Ciara Kenny

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Investing in the young people of Ireland

My generation has energy, ideas and talent. To keep us in Ireland we need experience, investment and connections, writes Daithí de Buitléir

Mon, Oct 14, 2013, 00:00


Daithí de Buitléir

The business and political class love to perpetuate the rallying rhetoric of “stand and fight”. We are implored to buy into their vision for Ireland, that as young people, we will be key in creating the “Best Small Country in the World in Which to Do Business”. But never-ending dole queues and soaring youth emigration demonstrate that the most promising generation of young people Ireland has ever produced just don’t buy into this vision. Why?

Youth emigration and youth unemployment are undoubtedly interlinked, but not just in the obvious way. Youth unemployment and youth emigration are quite simply two indicators of a much bigger problem – as a society we don’t have a clue what to do with our young people!

I will never forget my first two experiences of the corporate workplace. During my undergraduate degree I was lucky enough to get two internships. One in Ireland and one in the US – the contrast couldn’t have been starker.

In Ireland, where I was a paid intern, I spent seven months copying and pasting data from one Excel sheet to another. I wasn’t expected to have an opinion and if I did I was quietly reminded of my position, and that realistically I wasn’t meant to contribute in any meaningful way until I was older, more experienced and had a more well-developed network.

In the US, where I was unpaid, I was brought to key meetings in my first week and encouraged to play a full role. After one meeting, where a significant contract was reviewed with a client, I asked the MD why had she continuously asked for my opinion. I was young, naive and inexperienced – what if I said the wrong thing? Her answer stayed with me.

“Business is all about competitive advantage, you are young, you grew up in a different era to me, you think differently to me, this gives you the ability to spot opportunity which I cannot even comprehend. What sort of business person would I be if I wasn’t constantly trying to maximise the resources which I have available to me?”

This generation of 20-somethings is one we will never see again – they have grown up with one foot in the industrial age another in the informational age. The young people of today don’t think like those who have gone before them.

Is it any wonder that young people are becoming disengaged and disillusioned with Ireland? In a land of little opportunity, is it any wonder people are looking abroad?

According to UCC’s recent Emigré survey of emigrants, 62 per cent of those who have moved abroad recently have third level qualifications, and almost half have left full-time employment behind them. Surely these figures send out a strong message.

My generation are not willing to stay to become a nameless cog in a creaking corporate structure. Poorly paid, short-term contracts to undertake unchallenging work isn’t getting our blood pumping. We’d rather go work somewhere where we will be valued and have an opportunity to learn and develop. If that is abroad, so be it.

So what’s the solution? It is actually relatively simple, if we are given the opportunity to help propel Ireland to bigger and better things, to rise above the mediocrity which has plagued our history as an independent state and to create an Ireland which everyone can be proud of.

I have three suggestions:

- Every captain of industry needs to find a young person who thinks in a totally different way to them. They should act as their mentor, but also take the opportunity to learn from that young person too, about the challenges and motivations of the coming generations and how they can adapt to catch up with the curve.

- Government, philanthropy and venture capital needs to earmark a certain amount of funds for youth entrepreneurship – be it economic, cultural or social. We need to enable a generation of young people to go out and try new things, to help to revolutionise the way we do business and the way we engage with society.

- We need to invest in grassroots movements which empower young people and show them they have a role to play in this country.

What my generation has is energy, ideas and talent. What we need is experience, investment and connections. We need the leaders of today to begin to open doors for young people, to provide platforms, to listen and to engage.

Daithí de Buitléir is the co-founder and CEO of Ireland’s fastest growing youth organisation Raising & Giving Ireland.