Forget the Troubles, peace has broken out in Northern Ireland and companies are on the lookout for graduates adventurous enough to cross the Irish Sea. In fact, you don't even have to do that; you can pick up the latest career opportunities at a click of a mouse on the internet, courtesy of Northern Ireland's Department of Employment and Learning, which has opened up a page on Facebook, the social networking site, to attract young talent.
Since the Good Friday Agreement 10 years ago, hi- tech companies have moved into the province, taking advantage of low costs and a well-educated workforce. And the decision by Citi, the international investment bank, to locate its strategic operations in Belfast has brought the beginnings of a financial centre.
But, while investment floods in and construction cranes dominate the skyline, the new businesses are finding it difficult to fill jobs in shortage areas such as IT, engineering and science. Belfast has two good universities, but nearly one-third of the students pursue courses in England and Scotland. And only one-quarter of them return later to work in their homeland.
The "C'mon over" campaign is being led by Sir Reg Empey, the Minister for Employment and Learning, who succeeded David Trimble as the Ulster Unionist Party leader.
Empey first appeared on television 30 years ago, in a hard hat and defending the ruins of his bombed store from looters. Now he has a different story to tell. "After years of talking to the press about bombings, I'm being interviewed about expanding local companies and the lowest level of unemployment in the UK," he says. "Such growth would have been inconceivable 20 years ago when we were the sick man of Europe."
The Department of Employment and Learning was the first government department to launch on Facebook, two months ago. It has picked up nearly 150 "friends" and 3,000 hits. The site links to companies such as Openwave, a communications company needing seven software engineers in Belfast; and Almac, the pharmaceuticals firm, which needs project managers for clinical services and production managers for clinical trials at its Craigavon headquarters.
Reputations die hard, however. When Citi announced that it was moving some operations to Belfast, some employees were reluctant to move. "Even in these post-Troubles times, Belfast remains what it has always been – a horrible, soulless, drab, industrial, burned-out, northern town," one Ulster expat said in response to the news on a legal journal website.
That's not how Jared Harris, senior vice-president in charge of Citi's operational centre of excellence, would describe the city after relocating from Canary Wharf in London. "Belfast is a vibrant, exciting place to work, with a new shopping centre and high-quality restaurants," he says. "There's a feeling of optimism and energy."
Harris moved with his wife and children, 13 and 10, from Billericay in Essex to Comber, a small town in County Down. "Education is strong and my children are at excellent schools. The cost of living is lower and the people are very friendly," he says. "We have staff come from London to help with training who fall in love with the place and don't want to leave."
Anyone who hasn't been to Belfast for a while will be amazed at the difference, says Michelle Jackson, who left 16 years ago and returned to manage the new House of Fraser store, which broke all records for sales and customers when it opened in the city centre two months ago.
Having got used to life in mainland cities with a big choice of shops, restaurants and leisure activities, she thought she would never be able to return to Belfast, which for a long time didn't even have a department store. "The changes have been phenomenal," she says. "Now, the skyline is alive with cranes and new buildings through the flood of inward investment."
Sir Reg knows it is harder to convince older people that his homeland has changed and is putting his faith in the new generation, too young to remember the worst of the Troubles, to help lead its regeneration.
Where to look for work
* For an overview, see www.nitakeacloserlook.gov.uk
* The Department for Employment and Learning: www.delni.gov.uk
* Facebook page: www.facebook.com, search Northern Ireland
* Recruitment websites: www.loadzajobs.co.uk; www.nijobs.com
* Companies seeking skilled graduates: www.openwave.com/us/careers/search_jobs.htm;http://btireland.ie/BTinIreland.shtml; http://careers.citigroup.com/careers/homepage/ default.aspx; http://www.almacgroup.com/careers/almac-group.aspxReuse content