Ireland’s Jobs Market: A 3-Speed Recovery

By Gerard Walker, Future Jobs-Skills-Work Insights


Total employment is now at 2,506,000 - almost 150,000 higher than prior to the pandemic, according to recent employment data figures for 2021 recently released by the CSO.


The figures enable a comparison with two years previously before the start of the pandemic, and also revealed that the total number of hours worked is now marginally higher. The employment numbers included 41,000 persons on the Pandemic Unemployment Payment.


Sectoral Job Trends
Within the total employment there are sectoral job gains and losses. There have been significant job gains within the Information and Communications, Professional Scientific and Technical; Financial Insurance, Real Estate; and Public Administration and Social Security sectors, and steady job gains within Education, Industry, Health & Social Work and Construction. Meanwhile, the Administration & Support Services, Accommodation and Food, Cultural and Recreational and to a lesser extent the Transport & Storage and Wholesale and Retail sectors remain below their pre pandemic employment levels. 


Employment increased in all regions over the last year with the highest percentage increase being in the Mid-West region at 13.4% compared to the West Region with the lowest increase at 6.6%. 


Unemployment trends
The numbers of unemployed persons at 127,400 remains 17,000 higher than prior to the pandemic, although it fell by 14,300 over the last year. The unemployment rate is now 4.9% but the youth unemployment rate (persons 15-24 years) is higher at 10.2%. There has been an 20% increase in long-term unemployment which now totals 44,300. 



Implications for Skills and Talent 
The job growth in Information and Communications; Professional, Technical, and Financial, Insurance indicates the need for proactive recruitment and in-company training to fill job opportunities in these sectors, particularly for ICT professionals, Data Analytics and energy and environmental engineering roles. 


The Health and Social Work sector has been to the fore dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. Continuing job growth can be expected to deal with the backlog of delayed medical treatment as well as Irelands ageing population. In the USA “burnout” by health staff has led to as many people leaving the sector as joining and measures to ensure staff retention will be essential. 


Manufacturing employment has grow steadily driven by record exports in 2021 of €165bn of Medical and Pharmaceutical and Agri-Food products. This is resulting in demand for engineers, technicians, scientists, quality assurance and production operator roles. 


The Construction sector has seen modest employment growth over the last two years. Given the pent-up construction demand arising from planned housing, retrofitting and infrastructural investment there is an urgent need to boost construction skills supply particularly for professional roles and craftsperson’s. 


Wholesale and Retail employment is now just marginally down on the pre-pandemic levels resulting in a demand for retail management, customer service, online sales and e-commerce roles. 


The Transport and Storage sector is a key activity for business across the economy. However, employment remains 2.5% less than the pre-pandemic level with recruitment difficulties being experienced for HGV drivers.


Employment levels remain lower for the Accommodation and Food sector which was significantly impacted by pandemic restrictions. Recruitment difficulties within this sector highlight a need to enhance retention through improved working conditions and enhanced career paths as well as increasing skills supply. 


The higher youth unemployment rate indicates the importance of increased apprenticeship provision. There are now 62 national apprenticeship programmes available, including in construction, engineering, healthcare, biopharma, and hospitality. Seventeen additional new apprenticeships will be developed over the coming year in the areas of agriculture, finance, hospitality, food, ICT, and logistics. 


The growth in long-term unemployment indicates a need for targeted employment services and reskilling supports for this group to connect them with quality job opportunities in alternative sectors of employment. 


It is positive that employment has increased in all regions over the last year, albeit at different rates. As highlighted in the recent OECD Local Skills Week Seminar, talent is the critical factor for competitiveness and sustainability. It is attracted to regions and cities with a good quality of life and availability of quality jobs. 


Main Takeaway
The latest employment figures indicate a three-speed recovery led by high growth sectors including the ICT, Life Science, and Financial Services, with steady job growth within Industry, Health & Social Work, and Construction followed by slow recovery within Administration & Support Services, Accommodation and Food and the Cultural and Recreation. These trends, along with higher youth unemployment and long-term unemployment indicates the need for increased investment in employment services, career guidance, in-company training and the Higher and Further Education and Training systems.


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