Friday 23 February 2018

Bringing them all back home to build a new tomorrow

Encouraging Irish emigrants to return home will help tackle the skills shortage, writes Sharon McCooey of LinkedIn

WORK: Sharon McCooey, senior director of LinkedIn Ireland
WORK: Sharon McCooey, senior director of LinkedIn Ireland

Sharon McCooey

It is a positive sign to see that the majority of companies in Ireland are planning to increase their headcount this year.

Despite the confidence evident in the business community, there is a difficulty in attracting employees with specific skills that organisations are looking for.

Given the experience built up by our emigrants, Ireland's diaspora is an obvious target to help address the talent gap in Ireland. Yet, despite the skills shortage and the talent pool of Irish emigrants, a report by Hays Ireland indicates that only 17pc of employers have looked overseas for staff.

The recent launch of Global Irish: Ireland's Diaspora Policy - the Government plan which includes support services for emigrants looking to return to Ireland - is a positive development and should be built upon. My belief is that a communications campaign needs to be put in place to highlight the opportunities available in Ireland for anyone thinking of returning.

LinkedIn's internal data shows that Irish emigrants have built up a wealth of experience abroad and could help sustain economic growth if we can attract them back to Ireland.

For example, if we look at Irish emigrants employed in CXO (corporate officer) positions, our data shows that there are more Irish emigrants working as corporate officers in corporate, high-tech and finance industries, than professionals in equivalent positions based in Ireland.

The Irish economy would reap the benefits of a brain gain if these professionals returned home, but in order to achieve this we have to demonstrate the fantastic opportunities in Ireland.

The only way to create a compelling narrative for this audience is by providing evidence of what sectors jobs are available in and what skills employers are looking for. Armed with this information, government and industry could work together in a targeted campaign aimed at tackling the talent shortage, while making the best use of available resources.

At LinkedIn we believe that data like this is crucial in developing policies to tackle the skills gap and we think that we can contribute by using the Economic Graph.

The Economic Graph is LinkedIn's vision to create a digital representation of the global economy, identifying the connections between people, jobs, skills, companies, and professional knowledge - which will allow you to spot real-time trends that point to economic opportunities.

With the Economic Graph, we could look at where the jobs are in any given locality, identify the fastest-growing sectors for job creation in that location, the skills required to obtain those jobs, the skills of the existing aggregate workforce there, and then quantify the size of the gap.

We have already worked with policymakers in other parts of the world on similar issues. In New York for example, LinkedIn has worked with Tech Talent Pipeline, a public-private partnership designed to expand the pool of qualified home-grown tech talent in the region. Using the Economic Graph, we have analysed aggregate LinkedIn data from more than three million LinkedIn members in the New York region and 150,000 NY-based businesses to provide the Tech Talent Pipeline with insights on the state of the city's tech industry.

This research is now informing the Tech Talent Pipeline team's decisions on how to deploy $10m in funding to help New York schools, government, and organisations better prepare New Yorkers for in-demand tech jobs and fuel the continuing growth of NY tech businesses.

In Ireland, we are already putting together a team that would be in a position to deliver the same insights in partnership with relevant stakeholders.

From an Irish perspective, one of the main drivers of the economic recovery has also been the technology sector. Ireland's ICT sector employs over 105,000 people and generates €72bn in exports annually, which equates to 40pc of total national exports. The IDA has done a fantastic job of attracting multinationals and high potential growth companies to the country.

The indigenous tech sector is also flourishing, with companies such as Intercom, Datahug and Logentries going from strength to strength.

We have witnessed this huge growth ourselves at LinkedIn, growing from a headcount of three people in 2010 when we opened our doors, to a point where we now employ 600 people, with plans to further expand in the future.

Despite this phenomenal success story, there are 6,000 vacancies in the IT sector and there is huge competition for talent as a result. So when I read research that shows the majority of emigrants aged 25-34 are skilled professionals, often with IT knowledge, it pains me to think that there is a pool of Irish emigrants available that could help tackle our talent shortage, but they are in other parts of the world.

We already offer the tools for anyone looking for a job to see what opportunities are available in specific countries, so any Irish LinkedIn users who have emigrated can easily search to see what jobs are available in any industry in Ireland with a couple of clicks.

Our members are able to search for jobs by the seniority of the position, the location and even with specific employers. They can also save specific searches so they can look to see if new positions have been added in the same fashion as if they were looking for a new house. While this suits emigrants actively looking to return home, a proactive campaign is required to make people aware of the opportunities in Ireland in order to stimulate their interest in returning home.

Rather than taking a shotgun approach, we should be targeting emigrants with specific skills in locations that we know they are based in.

Sticking with the hi-tech sector as an example, while the man on the street knows that a lot of Irish IT talent is based in the United States, it may not be as obvious that similar pools of Irish tech talent are also based in France, Spain, Germany and the Netherlands. Leveraging data like this, Government and industry can work together to benefit from economies of scale as part of a joined-up campaign.

Developing a campaign to bring emigrants home will not only help to position the Irish economy for future growth, it will also reconnect families, friends and communities across the country. Its knock-on effects will be felt not just in the economy, but will also ripple across Irish society.

Sharon McCooey is senior director of LinkedIn Ireland

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