like me who were emigrating?”

Norton worked out of his house in London, building a website and formalising the business. He soon hired his first employee, Derek Byrne, who was the same age as him and helped him to crystallise the concept. “It became clear pretty quickly that the idea was good and had the potential to grow into something successful. We approached companies and prominent Irish people in London, introduced ourselves as enthusiastic young guys who were proud of what we wanted to achieve, and people were receptive to that.”

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