Wednesday 13 December 2017

Co-operation is key if we're to find our way out of this mess

HOW does the dole queue in Dundalk get longer, despite the record number of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) jobs coming to the town in the past 18 months?

Louth TD Peter Fitzpatrick has made it a priority for his autumn term in Leinster House to start getting people off the live register in his home town and into jobs and training.

And he wants to hear from anyone who has any ideas about making this happen, or who, better still, has a project in mind they believe could reduce the jobless figures in Dundalk and North Louth.

There is no easy solution to the unemployment crisis in this area, which is 25 per cent above the national average, but highlighting a bit of background is as good a place as any to start.

Here's the reality – Dundalk had a fine tradition of manufacturing industry that employed tens of thousands of people just two generations ago. 'Globalisation' meant that cigarette and shoe making went to low income economies as shareholders of private companies demanded higher and higher dividends.

After that, electronic-based factories were established, but again, India and China offered the same workers for a fraction of the price and multinationals went where the highest profits could be made, or, went out of business altogether as a rapidly changing global marketplace swallowed them up.

Dundalk also suffered disproportionately in an economic sense because of the Troubles. After the sometimes drawn-out deaths of locally-based industries there was nothing to fill the void and the town stagnated as the feeling abroad was that investors wanted to avoid 'El Paso'.

The computer boom that brought Intel and Microsoft to Ireland passed Dundalk by, but as the Celtic Tiger began to roar, the town landed a big fish – Xerox. The much-heralded advent of a high-end manufacturing facility in Dundalk was enough for many to believe that the town could begin to establish itself as a centre for more places like this.

But the lightning-fast pace of change in the technology sector overtook even a giant like Xerox, which now employs a fraction of the 2,000 people it had been hoped it would. The retail and leisure sectors boomed in the 2000s, with new jobs both building the shops and working in them and there was a significant investment in public sector jobs such as social welfare and revenue.

The public sector recruitment ban, the hard bite of the recession on shops and leisure facilities, coupled with no replacement of the jobs for a secondary school educated workforce have conspired to leave Dundalk with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.

And while there has been great news on the jobs front in terms of eBay, PayPal, Warner Chilcott PetSafe and others in the past 18 months, the unemployment figures remain on the rise because many of these require university-educated, bilingual workers. So, another approach is needed, along with some innovative and radical thinking.

Education, as Ireland has learned in the past, is the key and reaching out to communities to offer them concrete proposals in terms of training is a must.

People must also be encouraged to set up their own businesses, in addition to supporting the local firms and shops that are here, today, paying employees who live in Dundalk.

And a co-ordinated approach, where the key stakeholders – and those without work at the centre of this – is essential so that every service and education provider, every training facility and institution, are co-operating together to tackle the unemployment problem, as the current system is too disparate.

The Argus

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