Ireland is a tech hotspot but rural are areas left out in the cold

JOE GILL The speed at which work and employment is changing caught up with me at the weekend. I was delighted to hear a young relative of mine secured a job with a software company. He studied in Cork, travelled the world and is now settling down in Europe. 

The unusual point is that his new employer almost entirely exists online. Instead of operating from an expensive building in the middle of a congested city with super expensive accommodation this business offers unprecedented flexibility.

Those working in this company only need secure access to fast broadband services. 

Equipped with that they can hook in to virtual offices and join teams across countries and time zones to complete projects for its clients. 

That allows individuals choose locations around the globe from which to work while living in different environments. 

Some like the sun, some live in rural locations with inexpensive housing and access to clean air and water. 

Others prefer the hustle of cities in various countries at different times of the year.

This employment structure is revolutionary and opens up a myriad of opportunities for the Republic. 

Assuming – and this is a big assumption currently – there is ample broadband access across rural Ireland why can we not undergo an explosion in so called remote working?

Last week it was disclosed over 23,000 people from around the world applied for two seasonal jobs on the Blasket Islands. 

The values of rural Ireland are reflected in the millions who visit our country each year. 

Remote isolated communities are the very antithesis of the always on stress cultures that define so much of city living. 

Add in the financial suffocation caused by hyper childcare and housing costs and you can appreciate why an increasing number of people will opt for an alternative lifestyle.

Remote working offers this opportunity and it does not just apply in the private sector. 

The public sector is stuffed with people who grind their way through long commutes to park under expensive buildings and then sit all day in front of a computer. 

Aside from the environmental damage such work practices cause think about the financial cost and opportunity costs attached to those types of commuting.

If just 20% of those civil servants opted to work from homes outside the pale imagine the benefits to schools, shops, restaurants and community life in rural Ireland.

Yet, we continue to struggle with energising towns and villages across Ireland. 

Instead of new openings it seems new closures are the order of the day. 

Too few young families either are getting or seeing the opportunity to use technology to turn work upside down.

It is probably the responsibility of others including politicians, community leaders and business people to turn this around.  

Identifying and empowering broadband hubs in towns and village is one quick route to travel. 

Promoting and flagging availability of access to schools and housing is another. 

Each town should shape its own efforts in this context. 

Twitter and Facebook accounts, to name just two social media platforms, are free to set up and run. 

I rarely see local communities using these to the full.

Devising ways to boost the attractiveness of rural Ireland as a destination for jobs and families has to be a key priority as our core cities fill up. 

In days gone by we all thought bricks and mortar were needed to build factories and offices that could attract jobs.

It now needs a warm comfortable desk and a physical or mobile connection to powerful broadband. 

My nephew is an example of how the potential is unfolding in many parts of the world. 

Ireland is a hot spot for tech but its countryside is a blackspot for employment. Lets warm it up.

--Joe Gill is director of origination and corporate broking with Goodbody Stockbrokers. His views are personal.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2021

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