Friday 23 March 2018

Bank managers and barmen buck the trend for new jobs

Employment levels in the construction sector have collapsed but it's not so in banking, writes Ken Griffin

UNEMPLOYMENT may have broken through the 450,000 barrier last week -- but for bank managers the jobs market is as rosy as ever, according to data provided to the Sunday Independent by the Central Statistics Office.

The figures from the CSO's quarterly household survey indicate that the number of bank managers in the State rose by almost 20 per cent during 2009 to 9,200, bucking the general trend of rising unemployment, despite such managers playing a key role in creating the property bubble.

The increase in their numbers comes despite a decrease in lending activity among the State's banks, who many businesspeople suspect are withholding credit to rebuild their own balance sheets and to minimise the State's influence on their affairs.

Other financial managers also appear to be weathering the recession: the CSO data indicates that their numbers have risen by 25 per cent since the height of the boom to almost 23,000. The number of accountants is also continuing to grow, reaching a record 41,700 at the start of this year -- a 3 per cent rise on the previous year.

Although there is some evidence of cutbacks in the financial sector, it appears that these have focused on easy targets such as management consultants and junior staff. The number of financial clerks employed has fallen by 14 per cent since 2007 while the number of people employed as management consultants fell by 20 per cent in that period.

Even these falls, however, pale by comparison with the figures from the construction sector, where employment levels have collapsed across almost all occupations. The worst affected are bricklayers and labourers, whose numbers have fallen by over 70 per cent in just three years.

At the height of the boom, there were almost 37,000 construction labourers. Now, there are fewer than 10,000 and this number is expected to fall further this year.

Even highly-skilled construction occupations such as civil engineering and architecture have seen significant falls in employment. The number of architects employed fell by 37 per cent during 2009 alone while there are 25 per cent fewer civil engineers than there were in 2007.

Despite the Government's claims that the recession is over, it appears that the slowdown in construction is actually accelerating due to a combination of weak consumer confidence and difficulties securing project finance. For instance, the number of housing completions in the State in the first five months of this year was down over 50 per cent on the equivalent period of 2009.

Meanwhile, the Construction Industry Federation (CIF) claims that the Government has cut back significantly on state infrastructure projects. Its latest data indicates that less than €60m in new public construction projects were awarded in March and April.

A CIF spokesman said that while the industry had grown too large at the height of the property boom, the opposite was now happening. "We estimate that construction will account for 5 to 6 per cent of GDP next year, which is half the European average. We should be at upper end of the scale due to the nature of our infrastructural deficits," he said.

The CIF believes that the continuing decline in construction employment could play a key role in ensuring that any future recovery is a jobless one, as recently predicted by accountancy firm Ernst & Young.

According to the spokes- man, it's not just high-profile developers who are being hit by the downturn, small contractors are also going to the wall.

"What we have seen is that hundreds of small regional contracting companies -- the sort that do small works on schools, garda stations, pavements etc -- have been badly impacted by the recession and can no longer sustain their workforces," he said.

"We are reaching a situation where in five to 10 years' time, the industry will be unable to carry out infrastructure works because the skills and talent required would have left to see opportunities abroad, which will be a huge loss to the country."

On the other hand, the Chartered Accountants of Ireland (CAI), the largest accountancy body in the State, said that employment prospects for its members remained good, despite falling pay levels.

A spokesman said that the unique skills possessed by accountants and their ability to work within multiple industries had shielded them from the worst of the recession. "You could argue that some of the skillsets possessed by accountants are more necessary during a recession than at other times," he said.

While the CSO's data for construction and financial employment confirms what many had already suspected, the figures do contain a number of surprises. The number of scientists employed more than doubled in 2009 while the number of certain types of managers rose by over 50 per cent.

Meanwhile, the data indicates that the prospects for the pub trade may be brighter than the industry's representatives suggest. The number of publicans, innkeepers and club stewards rose by 45 per cent in 2009 to 7,400 while the number of bar staff increased by 11 per cent.

Sunday Independent

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