A look at the latest Live Register statistics from the CSO is a good place to start. Figures released last week show that there were 442,200 people on the Live Register in September. This is a modest drop (-1.2 per cent) on the previous month but brighter news is that this number has undoubtedly stabilised.
Since May 2010, the numbers on the Live Register have fluctuated between 440,000 and 448,000, so there has been no meaningful increase in the overall numbers for well over 12 months. Looking a little deeper into the statistics, we can see a dynamic that is even more encouraging for jobseekers.
The short-term number (those on the Live Register for less than 12 months) has dropped by 40,594 in the last 12 months. The number of young people on the register is actually falling — down 8.8 per cent in the last 12 months. Both these statistics point to an actual fall in numbers in the medium term.
By this time next year, I would expect to see the current 14.3 per cent drop to under 13 per cent and continue falling from there.
So what is going on? Is this really the jobless recovery that was talked about, or is there a hidden jobs boom? I would strongly argue the latter. To explain the refusal of the Live Register to fall, we need look no further than the construction sector. The construction industry is, from an employment point of view, a long-tailed beast; meaning it takes a relatively long time for the absence of new orders to fully impact on employment. Given the sheer volumes of people employed in this sector in the late noughties, it isn’t surprising that the overall Live Register numbers are going to take a while to fall. However, there are now no major construction projects in the state to complete, so the overall impact on Live Register numbers will have peaked.
We should instead be looking at who has been recruiting to give an insight into where the jobs growth is going to come from. First, the overall picture. In the world of the white collar professional we’ve seen a dramatic turnaround in the last 12 months. In the six months to December 2010, Hays worked with 499 employers to recruit for 1600 new positions. In the six months to June 2011, those numbers were 728 and 2407 respectively. That’s an increase of 46 per cent in employers hiring, and a massive increase of 50 per cent in the number of positions to be filled, a staggering turnaround in the jobs market.
Which sectors then are showing the most positive signs? We’d expect to see the export sector showing strong employment growth, but export of what? Ireland’s financial services sector makes up over 30 per cent of all exports. Despite the ravages of the global financial crisis, employment in the IFSC has held steady at around 35,000 over the course of the recession, and is now showing signs of rapid growth. In the period surveyed, Hays witnessed an incredible 167 per cent increase in vacancies in banking and financial services. The Irish Banking Federation reckon between 5,000 and 10,000 jobs will be created in the next 5-10 years. From what we see, those jobs are being created now.
Not surprisingly, IT scores well in terms of jobs growth, with a 22 per cent rise in recorded vacancies between the latter half of 2010 and the first half of this year. Overall, IT represents around 30% of new vacancies, so its importance to the Irish jobs market cannot be overestimated. Following the dot-com crash of the early noughties, thousands of students abandoned an IT career for a seemingly lucrative career in construction. How short-sighted that appears now. It is vital for Ireland’s long-term growth that we encourage high take-up of maths and engineering related courses, as it is clear that these are more sustainable long- term skills.
These two sectors, IT and finance, represent very good bets for those entering into or moving within the jobs market. In terms of professions, you could do a lot worse than follow the old adage that there’s always money to be made looking after money.
There has been a 31 per cent increase in demand for qualified and part-qualified accountants in Ireland over the past six months. Employment levels in accountancy held up well in the downturn and most of the big firms are now increasing their numbers once again.
The most pleasing aspect of this hidden jobs boom is that it is now reaching into not just the multinational sector and to highly skilled roles such as IT, banking and finance, but is spreading to the "domestic" economy and into a broader range of roles. Typically, when exiting a recession and returning to cautious growth, businesses will restrict hiring to their core operations, bankers in banking, accountants in accountancy, programmers in the IT sector etc. But the most encouraging news from our analysis is the growth in demand for "support" roles – HR, marketing, procurement, administration. These are all vital to sustain an organisation, but as non-core functions, they’re the first to be pared back in a downturn and the last to be rehired when things improve. The first half of this year saw a 73 per cent increase in demand for these roles. Professionals experienced in these areas face better prospects than at any point in the last three years.
So next time you look at new employment figures, remember there is much more going on below the surface, including a very hidden but very healthy jobs boom.
*Richard Eardley, Managing Director of Hays Ireland recruitment
*This article was published in the Irish Examiner on the 10th October 2011.