Our new 'Hidden Ireland'

And not one of them speaking about recession!

Last month Google announced it was ’sunsetting’ its GoolgeReader

Last month Google announced it was ’sunsetting’ its GoolgeReader

 

‘And not one of them speaking about recession!” So exclaimed Senator Marie-Louise O’Donnell in a report for Today with Pat Kenny on RTÉ Radio 1 on March 26th.

She was discussing the 2,500 staff in Google’s offices in Dublin’s Barrow Street: 64 nationalities with an average age of just 27, and with 46 languages. O’Donnell enthusiastically described the team work, open-plan layout, flexible hours and staff benefits including good food available at all times, a gym, and medical and dental facilities – all soon to be augmented by a 25m swimming pool.

The Action Plan for Jobs 2013 published by the Department of Enterprise observes that there are at least 95,000 people directly employed in the information and communications technology (ICT) sector.

So it is always a little surprising that the general media, and RTÉ in particular, seem to largely overlook the high technology sectors (including ICT, medical devices and pharmaceuticals) of our economy.

By contrast, RTÉ extensively covers the agri-food area. But the website of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine asserts that there are about 50,000 people directly employed in agri-food. I accept it is a key contributor to our economy, but high technologies are too and employ more than twice as many.

So it was a rare moment for many when O’Donnell lifted a veil on another part of Ireland, as she described her visit to Google. Instead of the daily diet of anger and distrust resulting from a deep recession, unemployment and debt, she was able to gush over the sheer vitality of a community of staff and management working together on world-class challenges, successfully competing with peers elsewhere, both here and worldwide.

RTE at last does seem to be acknowledging that a significant proportion of the the Irish public are involved in the high technology industries in Ireland, along also with investigative science.

After over 85 years of public broadcasting, last week it announced the appointment of its first ever full time science and technology correspondent. The former general news journalist Will Goodbody is to be sincerely congratulated in his new role. It is also positive that RTE Radio’s Drama On One programme is currently running a series of four weekly radio plays inspired by science.

Not everything is rosy in the high-tech economy. There is a deficit of appropriately skilled staff, particularly for indigenous companies. Frequently, employment demand is met by skilled immigrants rather than sufficient numbers of our own suitably educated graduates.

Of course, many graduates want to travel overseas, whether emigrating Irish or immigrants. A further challenge is the sheer rate of change of technology. Without a continuous investment in new skills, professionals in the ICT sector, including academic staff, can become left behind. Furthermore an ample supply of private risk capital remains an issue for many indigenous companies.

Nevertheless, the challenges in high-tech seem a different world from the daily media narrations about the challenges faced by many in Ireland. The quality of the work environment, pay, benefits, work satisfaction and the opportunity to travel, contrast greatly between these worlds.

At least some teenagers now appear to be responding to the opportunities in high technology. In the past year the numbers entering third-level high-tech courses have begun to reverse a very long decline, and only recently have the numbers of Leaving Cert students sitting high-level science and maths begun to increase.

A broader media coverage of the high-technology sectors might not only encourage more of our young to consider a high-tech career path, but also help at least some of our unemployed make a transition. Retraining is possible and there is a wealth of online material to help those willing to study.

Much of the Irish high-tech sector requires languages, which Ireland has been weak in. Sales and marketing competences can be taught and yet there are few courses that encourage the unemployed to change career. Creative solutions could do much to re-energise those lost to the productive economy. A sustained news flow, commentary and analysis by mainstream media would not only inspire many, but also influence public policy on the matter.

Ireland may seem to many to be economically barren, but there is an alternative and strong economy apparently overlooked by mainstream media.

Our modern “Hidden Ireland” may be as valuable as that described by author Daniel Corkery in his 1924 book of the same title.