By Cate McCurry, PA
Ireland’s tech sector will continue to grow next year despite huge cuts to the workforce in recent weeks, an Oireachtas committee has been told.
However, Una Fitzpatrick, director of Technology Ireland, said that while there remains a high demand for tech talent, the growth will be slower than over the past two years.
Ms Fitzpatrick also told the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment on Wednesday that the country’s housing crisis has not prevented “huge levels” of investment, but some tech companies have sought clarity on housing projections.
Technology Ireland and IDA Ireland met the committee to discuss recent job losses at Meta, Twitter and Stripe as well as the future of the industry.
The digital sector directly employs more than 270,000 people in Ireland.
Data released earlier this year by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) showed that employees in the ICT sector have the highest average earnings in the country, receiving €8.5 billion in wages in 2019.
Approximately 63 per cent of the ICT workforce had a third-level qualification or higher, among the highest in the overall economy.
Mary Buckley, interim chief executive of IDA Ireland, told the committee that after a period of rapid hiring and jobs growth, some tech companies are reducing costs and employee numbers.
Sinn Féin TD Louise O’Reilly asked if some tech companies “bypassed” Ireland’s labour laws after job losses were announced through emails and in the media.
Ms Buckley said: “It is hugely unfortunate that people hear about these announcements at a later stage, but that is exactly how it’s happening in recent times because of the fact that there are global announcements.”
Ms Buckley also claimed the companies had shown “empathy and support” to employees after job cuts.
“It is not a scenario where people are not being looked after,” she added. “They are being looked after, I think.
“I think it’s also safe to say that while it’s a very tough time for people at the moment to receive this bad news, there is a lot of opportunities in the tech sector at the moment.
“You can see that many of the companies are working with the employees to help them to source alternative employment… and helping them to upskill and rescale.”
Ms O’Reilly said she had spoken to employees who did not feel the “support or empathy”.
She described the companies’ handling of job losses as “absolutely disgraceful”.
“They actually feel like these companies had no regard for the legal protections that are there and no regard for the Government and the processes,” Ms O’Reilly added.
Ms Fitzpatrick said: “Our membership fully respect and implement Irish labour laws and the members of Technology Ireland have asked me to state on the record that the behaviour of a small minority, they do not want that to be reflective of the industry as a whole.
“They do not support those actions. I suppose on the wider industry point, they are fully compliant with the requirements of our labour laws and it’s not standard practice.”
Ms Fitzpatrick said a global slowdown in the technology sector had been forecast for some time.
“Over the last six to eight months, we have seen international global inflationary pressures impact on the sector,” she told the committee.
“Ireland remains the heart of the technology industry in Europe, but we cannot be complacent and must continue to focus on increasing our attractiveness and outpace our competitors.
“While the news of recent weeks regarding redundancies in a small number of companies is disappointing and deeply upsetting for the individuals impacted, there remains a high demand for tech talent in this country, in particular in our indigenous tech companies who found it challenging to hire at pace over the last two years.
“I want to assure the committee that the tech sector will continue to grow in Ireland in 2023, albeit at a lower level than it has over the last two years.”
Asked whether the housing crisis has damaged the ability to attract investment, Ms Buckley said that while clients have highlighted the challenges around housing, it has not stopped investments.
“Without a doubt it’s not impacting us, but it is not helpful either into the medium term to be in this situation,” Ms Buckley added.
“When we talk with clients, they fully recognise that there are plans in place and that we have come from a backdrop of 10 years ago where we had a housing crisis, and whether there was a significant reduction in construction, and that we’re really playing catch-up since then.”
Ms Fitzpatrick said: “The feedback coming back from the technology sector is that it’s both the supply of housing and the housing mix, and it’s all of the country. It’s not a Dublin-only issue.
“It hasn’t prevented huge levels of investment, but it has been something that I think members have sought to seek clarity on in terms of what is the projections.
“A lot of decisions are being made in terms of this is what the expected housing output will look like in two to three years time.
“In terms of the housing mix, and given the demographics within the tech sector, there really was a concern that if everything that’s being built is three-bed semis, that’s maybe not necessarily what employees in the tech sector are looking for.
“They have been reassured by the Housing For All plan but there would be a concern if completion numbers are not increased.”