Net spread across globe in trawl for skills to satisfy starving economy

 

The stamps on Mr Greg Craig's passport read as if he accumulates as many air miles as the miles he notches in his car.

A multi-media recruiter fixed on finding workers for the Republic's ever-growing jobs market, his job this year has taken him all over Europe, to Canada and to South Africa.

Assuming all goes to plan next year, he will visit Australia, India and Russia, among others. Such travels are not usually linked with the State's training authority, FAS, where Mr Craig works in the press office. To many, the body was seen as the last refuge of the unemployed during the jobs crisis of the 1980s and early 1990s. Unemployment last month was 3.7 per cent. The average jobless rate last year was 5.5 per cent; it was 7.4 per cent in 1998; 9.8 per cent in 1997.

No one is using the word crisis to describe tightening in a jobs market that has de facto full employment.

At FAS, however, the turnaround has prompted radical change. The body today is where employers go to seek workers. As director of the FAS-sponsored Jobs Ireland initiative, Mr Craig could use the name Mr Jobs Ireland.

He still talks frequently to journalists - but is as likely these days to brief a reporter from Time magazine as from the Irish media.

The programme runs international job fairs - hence the travel - seeking staff for big firms with Irish operations.

That qualified workers are in short supply is not in doubt. FA director general Mr Rody Molloy said there are 40,000 immediate vacancies in the State. The Tanaiste, Ms Harney, believes the Republic needs 200,000 new workers by 2006.

It's no surprise then that staff-hungry employers are willing to pay FAS a small fee to hire a stand at exhibitions attended by job hunters.

Publicising Jobs Ireland in local media is Mr Craig's job. He has often encountered ignorance of the Republic's boom. "There was shock and horror in Berlin that little old Ireland needed to take highly qualified workers from there," he said.

The programme also has a website, www.jobs-ireland.com, used as a resource by job-hunters and companies with vacancies. Between its launch in early October and November 20th, the site generated eight million hits and 2.1 million page impressions, the measurement used to assess readership of individual pages.

About 50,000 people have recorded virtual CVs on the site - these can be accessed only by subscriber companies seeking to fill vacancies.

Separately, 210 companies have posted details on 10,000 vacancies, which can be accessed by general visitors to the site.

Companies that have taken part in the fairs include bigleague players such as IBM, Intel, Nortel Networks, Bank of Ireland and AIB, all of which have high-level vacancies.

Since its first fair last April in Newfoundland, FAS has twice brought Jobs Ireland to London and once to Berlin, Cologne, Hanover, Manchester, Prague, Birmingham, Cape Town and Johannesburg.

Almost 100,000 people registered as job-seekers at these events, estimated to have cost FAS £1.8 million (€2.28 million). This was more than the original target budget of £1.5 million.

Firm figures on the recruitment rate are not yet available although Mr Craig expects about 18,000 work permits and 1,000 work visas will have been issued to non-EU workers by the end of the year.

This is more than three times last year's levels and Mr Craig believes the increase reflects, in part, the impact of Jobs Ireland.

The projected £4 million budget for next year's programme will fund visits to cities in Poland, France, Croatia, Estonia, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, India, and, again, to Canada and South Africa.

Exhibiting companies are likely to offer generous relocation packages, worth up to £30,000 in some case, to workers they want to recruit.

After an initial introduction at the exhibition, some employers organise on-the-spot interviews. Others collect CVs, which they assess overnight.

A number of companies at the Cape Town event last month said they were poised to make firm offers a day after receiving CVs. Relocation packages, they said, are crucial to encourage new staff to move to Dublin, where house prices are very high, and to other parts of the State.

Looking ahead, Mr Craig has other priorities for the programme.

First, he wants FAS to be able to issue work permits automatically, a right in the gift of the Department of Justice and Law Reform. "If we want to get 50,000 people a year in, that has to be the way we're going to do it," he said.

In addition, the establishment of full-time offices abroad is being considered. The body also plans to provide facilities for "virtual interviews" using video-conferencing technology.