On March 23rd this year Sean O’ Sullivan an Irish/American entrepreneur, was asked to give a keynote speech at a technology leaders conference. He gave a talk entitled “Re-inventing Ireland: Making Ireland the Silicon Valley of Europe” which was inspired by his need to address the biggest challenge to the growth of his own business — the lack of properly qualified, engineering talent presently available in Ireland.
This is a problem that faces the entire Irish tech sector. Many companies are being held back by the inability to find and hire enough people with the requisite technical skillset.
As a result of that speech the Open Ireland initiative was born. Technology Voice spoke with Sean recently to find out why Open Ireland isn’t just another earnest, well-meaning, flag-waving, talking shop.
“We have to recognize that Ireland with a population of 4.2 million can’t produce enough engineers to produce the products required by the [7 billion] people on the planet.” Says Sean, “We have to acknowledge that there is a short-term problem with economy here that was caused by an errant banking sector and an errant property development sector. This has nothing to do with the success that we have had in technology.
“Quarter after quarter* there is a widening trade surplus. Ireland has a two-track economy. There is the high tech sector where we are continuing to grow jobs and continuing to drive the rest of the economy and the over-heated sector which had a bubble and burst.”
The question that naturally arises from this evidence of Irish strengths is, “Why don’t we trade on our advantages in our world-leading position in that market to help us get out of trouble?”
The answer, Sean suggests, comes in three parts:
“The first goal is to create Ireland as a vibrant economy where people are coming to rather than leaving. To double the population over the next 20 years and to have people accept that the goal is to have Ireland become more cosmopolitan and for Ireland to become more open to immigration rather than emigration.
“The second goal is to really blow open the doors for all tech talent across the world to come to Ireland and allow them to fill the vacancies we currently have in our vibrant tech sector and to enable startup companies to startup more readily.”
That would involve enabling over 70,000 work visas to become available for suitably qualified people.
The third proposed goal would be to, “Become a gateway for China to Europe in the same that we were a gateway for US companies to Europe.”
Unlike a lot of government initiatives these suggestions require little or no money to make happen. “These are things that can be done without spending any tax-payer dollars yet these are things that will increase the flow of funds to the exchequer and help us to recover our economic vibrancy.
“There are about 20,000 jobs available in the IT sector alone. And these are positions that cannot be filled. There is not enough oxygen in the room right now. We can’t grow all the talent that is needed by long-term educational planning alone.”
Silicon Valley has exactly the same problem as the US government is not providing enough visas for IT professionals with highly desired skillsets. But due to this being an election year, taking place at the end of a long and deep recession, it is extremely unlikely that have immigration quotas and restrictions will be eased.
Sean is very aware of this opportunity for Ireland, “If Ireland is going to become the first country in the English speaking world to open its borders to high-tech talent then we’ll have huge inward investment by any company that is facing this type of shortage.
“I think it would be a huge relief to Silicon Valley if they could come and open new plants and operations in Ireland— if they could get access to the workers in Ireland.
“Why don’t we trade on our advantages in our world-leading position in that market to help us get out of trouble?
“It is only stating the blindingly obvious that if we take advantages of our strengths our weaknesses can go away and it wouldn’t cost the taxpayer anything.”
You can pledge your support for this initiative by visiting the Open Ireland site.
*A full breakdown of export categories can be downloaded from the CSO website.