Tuesday 22 October 2019

Anne-Marie Walsh: 'We're on the brink of full employment but thousands are being left behind'

 

Staff at jobs website Indeed are noticing high demand for engineers and construction-related skilled workers. Stock photo: Bloomberg
Staff at jobs website Indeed are noticing high demand for engineers and construction-related skilled workers. Stock photo: Bloomberg

Anne-Marie Walsh

We're either at full employment or very close to it, depending on who you talk to. But at the same time, an economist is reminding us we could be on the brink of losing 85,000 jobs.

It's reminiscent of the big spending Celtic Tiger days when an oblivious population got a rude awakening after Lehman Brothers went belly up and it felt like nobody was ever going to get their money back.

This dramatic turnabout was unimaginable in the days when laid-off SR Technics workers were marching and Dell's top brass were dashing former minister Mary Coughlan and Willie O'Dea's hopes of avoiding a massive jobs cull.

The unemployment rate now stands at 4.5pc. At its recessionary peak, it hit 16pc.

There are more people working than ever before - a total of 2.3 million.

Eurostat figures earlier this week showed we rank among the best in the EU when it comes to the health of our employment figures.

They showed the 4.4pc unemployment rate recorded recently was ninth among the 28 EU nations.

It's well below the average of more than 6pc, with Greece top of the pile at 18pc.

But there are still big problems behind the rosy figures.

Serious skill shortages are being reported. Staff at jobs website Indeed are noticing high demand for engineers and construction-related skilled workers.

It also recorded rapid growth in demand for truck drivers, retail staff, teaching assistants and food preparation workers.

On the other hand, there is a workforce that's not being tapped into.

They include the 40,000-plus long-term unemployed being left behind by the jobs boom, the young grappling with a 10pc unemployment rate and those in blackspots like the southeast where joblessness has lingered around the 7pc to 8pc mark.

Then there are the potential workers - mainly women -who have been priced out of the workplace by high childcare costs.

A curious issue also cropped up in a recent report by the Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed.

It pointed out there is a challenge in how full employment is "interpreted" and the "disheartening" effect it can have on those with little hope of securing decent employment.

But the biggest challenge to the buoyant jobs market is Brexit and potential trade wars.

"The manufacturing index the week showed a small decline and overseas tourist numbers are starting to slow a bit, and underlying most of that is Brexit," said economist Jim Power.

"I expect over the coming months until we get clarity on the Brexit situation and how the Tory leadership battle pans out, employers will get more reluctant on hiring.

"I would say the odds of a disorderly Brexit on October 31 are still high."

Irish Independent

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