Post pandemic need to invest in skills transfer programmes

Posted on Friday, 28 May 2021

Our Employment Monitor published this week, analyses CSO Labour Force Survey data and finds that unemployment figures could rise dramatically post pandemic. Many of the policies proposed in light of this data are concerned with education, training, re skilling and upskilling to ensure that future job opportunites can be availed of. A skills transfer programme would also allow for an increasing number of opportunites to open up. 

According to the CSO, in a paper presented at the Social Justice Ireland Social Policy Conference 2019, Irish society has changed significantly in the last 50 years, becoming more urbanised and increasingly well educated, particularly women.  Fertility rates are declining and the age at which women are having their first child has increased from 24.9 in 1980 to 31 in 2017.  Life expectancy, on the other hand, has increased with male life expectancy reaching 79.3 years in 2015 and female life expectancy reaching 83.3 years that year.[1]  

This reduction in fertility levels and increased life expectancy means that Ireland’s population, while still relatively young, is getting older. The average age of the population is now 37.4, an increase of 6.3 years since 1981. The population is also becoming more diverse, with an estimated 3.4 per cent of the population (168,700 people) with a stated nationality as being from outside of the EU.

Net migration into Ireland was positive in April 2020, continuing a pattern which has been in place since 2015.  This means that more people have entered the country than are leaving it.  Analysing migration trends over the past 30 years, we see a relatively high rate of emigration in 1988 and 1989, at a time of recession, which decreased slowly over the next 10 years.  In the 2000s, emigration patterns were a little more erratic prior to the recession in 2008, which saw an increase from 49,200 in 2008 to 72,000 the following year. Immigration to Ireland peaked in 2007, where 151,100 people came into the country, 37,600 more than the following year.

Following a period of decline from 2012 to 2018, with only 2019 seeing an increase, emigration of Irish nationals decreased again slightly in 2020 (from 29,000 in 2019 to 28,300 in 2020).[2]  While there was a slight decrease in Irish nationals returning in 2017, 2020 saw a return to 2016 levels of immigration with 28,900 Irish emigrants returning.[2]  The recent years of decreasing emigration and increasing immigration indicated a renewed confidence in Ireland’s economic prospects, however given the issues with housing, health and the cost of living, we will need to continue to monitor migration trends. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected movement internationally and the long-term impacts on migration are yet to be fully realised.

In terms of nationality, almost one in four (24.1 per cent) of total immigrants to Ireland in 2020 had a nationality from within the EU (excluding Ireland and the UK), 6.4 per cent were UK nationals and 35.6 per cent had a nationality from within the rest of the world.[2] 

The numbers of migrants with a third level education continued to rise in 2020. Of those immigrating to Ireland, both the number (from 28,200 in 2012 to 56,900 in 2020) and proportion (56 per cent in 2012 to 73 per cent of all immigrants in 2020) with a third level education has increased. Migrants tend to be younger than the general population with approximately half of both immigrants and emigrants in 2020 aged between 25 and 44.  People aged over 65 continued to be the least likely to migrate.[2] 

The number of emigrants with a third level education increased from 26,500 in 2018 to 28,300 in 2019, dropping in 2020 to 26,300. As a proportion of all emigrants, this represents 53 per of the total. Of those who left Ireland in 2020, 58.9 per cent of those who left Ireland were employed (a slight decrease in both the number, from 29,700 to 28,600 and proportion, from 60 per cent, of all emigrants on the previous year). A further 27.9 per cent were students, an increase of over six percentage points on 2019 figures. The proportion of emigrants who are unemployed has been in decline since 2012, reflecting the decrease in unemployment generally since then. Between 2019 and 2020, the number of unemployed people emigrating has dropped from 3,200 to 3,000. The lack of affordable housing, affordable childcare and other services is likely a contributing factor to the increase in employed emigrants from this country.  If we are to retain our skilled workforce, we need to take a broader approach to retention that takes a whole of life-cycle approach.

In light of higher educational attainment levels of immigrants into Ireland, and the increasing number of Irish people returning to this country, there is a need for a skills transfer programme for returning migrants in order to ensure the skills that they have acquired whilst working abroad are recognised in Ireland. This is something that Social Justice Ireland has advocated for previously.  Given the investment made in the education of young graduates, it is essential that steps are taken to retain them and their expertise within Ireland, and to attract back those who have emigrated in recent years. Of course, this is coupled with the need to provide both decent work and infrastructure to support increasing numbers of immigrants who will need to be housed and whose healthcare and childcare needs must be accommodated, as set out in Social Justice Ireland’s Social Contract Framework.[3]

For many migrants, immigration is not temporary. They will remain in Ireland and make it their home.  In turn, Irish people are experiencing life in different cultural contexts around the world. Ireland is now a multi-racial and multi-cultural country and Government policies should promote and encourage the development of an inclusive and integrated society with respect for, and recognition of, diverse cultures.