Wednesday, 15 November 2006
Dáil Eireann Debate
80. Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment his views on the opinion of the American Chamber of Commerce in Ireland who have said that future investment by US companies here is in danger due to a shortage of suitably qualified staff; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37936/06]
Mr. Martin: I understand the particular concern expressed by the American Chamber of Commerce survey relates to fourth level or PhD graduates. A concerted effort is made across Departments to promote fourth level education in Ireland. This is reflected in a number of ways, including in the work of bodies such as Science Foundation Ireland.
The recently launched strategy for science, technology and innovation has an explicit target of doubling the number of PhD graduates in Ireland by 2013. The budget 2006 commitment of €300 million to the strategic innovation fund for higher education over the five years to 2010 is a further indication of the Government’s focus on this area.
In a tight labour market such as exists in Ireland, it is inevitable individual companies will experience difficulty at times in recruiting suitable personnel. However, a sustained commitment exists to do whatever is required to ensure the necessary pool of qualified and skilled personnel is available and that appropriate steps are taken to anticipate and redress skills gaps. Increased investment has been made in upskilling those in employment and FÁS received significant funding aimed at upskilling those within the workforce.
The expert group on future skills needs has monitored our future skills needs since 1997. The expert group conducts detailed research for my Department to underpin a national skills strategy to be brought forward by the Government in 2007. The purpose of the research and subsequent strategy is to ensure Ireland identifies and meets its changing skills needs during the period to 2020.
The expert group also commenced work on a specialist skills study which will underpin the development of the centre for financial services skills. This initiative is a response to a recent report entitled Building on Success produced by the high-level clearing house group under the Department of the Taoiseach.
In addition to upskilling the resident population, I introduced a system of green cards and work permits to facilitate high-skilled migration into Ireland to alleviate constraints in areas of strategic importance where skills shortages are greatest. The ongoing commitment to building skills and competencies within the labour force will be reflected in the new national development plan. I am confident the measures put in place by the Government will ensure the necessary pool of qualified and skilled personnel is available to cater for future demands.
Mr. Hogan: I acknowledge what the Minister stated. What was worrying about the headlines put before us by the American Chamber of Commerce, particularly by Dr. Fraser Logue, was that 42% of those surveyed stated their parent company would not view Ireland favourably as a location for investment because of labour shortages and 73% stated they struggled to secure skilled labour.
I tabled this question to bring these matters to the attention of the Minister and show US companies have deep concerns about these issues. I acknowledge the Minister indicated a number of policy responses he will make. How does he intend to communicate more forcibly that message to the American Chamber of Commerce and the companies involved and ensure it, rather than the negative message from the survey, is received?
Mr. Martin: We have regular meetings with the American Chamber of Commerce. We will discuss this issue at future meetings. I meet individual companies overseas and here. In the overall context, through the extraordinary inward migration to Ireland and the expanded third level system, we make every possible effort to facilitate low and high skill availability. The decision in May 2004 regarding the accession states represented a huge increase in labour force availability to Ireland. That should also be acknowledged by the companies concerned. It was unprecedented and caused many other pressures for us, as we discussed.
Mr. Martin: The green card we will introduce as part of the work permits system will facilitate high-skilled labour and will better streamline it. I accept the procedures must be streamlined to facilitate inter-company transfer, which will be statutorily facilitated in the Act. We will introduce regulations to commence it in the new year. The green card and work permit systems will focus on higher skills.
A number of US companies continue to locate here. Although we experience fast growth, the skills issue will be managed through a combination of investment, education and migration. Other issues such as broadband and energy, which was mentioned by the Deputy, must be addressed.
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