The next world war will be for jobs. As the stakes get higher, will Ireland have the workers and infrastructure?
At last week’s gathering of Ireland’s technology leaders, the harsh realities of the 21st century, from how it looks in 2011, were laid bare. But also evident were the opportunities; and Ireland needs to take greater charge over its future.
The digital revolution is upon us and few countries are better positioned to take advantage of this than Ireland, which can claim the title Digital Capital of Europe, thanks to the presence of the leaders of the digital world like Facebook, Google, Intel, EMC, IBM, Zynga and Microsoft, to name just a few.
And last Friday, Ireland woke up to the news that Google was to create up to 250 jobs in west Dublin during the construction of a €75m data centre. This followed weeks of good job news from IDA Ireland about Twitter and VMware creating jobs in Dublin and Cork to JRI America bringing 100 jobs to Tralee.
As we have painfully learned, the battle of the 21st century will be about jobs. If Ireland wants to ensure that the jobs remain in the country, it will mean providing its young with a fit-for-purpose education system.
The work of former education minister Donogh O’Malley
Renowned Oscar-winning filmmaker, Lord David Puttnam, who was previously digital adviser to the UK government and is now digital adviser to Singapore, said that last week’s news that Twitter was locating its international operations in Dublin can be directly laid at the feet of Donogh O’Malley, the visionary education minister who made free education in Ireland a right in 1968. But Puttnam went on to ask where is the same kind of visionary decision-making being made for the 21st century?
He also pointed to how the world has shifted to a new axis that will see China, not the US, become the dominant economic power of the 21st century and the attainment of a decent job will become far more important than religion or marriage.
"The developed world has been far too complacent in respect to the rise of China as a dominant economic force in the 21st century. Britain in the 19th century was too focused on Bismarck’s Germany and France, and none of these countries spotted the rise of post-Civil War United States, which became more powerful than all of them together. But now we’ve become so adjusted to seeing the US as all-powerful, that we’ve lost sight of what’s been happening in China.
"We had begun to factor China in, but as a consumer of goods and services, not as a hard-working, innovative competitor that has reinvented capitalism and which is bending it to its own purposes."
A job above all else
Referring to Gallup chairman Jim Clifton’s new book The New Jobs War, Puttnam warned: "The coming world war will be an all-out global war for good jobs. Clifton defines a good job as one that has a paycheque and which is steady work, with at least 30 hours per week. The primary will of the world will not be about religion, about having a family, democracy or owning a home – it will be about having a good job and everything comes after that.
"I can think of nothing that could strengthen (Ireland’s Jobs and Enterprise) Minister (Richard) Bruton’s hand in cabinet than to read this book and its suppositions. Over the next 15 years, the world will be led by an economic force for job creation and GDP growth, and guess who’s vying for lead – China. The US has gone from leading to lagging; our infrastructure in the West is crumbling around us; and healthcare costs are strangling economies."
Puttnam said China has 9pc of its GDP dedicated to infrastructure investment compared to 3pc in the US. However, if you think the US situation is bad, then Puttnam believes the situation facing Europe could be far worse.
"If Ireland wants to remain remotely competitive in the 21st century then clearly investment in education and investment in ICT and ICT infrastructure will be critical if you want to enjoy the remotest possibility of success. Digital technology will be the driving force for much of the changes that are coming.”
Puttnam said he suspects a resistance to change and digital education at official levels. “Young people today find it utterly bewildering to go into a classroom today with its low levels of technology. The roots of profound change that have to be addressed must run deep.”
Also at the Digital Ireland Forum, Australian entrepreneur Bill Liao, co-founder of European business social network XING, along with founder Lars Hinrichs, and a partner at SOS Ventures, said Ireland must produce its own industries but can only do so by getting rid of bureaucratic red tape and unnecessary frictions.
“The future for Ireland is not ‘Ireland: come for the taxes, stay for the weather’,” he said. “You need to focus on the other resource Ireland has in abundance – its people. Ireland is a nation of storytellers and storytellers are critical to our world.”
Liao, who has made his home in rural Ireland, pointed to bureaucratic and infrastructure frictions – from finance to electricity and broadband – that, multiplied, are serious barriers for creativity and entrepreneurship.
“Ireland needs to get over frictions. I love Ireland, but my welcome to Ireland was to have my electricity cut off for three days. Then my wife asked me, ‘where’s the broadband?’ Seriously, where’s the broadband? It took me six months to get broadband.
“If you want to be a globally competitive nation – remove the little frictions.”
Ireland’s Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton, TD, told the Forum that the Government is ambitious regarding the future of indigenous digital industries, particularly areas like video games, where people can build businesses in their locality.
“Once the technology sector was dominated by the trailblazers, the large technology companies, but now anyone in a shed can create an app.
“The digital space is going to be dominated by small operators who will come up with a digital game, an app or some idea that has capacity to make progress and Enterprise Ireland has been backing those opportunities.
“It is vital that we see an indigenous engine in the growing digital area. Ireland is becoming home for a new generation of born-on-the-internet companies and Twitter’s decision to locate in Dublin is an endorsement of Ireland’s business environment and we need to build on that.”
On Ireland’s digital future, Bruton said: “I realise that this transformation that is happening, and that it poses challenges to our education infrastructure, our physical infrastructure – to every dimension.”
Video highlights of all speakers at the Digital Ireland Forum are online.