Lust for life: Get ready as tech talent goes west

7 Jan 20192.63k Views

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As Ireland’s tech industry becomes less Dublin-centric thanks to the accommodation crisis, John Kennedy explores how Generation Rent can secure a better quality of life.

Last week, we reported how rising living costs and the accommodation crisis meant that Dublin’s role as the number one go-to location for digital companies and tech jobseekers is being eroded.

The Salary Survey for 2019 by Prosperity Recruitment reveals a growing appetite from digital and tech companies to locate to areas outside Dublin, and a parallel willingness from jobseekers to work in regional locations.

‘In terms of the local economic impact, 20 new jobs to Sneem is equivalent to 4,000 new jobs in Cork city’
– PADRAIG BURNS

In many ways, it confirms what we’ve been warning about again and again. As musicians such as Damien Dempsey, along with teachers, doctors and other professionals, depart the capital for a more affordable lifestyle, what’s happening in Dublin is eerily similar to what has already affected San Francisco. The US west coast city might be rich in tech dollars, but it is a poorer place in terms of culture, vitality and creativity. Dublin is going that way too, and do we want the same for Galway and Cork?

If you pay close attention to your news feeds on social media, observe a growing number of Irish people in their 30s proclaim a change of location.

One such example this weekend was Ruairí McKiernan, a charity founder and social entrepreneur who has just moved from Dublin to west Clare with his wife Susan Quirke, a meditation teacher and musician also known as Susie Q.

Prosperity’s survey of 150 candidates in the Irish digital tech sector, many of whom are currently living in Dublin, returned a clear dissatisfaction with both the cost and availability of accommodation in Dublin, and a marked openness to working in rural areas of Ireland.

74pc of respondents stated that they strongly agreed/agreed that the cost of accommodation in Dublin would make them consider a job in other areas of Ireland. A similar percentage indicated that the lack of availability of accommodation in Dublin would make them consider a job in other regions. Highly sought-after candidates stated that they would only make a long-term commitment to a Dublin-based company if they would be allowed to work remotely.

The mountains sweep down to the sea

Two women and two men in surf gear on a Sligo beach.

From left: Overstock team members Sophia Price, David Kenny, Stephen O’Connor and Lucia Macari. Image: James Connolly

Across Ireland, hubs are sprouting up that include Skibbereen’s Ludgate Hub, Sneem Digital Hub, the Building Block in Sligo, Crystal Valley in Waterford, and One Region One Vision and the PorterShed in Galway, as well as hubs that are in strategic reach of Dublin or Northern Ireland such as Kells Tech Hub in Meath.

“We are currently directing companies to the Sneem Digital Hub, and are currently in early-stage negotiations with several companies,” said Gary Mullan, CEO of Prosperity Recruitment. “They are primarily open to locating ‘hard to find’ tech specialists to a regional hub. We’ve been finding that when we broach this to them, they are extremely interested; it is practically a lightbulb moment for them as they have been struggling for a long time with sourcing key staff.

“In former years, the key challenge was availability of talent within the Irish market. This challenge was ameliorated by the availability of talent from abroad; however, the headwinds of renting in Dublin are now acting as a major deterrent to international staff, and have been choking off that supply. The hubs offer the option of affordable rent and cost of living, and they have a further sell in that they offer a fantastic quality of life. In the case of Sneem, candidates have the option of working in a beautiful part of Ireland with a great community and a choice of outdoor activities such as surfing, hiking and more.”

Similar arguments can be made about the flow of digital operations to Sligo, including: Eir, with entire customer care groups moving to the county; biotech player Phibro, which announced last summer that it was creating 150 jobs; e-commerce giant Overstock, which revealed 100 new jobs last October; and software firm LiveTiles, which revealed plans to create 50 jobs at its innovation hub last April. The Building Block hub, bolstered by 1Gbps fibre from Eir and the support of IDA Ireland, has turned a former industrial landmark building that had lain empty for decades into a vibrant hub in Sligo.

Likewise, in West Cork, the Ludgate Hub (which is located in an old cinema building) plans to generate 500 direct and 1,000 indirect jobs, and the focus is on developing a sense of community.

Rather than being threatened by the rise of the regions as digital powerhouses, Dublin entrepreneurial hubs such as the Guinness Enterprise Centre (GEC) are actively supporting the movement, and it has a goal to network with 120 regional enterprise hubs across Ireland. “The goal is to provide shared resources, consultancy and guidelines on best practice, and also to allow start-ups to use the Guinness Enterprise co-working space, while Dublin firms can base themselves in connected hubs throughout the country,” explained Eamonn Sayers of the GEC.

Padraig Burns of Sneem Digital Hub said that the movement to the regions is a fantastic opportunity both for Sneem and for workers who are hard-pressed to afford urban rents and who are hopeful of a better work-life balance. “In terms of the local economic impact, 20 new jobs to Sneem is equivalent to 4,000 new jobs in Cork city.”

At Siliconrepublic.com, we have long made this argument that the solution to many frictions in Ireland lies in the vast territories relative to an island with a small population. And now that this movement is well underway, codify it as a stated Government strategy. Agencies such as Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland are already deeply involved. It just needs to be codified and bolstered officially.

Groups have grown up to back this movement. The Grow Remote movement, for example, is pointing to close to 1,000 remote-working jobs that are available in companies such as Shopify or Scrapinghub.

Mullan explained: “Many of the candidates we survey are Irish nationals, and they tend to be fed up – 75pc of them according to our recent survey – with the availability and cost of accommodation in Dublin. We find that candidates are asking for far more money to move jobs, or are moving as they feel that their salary review expectations were lowballed – and they are justifying this by saying that the cost of living in Dublin is so high.”

Something important is happening here. Policymakers would be wise to get behind it. Remove the litany of frictions for SMEs, lay the damned broadband, create the school places. It might be a flash in the pan, or it could finally be the economic and sustainable surge that regional Ireland has dreamed of – no, has needed – for a long time.

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Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com