The Irish economy has experienced exceptional economic and employment growth in recent years which continues to grow at a steady pace. As Ireland reaches near full employment, future growth potential in the economy depends on how well we address labour shortages.
However, Ireland's employment permit system has come under pressure. The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation says it has experienced a high volume of applications in recent weeks and it has led to some delays. Companies, predominantly in the technology and healthcare sector, apply for the permits on behalf of people living outside the European Union.
Tony Donohoe, head of Education and Social Policy with Ibec, said that in the last six weeks, we started hearing concerns from Ibec members of significant increases in processing times. "For a standard application for example, two or three years ago, this would have taken four weeks to process. This had increased to 16 weeks," Mr Donohoe said.
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A group of companies, called Trusted Partners - typically big technology companies who are on a fasttrack process and known to the department - would normally expect their applications to be done in two weeks but waiting time had increased to seven weeks. "This was causing practical and reputational problems for these companies in terms of filling specific skills, looking for people to take up senior management positions in their organisations," Mr Donohoe said.
Ibec raised the issue with the department, and senior officials acknowledged the problem. "They have committed to returning to normal processing times. Looking at their website, they've already started to reduce those," he said.
Mr Donohoe said there is a worldwide talent war for technology skills. "We live in a technological age, and the European Commission is forecasting skills shortages in this area. So it's about getting young people interested in these subjects. We are seeing new technology apprenticeships coming on stream, we've doubled the number of technology courses in higher education, so there are some moves there."
Six years ago, 40% of jobs in areas such as technology were filled domestically, and that has increased to over 60%. "We are predicting that technology jobs are going to increase at the rate of 8.5% a year for the next five years, so this problem is not going to go away."
Mr Donohoe said when Ireland last had this period of growth, we looked to Eastern Europe for labour. "We can't do that any longer because they are already looking for their own people to come back. Their economies are growing. They are experiencing skills shortages so we are going to have to keep reviewing our work permits system to make sure that there aren't these blockages," he stated.