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Irish employers counting on returning expats to plug job gaps

With all the foreign direct investment, shortages are appearing in ‘top-end’ jobs

Jobs in Ireland: “Demand is greatest among sectors that powered their way through the recession,” says Avril McHugh of CPL.

Jobs in Ireland: “Demand is greatest among sectors that powered their way through the recession,” says Avril McHugh of CPL.


In the ongoing “war for talent”, skills shortages are encouraging employers to look overseas for workers. And demand is buoyant across a number of sectors.

“We’re seeing gaps emerge across sciences, biotech, pharma and food & beverage chemists,” says Avril McHugh, marketing director with CPL, a recruitment agency. “The IDA is doing a great job bringing foreign direct investment in all these fields to Ireland and as, a result, there are top-end jobs showing shortages.”

In addition, “We are also seeing huge demand for engineers of all kinds, from mechanical and electrical to those specialising in chip design and process automation. These are very specific and highly skilled jobs of a kind that weren’t really available here before.

“Previously a lot of graduates would have had to leave Ireland to work in these fields,” McHugh adds. “Now, having got great experience overseas, they are able to relocate here again and take them up.”

Demand is greatest among sectors that powered their way through the recession, she says. “On the ICT front, we’re looking for specialist managers, programmers and software and web development professionals, especially for mobile, as well as for telecoms IT professionals.”

IT crucial

For anyone who moved abroad at the start of the recession, the biggest change is that information technology is now fully acknowledged as integral – not just to IT businesses, but to all businesses. “We’ve seen IT move up to C-suite level, similar to marketing, and recognised as critical,” says McHugh.

Attracting such skills back to Ireland, or to Ireland for the first time, is key to maintaining growth. Research conducted by CPL last May with the Irish Australian Chamber of Commerce indicated that 64 per cent of Irish people working down under are thinking about coming home.

“When people travel overseas for work, very often five years is a key psychological milestone,” says McHugh. “They tend to make a decision at that point whether to come home or stay put. When you think about when the downturn really kicked in, very many people are hitting that five-year point now.”

For those looking to ease the return journey, CPL has established One Tribe, a combined recruitment and concierge service. By partnering with banks, the IDA, Enterprise Ireland and Myhome.ie, it provides returnees with life hacks ranging from applying for a credit card when you have no credit history here to finding suitable accommodation.

Things aren’t equally buoyant for every profession, she cautions. In particular, those returning with marketing experience need to ensure their skills are up to date.

“Marketing people need to be data-aware now. They can’t just continue to do what they have always done, even if they have great experience and reputation behind them. If they don’t skill up, they won’t stay current. Traditional marketers who haven’t got these skills are finding it harder and harder to get placed.”

Acute shortages

Demand is particularly intense in the health sector. “I haven’t seen a shortage this acute in my 15 years in healthcare,” says Brian Crowley, chief executive of TTM Healthcare, a recruitment company.

“Nurses in particular are a significant concern for most healthcare employers in the western world. We recruit across Ireland, Northern Ireland, the UK, Germany and the Gulf region, and all employers are struggling in the war for nursing talent.”

The advent of Brexit, allied to changed demands for UK nurses in relation to English-language proficiency, could play to Ireland’s advantage, Crowley says. “People from overseas who have made a career in the UK health sector may be rethinking their plans, and those who might previously have gone to the UK may not go at all. A lot more people could look to come to Ireland instead.

Specialist consultants, clinical psychologists and radiographers are also in demand. But if Ireland is to attract such professionals, the shortage of quality, affordable housing must be addressed, he says. In addition: “Ireland’s high rate of tax is also off-putting.”

Having come the lean years of the recession, the country’s professional services firms are back recruiting. Demand for qualified, experienced accountants is particularly high.

PWC recruited more than 300 “experienced hires” in 2016, on top of 300 graduate recruits. With a total workforce of 2,400, it has seen growth across all parts of the business, according to Susan Kilty, PWC’s people partner.

Most demand has been in cyber security, digital and technology. In these sectors, it’s an employee’s market.

“We compete on our ability to give people a really broad-based experience across a range of clients and sectors, with clients who are market leaders in their field,” Kilty says. “We also have a young, vibrant, team-based culture, with prospects for international travel.”

Law is back

The country’s law firms are back recruiting as well, providing relief for a profession that took a hammering in the recession, particularly smaller practices that relied on conveyancing. For the big law firms, the greatest demand is for lawyers with corporate and finance experience.

Unlike some professions, lawyers working in large international practices tend not to favour mobility. “They don’t move between one firm and another, so there isn’t much movement at home, which is why we are looking to attract talent back home,” says the human resources manager of a law firm, who prefers not to be named.

As long as candidates are qualified to work in this jurisdiction, those with international experience are viewed in a particularly favourable light. “International work is seen as an asset to our clients, as everyone’s perspective is global these days.”

In light of Brexit, some lawyers may feel better off working in an EU country, she suggests, “though we have seen no impact on that score yet”.

The downturn was rough, however. “A lot of people left because they had to, not because they wanted to. We understand that such people are not in a rush to move back and that we really need to sell to candidates, not just the other way around,” she says.

“For us now it’s all about, ‘How can we help you settle better here?’ It’s about giving people the space and respect to ensure it’s a good move for them. Not just about asking people to come back because the market is buoyant.”

It’s not just the private sector that is looking to hire. So far this year, the Public Appointments Service has assigned more than 3,800 people to jobs in the civil service.

The Civil Service Graduate Development Programme, which is delivered in partnership with the Irish Management Institute, assigned more than 200 graduates, out of some 5,000 applicants, to positions of administrative officer, third secretary, trainee auditor and economist in the civil service.

For its part, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland secured additional funding in Budget 2017, allowing it to launch a new behavioural economics team and a large-scale pilot project focusing on the retrofit of existing housing stock for energy efficiency.

Over the coming months, the authority will recruit for positions in engineering, behavioural science, research and development, governance and finance, digital strategy and marketing, community development, programme management, and human resources.