November 2: Government must not forget manual jobs in high-tech age

Cllr Jerome Scanlan’s contribution to a partisan debate on the budget in County Hall this week was to recall former minister Mary Coughlan’s advice to hundreds of laid-off poultry processing workers in west Limerick in 2007 that they could all find work on the building sites.

Cllr Jerome Scanlan’s contribution to a partisan debate on the budget in County Hall this week was to recall former minister Mary Coughlan’s advice to hundreds of laid-off poultry processing workers in west Limerick in 2007 that they could all find work on the building sites.

The timing was unfortunate and the words have, in retrospect, the ring of Marie Antoinette’s counsel to Parisian peasants hungry for bread.

Construction can never again be allowed to dominate the Irish economy as it did in recent years but there remains a critical shortage of job opportunities locally and nationally for workers who prefer using their hands to sitting at a computer.

The geek shall inherit the earth, as they once said about Bill Gates, and we must all welcome today’s announcement by Enda Kenny that software firm EtQ is creating 30 jobs, supported by the IDA, for computer science graduates in Limerick. It is the latest announcement by a high-tech company and another success for an IDA that has upped its game in Limerick over the last two years.

But we can’t all write code or algorithms no matter how many upskilling opportunities the government creates.

That is why we must also welcome the remarks this week of the IDA’s new regional manager in Limerick Conor Agnew. This experienced civil servant acknowledged that the a mix of job opportunities for all skill levels was needed.

While keeping his cards close to his chest, Mr Agnew said Limerick could expect positive news on the employment front in the coming months with at least three investments coming with jobs in the three-figure bracket.

The anticipated occupation of the former Dell manufacturing building in Raheen by American biopharmaceutical company Regeneron could be the best news Limerick has had on the jobs front in years. It would hopefully provide employment not just for university graduates but on the factory floor, for drivers and for clerks.

Outside of foreign investment, Michael Noonan’s efforts to stimulate small and medium business will be equally, if not more important, in creating the manual jobs every economy needs even in an era of globalisation.