…thus the main factors driving this strong growth performance relate to the consolidation of a strong competitive position in an increasingly global international market augmented by a sizeable expansion in the supply of labour. Furthermore, the latter had been rendered significally more effective by sustained investment in education and training over a long period, especially in technical areas. Another feature which has aided this performance (especially in employment terms) is a fundamental change in the nature of economic growth in which domestic consumption now exerts a greater influence.” (FÁS/ESRI Manpower forecasting Studies, Occupational Employment Forecasts 2003 (Dublin, 1997) p.15
For now, though, can we ask: what does Ireland work at?
I mean, what jobs do we do? Which jobs are new, which ones are gone, and which ones remain? How does Ireland make money these days? What does it produce? And how is it different from what we did before?
There are around 236 occupations listed by the CSO in the Irish census reports, all of which can be followed from 1991 to 2006. It’s an interesting period to study from an occupational point of view. We are told that these are the years when we changed, when we became all tigery and decky and latte-lovvey.
Well, there have been changes.
With regard to computer software and scientific and technical occupations, the figures confirm what we have been hearing in reports for years: namely, that these have been important growth areas for the South, accounting for over 65,000 new jobs since 1991. A proper success story, and one that reinforces the quote above from FÁS and the ESRI in 1997: that the “sustained investment in education and training over a long period, especially in technical areas” appears to have paid off.
On the down side, there are 43,521 less farm owners and managers in 2006 than in 1991 (down to 72,048 from 115,569). In general, farming, fishing and forestry are down from around 12% of the workforce, to just over 4%. There are 16,592 less textile and clothing workers (from 24,008 to 7,416), and there are 3,694 less soldiers (from 10,127 to 6,422). There are, however, 19 more commissioned army officers today than 15 years ago, despite the 36% loss in actual soldiers to officer about. More chiefs, less indians.
It is a trend reflected in the private sector. One of the largest employment growths in the past fifteen years has been in middle management. Over 70,000 new jobs – including 21,026 as marketing managers (from 9,261 in 1991 to a 2006 high of 30,287), and 22,625 who are listed as “other financial managers n.e.s.” (from 4,773 to 27,398). There’s another 10,004 who are simply marked as “other managers n.e.s.” – up 6,063 from the 1991 figure of 3,941. The number of general managers in large companies rose by 2,559 in the same period, from 14,489 in 1991, to 17,048 in 2006.
We have 4,929 more barristers and solicitors, but 5,484 less butchers and meat cutters; 241 more debt collectors; 221 more importers, exporters, commodity and shipping brokers; 4,865 more bank and building society managers; 10,313 more underwriters, claims assessors, brokers and investment analysts; 596 more dentists; 343 more veterinarians; 3,040 more journalists, writers, and authors; and 39 more judges.
The largest job growth areas, however, were in construction and the service industries. Of the 731,271 new jobs in 2006 compared to 1991, 16% were in personal service and childcare and 13% were in construction. Outside of these areas, 10% were in management, 8.3% in sales, and 6.5% in (non-government) clerical & office work. Computer software accounted for 4.3% of new jobs, science & technology accounted for 4.6%, while manufacturing accounted for 4.5%. Health accounted for 4.72%, while central and local government jobs accounted for 3.6% – the same percentage as for teaching.
The economic ‘miracle’ of Ireland in the 1990s was explained quite succinctly by FÁS and the ESRI in terms of investment in education, debt reduction, and domestic consumption – the last point being ‘a fundamental change in the nature of [Irish] economic growth.’ Since 1997, however, government economic policy has been to stimulate growth through consumption as much as possible, rather than through manufacture. The litany of government tax incentives and credit enhancements during this period were all geared towards feeding a construction industry that built housing that was consumed by domestic speculation – giving rise to unprecedented price rises, which in turn were facilitated by an expanding banking sector buoyed up by the international credit market.
The 1997 FÁS/ESRI report recognised that Irish people were spending at new, intense, levels. The census figures reflect this with regard to the type of jobs created during this period. We have been told by commentators that the Celtic Tiger was fuelled by low corporate tax incentives, international investment, and a robust construction sector. What the experts failed to tell us is that a significant element in the Celtic Tiger story was the emergence of domestic consumption as a dynamic force in the Irish economy, for the first time at such a fundamental level. It emerged not with the Celtic Tiger – more jobs, more money, then more consumption – but rather the rise in domestic consumption took place in tandem with the other elements. It was not a consequence of the Celtic tiger. It was, in fact, a constituent element. Again, the job figures bear this out. From 1991 to 1996, over 40,000 jobs were created in personal service and childcare – 25% of all new jobs during that period. This compares to just over 6% for science & technology, 3.6% for computer software, 14% for construction, and 8% for managerial positions.
The role of the rise in domestic consumption has been downplayed in the story of the Celtic Tiger. Successive Fianna Fáil-led governments became over-reliant on this (then) new phenomenon, to such an extent that the South has huge levels of personal debt. With the end of readily-available credit and the slowdown in domestic consumption – levels of which both led to the emergence of the Celtic Tiger, as well as fuelling its run – it seems that the Irish economy has something else to worry about other than the housing bubble.
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