Techβs double-edged role in austerity Ireland
It’s well documented that for a huge part of the 87 years that Ireland has operated as a Republic, the economy has not been in the star ascendant. Yet, despite the runes indicating caution, successive governments fuelled a boom-time which has now come to a screeching halt.
Question is, what, if anything, will technology’s role be in the four further years of austerity we’re about to face?
On the one hand Ireland is better connected with the rest of Europe and the wider world than at any time in its history. Bits and bytes fly across the planet as Ireland’s so-called knowledge economy ticks along. In theory the web is supposed to be the great leveller, allowing this small island nation to compete on the global stage.
This connected age, you might reasonably infer, means that Ireland is able to export its skills into international markets without ever having to leave home. But there’s one fly in that particular ointment: any connected society with decent levels of further education can offer up equally skilled workers, often at much more competitive prices.
Major companies’ outsourcing patterns — sending programming to Eastern European states and support services to massive Indian telephone call centres — are testament to that fact.
So it’s true that Ireland can use the internet to instantaneously reach out to international markets. It’s also true that many other nations can do the same. Advantage Ireland? We’ll have to wait and see.
Yet, just as in past times when there was an exodous of skilled Irish workers to all corners of the planet, if anything this option is even easier to contemplate today.
Despite rises in taxes, air transport across Europe is at an all time high with transport costs at an all time low. Additionally, a least for the time-being, there is free movement of all people who are members of the EU. We saw that in action with the huge influx from Poland to Ireland when times were good.
Now that the circumstances are changed, what’s to prevent the much feared brain-drain as educated Irish hit the web to plan their exit, looking for work across the whole of Europe, if not the world? The web is quite probably a great escape route for those who want to use it to find employment abroad. It’s not good for Ireland in the short-term, but this wide-open window on global employment opportunities is great for its citizens who want or need to leave.
In our 24/7 culture where we’re umbilically attached to our smartphones, we’re never more than a moment away from any number of alerts services which will tell us when our ideal job pops up.
Our connected society offers opportunities and competitive threats in equal measure. Let’s hope the next four years of austerity don’t push too many people to pursue those opportunities whilst letting other nations outcompete us.
But there is perhaps some reason for optimism. The same technology that makes it easier than ever to leave also makes it feasible, finally, to stay — looking and selling to international markets while remaining in Ireland. The coming years will determine which way the chips will fall.
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