Wild Geese: Brian O’Farrell, O’Farrell Recruitment, Berlin
Recruiter who left Ireland 30 years ago is set to expand business into German market
Brian O’Farrell: “The business culture in Germany is more formal and perhaps more serious than in Ireland.”
The 1980s were a gloomy time in Ireland. The economy was in dire straits, employment prospects were dreadful and thousands emigrated to find work. Brian O’Farrell was among them.
He left Ireland in 1987and has lived in Germany since. “At the time, even the statues were moving,” O’Farrell says, tongue firmly in his cheek. He moved not long after a grotto in Ballinspittle, Co Cork, made headlines when worshippers claimed an effigy of the Virgin Mary had changed position.
O’Farrell is based in Berlin, from where he has been running O’Farrell Recruitment since 1999. The company specialises in finding German speakers for jobs in Ireland, specifically in large multinationals such as IBM.
Its primary focus is on IT professionals but it also recruits software developers and those with health, engineering and Stem backgrounds.
Until now, the company’s main market has been Ireland but it also hires for the UK, Spain and the German domestic market. However, O’Farrell says this mix is about to change as the company, which employs three people, starts expanding its presence in Germany to cope with the burgeoning labour market there.
“The German economy is booming and there is a huge demand for skilled workers,” O’Farrell says. “Many people are emigrating from southern Europe, where there is massive unemployment among young people, to Germany, where youth unemployment is the lowest in the EU.
“When young Irish people think of emigrating to seek better career opportunities, they tend to go to the English-speaking countries such as the US or Australia. They often forget that there are fantastic opportunities on their own doorstep.
“There are skill shortages in many areas in Germany but particularly in IT, engineering and healthcare. It is a great advantage to be able to speak the language but in some sectors, such as IT, it’s not really necessary and there are wonderful opportunities.
“For anybody who has studied German at school or college and has an entrepreneurial spirit, Berlin also has a fast-developing start-up scene.”
Roscommon-born O’Farrell studied science at UCD and taught maths in Ireland before taking time out to travel. He spent time in Canada and also lived in France and Italy, where he taught English.
He speaks German, Italian and French and, when he moved to post-unification Berlin, he quickly discovered a huge demand for English language learning among East Germans who had learned Russian rather than English as their second language.
“There was mass unemployment after reunification and people were re-educating themselves, with a lot of people studying English,” O’Farrell says. In 1990, this prompted him to establish an education/travel business and, between then and 1998, he brought groups to Ireland to learn English and enjoy the splendours of the Kerry countryside.
“My students learned English, played golf and climbed Carrantuohill as part of the programme and I found it quite easy to attract Germans to Ireland as there is generally a very positive attitude towards Ireland in Germany,” he says. “I have had the same experience in the recruitment business. I recruit many German speakers for IT companies in Ireland and I find it easier to attract them to Ireland than to the UK, for example.”
O’Farrell’s transition from teaching to recruitment began when he was asked to find internships with Irish companies for young Germans learning English.
“I was working with the German-Irish Chamber of Commerce on the placements and they pointed out a recruitment opportunity to me to provide German-speaking staff to the many multinationals setting up in Ireland that were typically basing their European head offices there. That’s how I started and the business has developed from there.
“In the intervening years, I have built a strong network of contacts and a lot of my referrals come through word of mouth. Probably one of the biggest changes I’ve experienced in my sector in recent years is the big switch from print advertising of jobs to digital and social media channels. I’m active across multiple networks in a number of countries.”
Because of its dependence on the Irish market, O’Farrell Recruitment faced its own challenges during the financial crash here when companies either cut hiring costs by bypassing recruitment agencies completely or looked for a reduction in fees.
“On reflection, it was difficult for three or four years but things have improved and we are busy,” says O’Farrell who is contemplating opening an Irish office. “Up to 2008, I recruited midwives for the Irish health service, but that all stopped with the crash and the moratorium on recruitment. However, it has now restarted and I am again recruiting midwives for the Irish market and dentists for the UK.”
Having lived in Germany for 30 years, O’Farrell is well settled.
“There are many things I like about living in Germany, and Berlin in particular,” he says. “Berlin is a green city with lots of parks and cycle ways. The people in Germany are honest, decent and reliable and there are many different cultures mingling here. I like living in Germany because I feel I am at the centre of Europe.
“Germany has an excellent infrastructure, public transport system and health system as well as good cultural facilities. I also like the fact that people are very aware of the environment.
“The business culture in Germany is more formal and perhaps more serious than in Ireland. Reliability and punctuality are very important and Germans don’t like uncertainty in their business dealings.”