‘We’ll have to wait a number of years to see if it’s sustainable’

Businesspeople, jobhunters and others sense a gradual if fragile pickup in the economy


The estate agent
“We had a busy end to 2013, then a slow enough start to 2014, but certainly in the last eight to 12 weeks it’s been very busy again,” says Ed Carey of Carey Auctioneers’ property team in Enfield, Co Meath. Viewings and sales are up. Prices are, too, but there’s a bit more consumer confidence and investors are starting to return to the market.

Yet it remains a challenging climate, Carey says, as the fundamentals of buying and selling a house have changed. “People are still dealing with banks, and paperwork has increased exponentially. There’s negative equity that can prove difficult to deal with, and closures can be prolonged.”

Scarcity has become a problem in Dublin, where rents have increased significantly, but Carey believes there’s now a two-tier market. “Dublin is flying. Outside of Dublin is not. It follows the employment centres. [My region] is commutable to Dublin, so I’m probably seeing change far sooner than some of my colleagues further away, in places like Boyle. I think there’s an improvement overall, but we’ll have to wait a number of years to see if it’s sustainable.”

The emigrant
Fionn O’Brien moved to the UK at the end of January, having grown frustrated by the lack of full-time opportunities in structural engineering. The London skyline is crammed with cranes, says the 31-year-old from Dublin, and things came together quickly. He took a job at a small engineering partnership in St Albans, just north of London, before switching last month to a position that suited him better: project engineering at a bigger company in the British capital.

Still, he senses things are improving in Ireland. He had two job interviews shortly before he left, recruiters have made enquiries since then and other opportunities still appear in his inbox.

“There seem to be more jobs advertised now, whereas at the end of last year I was just looking at random opportunities for the sake of getting a job. I think it is getting better, but not to the level it is over here. Hopefully that will change. I’m happy where I am now, but at some point I’d like to go back to Ireland. That might be a way off yet.”

The car salesman
Footfall has been on the rise at Brian Reynolds Car Sales, a family-run Mazda dealership in Drogheda, and sales are up about 30 per cent this year. “There’s definitely an improvement in trade in 2014 compared to the last five years,” says Alan Reynolds, its sales director, who has worked there since 1995. “After the crash it was up and down. You might have a busy week and then it’d go quiet the next week. This year has been different.”

Two factors have come into play. One is a consistent demand for good-quality, low-mileage used cars. “You don’t see those hanging around,” says Reynolds. The other is the new biannual registration system. Sales of cars with a 142 registration have been better than expected, providing a second peak in the year.

“It’s not great numbers, but it makes a difference with everything from cashflow to staffing, turning what was a very seasonal business to a more year-round trade. We’re going through three months of selling new cars, then three months of selling second-hand cars. Without any crystal balls, it looks like that will continue for the rest of the year.”

The first jobber
Twenty-four-year-old Rob Marshall recently found a job before even graduating with his master’s degree in strategic management from Dublin Institute of Technology. He applied for an internship at Citibank six months ago only to be hired instead for an entry-level position in securities processing.

“I got very, very lucky,” he says. “There’s a good careers system in DIT where they send opportunities your way, but a lot of them were internships for three to six months. It wasn’t looking great. Only one other classmate has an offer, and that’s conditional, so that speaks volumes. My plan had been to try and get a job with the big multinationals during their recruitment drives in September, which would have meant starting in September 2015 and doing internships along the way. This just fell in to my lap.”

Marshall has been in college since the beginning of the recession, and, as far as he can tell, the job market remains tough. “I think the same mindset is there: everyone is still very wary. I don’t think there’s an on-off switch that can bring about mass change; it’s more likely to come in small incremental changes over a long period of time.”

The travel agent
Business has been up 12 per cent during the first half of 2014 at Travel Counsellors Ireland, a travel-planning network with a headquarters in Cork. When the recession struck, says Cathy Burke, its general manager, there was a mistaken perception that holidays could be bought for almost nothing.

Instead people began to downgrade their accommodation options (though only slightly), travelling less and staying closer to home. But, since the end of last year, patterns of change have been emerging.

“We’re getting a lot of inquiries from customers going back to long-haul trips,” says Burke. “Budgets seem to be higher for honeymooners. Companies have been increasingly turning to agents rather than handling their travel arrangements themselves. And while parents have been consistently travelling to visit their sons and daughters in places like Australia, we’re now finding that they might stop off somewhere on the way and do something nice themselves.

“All this hasn’t necessarily been from the day of the bailout [exit], but things have had a very positive vibe recently.”

The college leaver
Maggie Conroy, who has just finished a four-year degree in psychology at Trinity College Dublin, is keeping her options open. She has been working part-time as a waitress all through university and is considering doing a master’s degree before possibly moving to the United States.

“A lot of people I know are either emigrating or continuing on to do master’s degrees and PhDs,” says the 24-year-old from Greystones, Co Wicklow.

“It seems like you need a [postgraduate degree] to have a chance of getting a good job. Studying psychology can open you up to a lot of different pathways, like primary-school teaching, but I haven’t made up my mind yet.

“If the economy picked up I would love to stay here, and I do feel like that option is much more appealing than it was a couple of years ago. It does seem like things are getting better.”

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