By Stephen McKinley
Alongside the corned beef and cabbage, the green beer and shenanigans, an entirely new event opened during the St. Patrick’s weekend — an Irish jobs fair.
The event opened in New York on Sunday, aimed at attracting both Irish immigrants and other talented individuals to work in Ireland, where one of the main hindrances to continuing prosperity is a shortage of skilled labor.
But it remained uncertain after the fair closed on Monday just how successful the event had been, although organizers from Jobs Ireland said they were delighted with what they believed was a turnout of 20,000 visitors. A steady flow of visitors turned up on Sunday afternoon, but several exhibitors questioned the logic of holding the event on the day after the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, and admitted that Sunday’s numbers were less than they had hoped for.
The jobs fair was jointly run by the Irish employment agency, FAS, and its Northern Irish partner, the Training and Employment Agency.
In the grandeur of the 200 Fifth Club at 200 Fifth Avenue, the fair opened Sunday morning with speeches by Irish Minister for Health Micheal Martin, and his colleague from the Northern Ireland executive, Dr. Sean Farren, minister for higher and further education.
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Coordinating the event was Gregory Craig of Jobs Ireland, with recruiters exhibiting from all over Ireland. Craig said he was delighted that more than 3,500 resumes had been received online through the Jobs Ireland website since the beginning of March.
Speakers at the opening emphasized the fast progress of the two economies, the increased quality of living and, in the case of Northern Ireland, the advance of political stability since the 1998 Good Friday agreement.
"We have faltered since the Good Friday agreement," Farren said, "but we have picked ourselves up and in the next few months we will have removed all obstacles that remain in our way."
Echoing the sentiments, Minster Martin said that Ireland now offers significant opportunities.
"Ireland is a quality destination for a fulfilling career," he said. "We have many opportunities. We have vacancies." He emphasized the government’s long-term commitment, including a $40 billion infrastructure investment over the next 10 years.
After their speeches, the politicians went walkabout to explore the job fair for themselves.
Computer screens glowed brightly with the blue and orange colors of the Jobs Ireland web site, where visitors could search for jobs, post their resumes, research the ins and outs of moving to Ireland and finding a home, opening bank accounts, and acquiring the government work permit for non-Irish applicants.
Recruiters were pleased that some of the visitors were not from Ireland. "I reckon it’s about 60 to 40 in favor of non-Irish-born visitors," said Greg Craig’s Jobs Ireland colleague, Des O’Byrne. Triona O’Healai of the Bank of Ireland Securities Service said she thought she had met about half Irish-born and half non-Irish, interested in working in Ireland. But she said the turnout was disappointing.
"It seems a poor turnout so far," she said, and added that a previous FAS jobs fair in London had also been disappointing. However, she conceded that the London area is suffering from a labor shortage much the same as Ireland.
Other recruiters were more upbeat, with O’Byrne saying that it would take time for the fair’s impact to be felt: "We won’t know the repercussions of this event for months, maybe years," he said. Rowena Kelly, also of Jobs Ireland, said that media coverage of the event had reached Boston, Kansas City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., which had given impetus to planned visits to Chicago and San Francisco later in the year. The coverage had also resulted in 5 million hits on the Jobs Ireland website over the weekend.
Kelly added that approximately 1,500 jobs had been offered, and that the Western Health Board of Ireland alone had offered 150 jobs.
One recruiter, Dolores Aston of St. Michael’s House home for the mentally disabled, said she has an urgent need for 30 trained nurses.
Touring the exhibits at the event, construction worker Gerry O’Hara from Roscommon said he was interested in the 80 percent increase in construction jobs in Ireland in the last five years. He said he was tempted to go back after 15 years in New York, but that "the money might not be as good." He held the hand of his 20-month-old daughter, Katlyn, and wondered aloud about "adjusting again to the Irish pace of life." His best friend from Woodside, Rohan Woodley, said that the tech sector jobs in Dublin seemed attractive, but he wondered if he could afford to buy an apartment in Dublin, and have a "a similar standard of living as New York."
The Jobs Ireland web site is available at: www.jobsireland.com. Its Northern Irish equivalent is at www.backtoyourfuture.co.uk.