Emigration is the perennial Irish safety valve in times of recession – and reversing the flow when times are good takes the pressure off too.
Right now, employers are keen to bring skilled workers home, all the more so if they have garnered valuable experience while abroad. Candidates too seem keen.
"I have noticed an increase in candidates applying to come back to Ireland from overseas now that Ireland is booming," says Mary McNally, recruitment business partner at Arup, an engineering services company.
That’s good news, because right across construction and engineering, employers are still contending with the legacy of the recession.
“Currently, it’s very challenging to source engineers in Ireland,” says McNally. “Back in 2008, when the recession hit Ireland, a lot of graduate engineers left to work overseas, also a lot of students decided not to study engineering at this time due to the lack of possible jobs during this period. As a result, we are finding it difficult to fill the gap of people with eight-10 years’ experience.”
Looking further afield for talent is something Arup is well-placed to do. “As we are a global company, we hire internally from overseas – with employees coming to Ireland on long- or short-term assignments.”
The company offers a huge range of roles, including civil engineers, fire engineers, water and wastewater engineers, quantity surveyors, transport and traffic engineers, highways engineers and designers.
"We have an excellent benefits package with a bi-annual profit share, an excellent pension package where Arup double-matches the employee contribution, a contribution towards healthcare as well as a 'travel to work' allowance. We invest hugely in educating our staff with the Arup University, where we offer a huge array of training for employees, with technical and soft skills training," McNally says.
“What’s interesting for the employees is they get exposure to both local and international projects, as we are a global company. Also, we afford employees the possibility of changing disciplines. For instance, an employee may start within the structure engineering side of things but prefer a more design role and are often afforded the opportunity to move into a new area.”
Many Irish graduates head off to work abroad even before the ink on their university scroll is dry. If it’s a rite of passage, so is getting a foot in the door of their chosen career by landing a placement on a corporate graduate programme.
Here too, many Irish companies will be competing over the Christmas period to tempt those home for the holidays to stay put.
Arup’s three-year graduate programme is designed to assist engineers to attain chartered status. This year alone, it hired 39 graduates across its four Irish offices.
Retail grocery chain Aldi is also looking to recruit. "We have a really comprehensive investment and expansion plan in place for 2019 and beyond. Further store openings and our Project Fresh investment continues to create exciting new opportunities, from in-store roles from assistants to store management as well as graduate and career-changer area manager roles," says Hannah Condron, Aldi's personnel development manager.
Sense of purpose
Employers are increasingly tuned in to millennials’ desire for work that give them a sense of purpose. For a commercial for-profit enterprise, about the best way to do this is through engaging in corporate and social responsibility (CSR) initiatives.
"Aldi believes it's important to give back and support our local Aldi communities," says Condron. "Our community initiatives are focused on helping local causes around the country and supporting our charity partners – The Irish Cancer Society, FoodCloud and Foróige. Our employees are proud to support our charity partners by getting involved in activities such as taking part in and fundraising for the Irish Cancer Society Colour Dash fun runs, of which Aldi are proud sponsors."
Rival supermarket chain Lidl partners with Jigsaw, the National Centre for Youth Mental Health, as well as Ladies Gaelic Football.
Lidl also co-sponsors 20x20, a new campaign designed to increase media coverage of female sport, boost attendances at matches and competitions, and, ultimately, grow involvement in female sport and activity by 20 per cent by the end of 2020.
The other advantage some employers can offer returning emigrants is a location outside of Dublin. Given the dearth of affordable accommodation in the capital, this in itself can be an inducement to stay.
Technology companies are increasingly opening regional offices, and will put structured relocation packages in place for the right (senior) candidate, according to Clare McDonald of recruitment agency Stelfox.
Flexible working is an increasingly valuable carrot too.
“Whether it’s the ability to work from home, or at workhubs, or a hybrid ‘half-in, half-out’ model, it brings huge benefits for everybody because it reduces the employer’s overheads, increases productivity and helps with work-life balance,” she says.
“Building your work around your life also creates a nice culture in your company, and happy workers perform better.”
For returning immigrants, it’s likely to be an increasingly important factor. “Certainly, all the candidates we see ask ‘what’s the flex-working like’ in any company they are considering,” McDonald says.