Fast Track: Lure of the Irish

Are graduates finally turning the tide and heading across the water?
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The Independent Culture
If, as a graduate five or 10 years ago, you had announced that you wanted to begin your career in Ireland, you wouldn't have been perceived as the sharpest tool in the shed. For centuries, high unemployment and poor prospects have forced countless Irish people to leave their homeland to seek work in continental Europe and the US. Now the country claims that it urgently needs to reverse the trend, as booming economic growth is creating new skilled jobs at a faster rate than the small local population can fill them.

So just how shrewd a move is it for today's English graduates to plan to stay in Dublin for longer than one of its notorious stag or hen weekends, or to visit Cork other than for its annual music festival? And if you decide to go for it, how can you go about getting the best job?

"Ireland has become the ideal destination for graduates," Gregory Craig, of FAS, the Irish employment board, assures me. His justification? In the last year alone, 72,000 jobs have been created - hardly surprising when you consider that the country's economy has been growing at an average annual rate of 8.9 per cent, nearly four times that of the EU average. So desperate is the board to attract graduates that it is just about to launch the FAS Jobs Ireland Campaign in the UK, Germany, France, the Benelux countries, the US and Canada. FAS will also play a large part at Expo Ireland - a celebration of Irish culture and business at London's Olympia - where employers will join in attempting to lure university leavers.

"While there are more successful home-grown Irish businesses than ever, many global leaders have chosen to base their European headquarters in Ireland," explains Craig. And IT giants such as Microsoft and Gateway have helped to make Ireland's IT software and manufacturing sector the fastest-growing in Europe.

Fiona McCarthy, of Dell, Ireland's largest IT employer, says: "All our products for Europe, the Middle East and Africa are manufactured at Limerick, so we find ourselves employing more than 4,000 people. Graduates can live and work in a unique, vibrant part of the world, at the forefront of IT, and enjoy competitive salaries and perks."

What's more, major employers in most sectors don't seem to mind if new recruits can't commit to staying for more than a year or two.

Now that Dublin's International Financial Services Centre (IFSC) has developed into a significant world centre, a vast number of graduate vacancies now exist in the financial sector too.

"But most surprising of all to English graduates seems to be the fact that nine of the world's top 10 pharmaceutical companies and 10 of the world's top 15 medical products companies now have operations in Ireland, and this is marked as the top growth area for the remainder of the century," adds Eugenic Houston, author of Working and Living In Ireland (Oak Tree Press, pounds 12.95). She has also found that tourism is becoming a favourite.

Julie Ashton, 25, who graduated just two years ago, now runs a bar in a popular holiday resort. She is turning over pounds 400,000 a year and is responsible for 14 staff. "My friends laughed when I said I was going into the hospitality profession in Ireland," she said. "But they soon started to envy me. Not only because of what I'd achieved, but because the work is such fun." However, there are points to bear in mind, Houston adds. "The status of women in business, for instance, still lags behind the UK. Admittedly, it's a lot better than it was five or 10 years ago. The government is finally beginning to offer tax breaks for child care and there are more female managers... but when you approach an accountant or bank manager there's still a good chance that you'll be asked to bring along your husband - even if you don't have one."

It is also true that Ireland is more interested in the returning emigrant than the non-Irish. "Our key focus is to get the Irish back in Ireland," admits Craig.

Taxes and living expenses are worth taking into account. Joseph Walsh, 23, who moved to Ireland three years ago and now works on the Guardian Insurance graduate scheme, explains: "My friends in Britain are shocked at how much rent I pay and how much the income tax is. It is certainly more pricey than England. That said, water rates and council tax are almost non-existent, and Dublin is so small it's unlikely you'll have to commute much."

Jobseekers are advised to start looking before they arrive. The business supplement of The Irish Times on Fridays is useful, along with The Irish Independent on Thursdays and the Sunday Business Post. You should also go to career fairs and use the Internet. And remember that there are many small firms in Ireland that are booming, particularly in marketing, graphic design and insurance.

Expo Ireland runs at Olympia on 11 and 12 Sept. Contact the ticket Hotline on 0870 900 0275 or visit the website on