Ireland's problem with phantom tech jobs announcements
Published 11/02/2016 | 02:30
Q: How do get attention when you only have a small number of jobs to announce?
A: Multiply your jobs figure by projecting several years into the future.
More and more, this is the guiding principle behind jobs announcements made by tech companies of all sizes in Ireland.
This week, Enterprise Ireland announced "1,500 jobs to be created over the next three years" by 105 State-subsidised startup firms.
There may actually be only 100 jobs. Or 50 jobs. Or 300 jobs. You see, the "1,500" figure is based on a survey of what young State-subsidised startups hope to see happen in future years.
Naturally, we all wish them good luck. But let's stay grounded for the time being: these jobs are not yet here.
Now I'm not normally in the business of being an economic killjoy. Nor do I doubt that the 105 startups in question will produce a couple of really good, export-grade companies. I have, after all, been writing about such startups for 15 years.
And tech is still an industry of strong expansion in Ireland. And there's nothing wrong with talking about one's aspirations to grow and create jobs. They're rightly interpreted as a positive thing.
But with each announcement rolled out trumpeting 100 jobs "in coming years", the tech industry's communications credibility wanes a little further.
The practice is observed by both small and large tech companies here.
One long-standing tech multinational in Ireland announces between 70-100 new jobs annually, usually to some fanfare. But its permanent headcount has not significantly changed in five years. Because just as it adds new positions, it also retires other positions.
We don't hear about those jobs so much, though.
None of this is to say that tech companies, or State agencies such as the IDA and Enterprise Ireland, have not seen a net increase in hired positions. Ask any growing tech firm and they will tell you that they're hiring as fast as they can. Even on a macro level, it's fairly obvious. Our overall unemployment rates have fallen in Ireland.
But something still sticks in our craw when told that hundreds or thousands of jobs are "to be created" when there is no present-day proof of it.
Oddly, prioritising jobs 'to be created' as a metric of success appears to be much more of an Irish phenomenon than in other advanced, industrialised countries. Is it because we're grateful that someone 'gives' us jobs? Is it down to a lurking suspicion that our economy could collapse into 20pc unemployment at any time? Neither would be especially complimentary about indigenous expertise or competence.
This is hardly to say that jobs created are not to be celebrated. But it seems that the temptation to capitalise on our yearning to hear about someone, somewhere 'creating jobs' is too much for many marketers to resist.
So good luck, Irish startups. Good luck, Enterprise Ireland. All of the country is hoping you will succeed.
But I'm betting that none of that will happen any faster by promoting phantom jobs.