Future Work – What will work and workers be like in the future?

A conference on the Future of Work, on 29th November, organised by the Sunday Business Post highlighted the trends and influences which are likely to impact on the types of jobs that will be in demand in the future.

In his keynote address, Ade McCormack, former technologist and Financial Times columnist explained why work will be quite a different experience for our children. He tracks human development and work from Stone Age man to now and suggests that we are moving from the Information age into the Biological age. This will include moving from a stage of using and wearing technology to possibly have technology embedded in us. He also suggests that as many as 50% of jobs in the future will be done by robots and humans will need to develop their creative potential rather than engage in mundane tasks which will be done increasingly by robots.

He also notes that the digital economy is driving fundamental power shifts including: from the employer to the employee, from the seller to the buyer and from the government to the citizen.

In his presentation on How to future proof your workplace? Peter Cosgrove, Director, CPL and Founder of the Future of Work Institute, Ireland, highlighted some key issues and trends which will impact on employment including;

  • The impact of technology on all businesses and how technology is affecting recruitment methods with social media an increasingly important aspect.
  • How businesses are being affected by a global marketplace, flexible working and adapting to the new generation of workers. Work in the future will not be a place to go to, but a thing to do!
  • The importance of talent, innovation and how gender diversity will become increasingly important
  • The employer brand is important and employers will need to adapt to ensure they attract future talent in a talent scarce marketplace.

Fiona Mullen, the HR Director at Facebook discussed How companies can provide outstanding workplaces which are enablers for productivity, creativity and innovation. Fiona provided an interesting account of the Facebook story and the values of being ‘bold’ in a brave and innovative way and open to its staff and customers. The company tries to avoid being hierarchical and engages with staff in building trust and a common purpose. The company motto is ‘This Journey is 1% Finished’, illustrating its ongoing ambition.

 Annette Burns, Director of  eumom  highlighted the growing importance of women in the workforce. She noted that Western economies are facing a skills crisis where a birth rate of 2.1 is needed just to keep standing still; yet every year thousands of skilled women leave the workforce. In Ireland alone, over 3000 fulltime women leave every year. In the US 3 million professional women are keen to re-enter the workplace. eumom, has researched the issues and has identified what limits women’s participation and what are the enablers to contributing now and in the future.

Professor Anthony Staines, DCU discussed how changing skills requirements alter education priorities for individuals and policy-makers across the stages of formal education? In particular he examines the focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects and suggests that while this is important there is a need to focus on other skills also. He notes that in comparison to other countries we do have a well-educated workforce, though there are some issues with early school leaving and the youth who disengage from formal education. He noted that our education system is getting better at supporting lifelong learning but the main beneficiaries are those who are already well educated and have done well out of the education system. He suggests that in terms of educational outcomes Ireland is good at equality but not equity. He welcomed the developments undertaken by SOLAS in expanding and modernising the apprentice system in Ireland and suggests that employers should increasingly try to employ apprentices rather than the traditional focus on graduates. He also noted that while technology is solving a lot of problems there are some persistent problems that need much attention such as

  • Persistent poverty
  • Climate change
  • Migration
  • Controlling corporations

Mark Coleman, Research Director at Gartner discussed the issue of Competing for Top Talent. Though most CIOs believe there is a talent crisis, they engage in surprisingly little talent innovation. In particular, they should consider new approaches to acquiring and keeping top talent. To compete in this arena, CIOs must borrow the mindset, tools and technologies of branding and marketing. Seeing talent as a customer, and employment by IT as a brand promise fulfilled, will improve talent acquisition and retention.

In her Ministerial Address: Mary Mitchell O’Connor, T.D, Minister for Jobs, Enterprise & innovation noted the new jobs announcements she had made that morning in pharmaceuticals and communications and that they were likely to be an important feature of the economy in the future. She highlighted the new data on unemployment which is now at the lowest rate in many years and the importance of continuing to ensure that all have an opportunity to enter the workforce. The Minister noted the role of the Regional Action Plans for Jobs and the new Regional Skills Fora as an important initiative designed to bring employers and educationalists together to ensure skills gaps are overcome.

Professor Cathal O’Donoghue, Director, Rural Economy and Development Programme, Teagasc discussed The Future of Work in the regional economies of Ireland. He showed how the recent recession and economic recovery has affected different parts of Ireland in different ways, which has resulted in diverging labour markets. He discussed recent drivers in relation to regional economic growth, demographic and labour market changes. The Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas outlined a strategy to both increase employment in the short term and to move employment up the value chain in the medium term.

Kevin Empey, Director, Willis Towers Watson discussed how advances in technology are redefining employer/employee relationships. He explored what is changing in the employer / employee landscape and how organisations can prepare for a rapidly changing workforce and workplace. He discussed how demographic and technology trends are converging to transform working environments globally as well as the implications for Business Leaders, for HR and for employees.

The conference concluded with an interesting Panel Discussion on The ‘Gig’ economy and What it means for work in the future? This on-demand, or so called ‘gig’ economy is creating exciting economies and unleashing innovation. But there are important hard questions about workforce protections and what a ‘good’ job will look like in the future.


Deirdre Frost

Fig. 1: Number of self-employed persons in the Western Region, with and without paid employees, Q1 2016. Source: CSO, Quarterly National Household Survey, Q1 2016, special run

Self-employment increases by 10,000 in Western Region

The biggest change in the Western Region’s labour market over the past year has been an exceptionally rapid expansion in self-employment.  According to a special run of the CSO’s Quarterly National Household Survey for Quarter 1 2016 for the Western Region, between Quarter 1 2015 and Quarter 1 2016 the number of people in the Western Region who are self-employed grew by 15.4%. That was an increase of 10,000 people, from 65,000 up to 75,000.  This was in sharp contrast to the change in the number of people who were working as employees in the region, which actually declined marginally over the same period -0.2% (from 249,600 down to 249,200).

There has been a steady upward trend in the numbers self-employed in the region since 2012, but 2016 was marked by an exceptionally large rise (Fig. 1). From Fig. 1 it can be seen that the number of self-employed who are employing others actually declined between 2012 and 2014 but has grown strongly since.  Indeed between 2015 and 2016 this type of self-employment increased by a quarter (up 25%).  The strong growth in the number with employees is a very positive indication of the growth potential of some of these businesses. Currently there are 19,000 people self-employed and employing others in the Western Region.

Self-employed with no paid employees is by far the more common type of self-employment however.  This has grown in each year since 2012, except 2015, and increased by 12.4% in the past year to now stand at 56,000. This type of self-employment plays a key role in ensuring that people can continue to live and work in smaller towns and rural areas.

Fig. 1: Number of self-employed persons in the Western Region, with and without paid employees, Q1 2016. Source: CSO, Quarterly National Household Survey, Q1 2016, special run

Fig. 1: Number of self-employed persons in the Western Region, with and without paid employees, Q1 2016. Source: CSO, Quarterly National Household Survey, Q1 2016, special run

The growth in self-employment was the sole driver of any jobs growth that took place in the Western Region in this period.  The total number of people at work in the region rose by 3.5% between Q1 2015 and Q1 2016 and this was entirely due to self-employment.

Contrast to situation in rest of the state

The massive growth in self-employment between 2015 and 2016 was unique to the Western Region.  For the rest of the state (all other counties in Ireland combined) the number of self-employed people actually fell during this period by -1.3%, it was the same for those with and without employees.  The number of people working as employees grew however (up 2.8%) in contrast to the decline experienced in the Western Region.

Total jobs growth in the rest of the state was lower than that in the region (2.2% v 3.5%) over the period and the region’s stronger overall performance was caused by people creating their own jobs. While the region had stronger jobs growth during 2015-2016, over the longer period since 2012 the region has had lower growth.  The total number in employment rose by 6.4% in the Western Region between 2012 and 2016, but by 8.7% in the rest of the state.

High share of all jobs are in self-employment

The Western Region’s labour market differs markedly from that elsewhere.  The recent growth in self-employment in the region has further reinforced its key role.  22.9% of people at work in the Western Region work for themselves, while in the rest of the state it is 15.2% (Fig. 2).

In the rest of the state the share of self-employed has not fluctuated a great deal over the past decade.  There was only a 1.5 percentage point difference between the highest and lowest years.  In the Western Region, volatility has been far greater with a 4.3 percentage point difference between the highest (2016) and lowest (2012) years.  It is notable that the share now in 2016 is even higher than it was in 2007 or 2008 when self-employment in the construction sector would have been at its highest.

Fig. 2: Total self-employment as a percentage of total number in employment in Western Region and rest of state, Q1 2007 – Q1 2016. Source: CSO, Quarterly National Household Survey, Q1 2016, special run

Fig. 2: Total self-employment as a percentage of total number in employment in Western Region and rest of state, Q1 2007 – Q1 2016. Source: CSO, Quarterly National Household Survey, Q1 2016, special run

Reasons for growth

The underlying factors driving strong self-employment growth in the region are varied and complex.  The relative lack of more standard forms of job opportunities, especially in smaller towns and more rural areas can mean that in order to remain living in these areas people need to choose the option of self-employment.  General trends in the world of work such as the growth of the so-called ‘gig economy’, contract working and trends to outsourcing of certain services and activities by larger companies (e.g. transport) is also driving growth in self-employment, though whether such trends would manifest themselves more strongly in the Western Region is unclear.

The other key explanation for the growth in self-employment, while employee numbers fell, was the sectoral pattern of jobs growth during this period.  At a sectoral level the strongest jobs growth by far was in accommodation & food service, perhaps partly influenced by the Wild Atlantic Way tourism initiative as well as increasing domestic demand, followed by transportation & storage and construction (Fig. 3) all of which are sectors that show high levels of self-employment.

Fig. 3: Percentage change in number in employment by sector in Western Region, Q1 2015 - Q1 2016. Source: CSO, Quarterly National Household Survey, Q1 2016, special run

Fig. 3: Percentage change in number in employment by sector in Western Region, Q1 2015 – Q1 2016. Source: CSO, Quarterly National Household Survey, Q1 2016, special run

The 2014 Business Demography data showed that in the Western Region 88.8% of those working in accommodation & food service enterprises were employees with the remainder (11.2%) either owners or relatives.  In the rest of the state only 6.5% were owners/relatives showing greater self-employment in this sector in the region.  For transport the share of owners/relatives was 33.7% in the region compared with 21.5% in the rest of the state while for construction the difference was 43.4% in the region compared with 30.1% elsewhere. The three sectors with the strongest jobs growth in the Western Region between 2015 and 2016 all exhibit a far greater extent of self-employment in the region.

In contrast, industry, the sector which has the highest share of employees (96%) and therefore the lowest share of self-employment (4%), actually had jobs decline in the Western Region between 2015 and 2016.  The predominantly public service sectors of education, health and public administration, which would have low shares of self-employment, also reduced employment over the past year.


Increasingly, jobs growth in the Western Region is driven by self-employment and far more so than in the rest of the state.  This has significant implications for how jobs growth in the region is being, and can be, supported and encouraged.  It shows the importance of supports for the self-employed including issues around social protection, enterprise supports especially soft supports as many may be in locally trading sectors not eligible for grant aid, work space, broadband access and opportunities for networking.  The growth in the number of self-employed with employees is very positive and shows the potential contribution of the self-employed to jobs growth.  It also shows the importance of making it as easy as possible for the self-employed to begin hiring employees as well as the provision of information and advice on employment law and employee rights.

At the same time, these figures raise concerns about the capacity of job creation in other types of businesses, as the number of employees actually declined in the past year in the region while growing elsewhere. This seems to have been due to employment in the predominantly public sectors of education and health (significant employers) falling in the region, while growing in the rest of the state.  Jobs in industry and information & communications also declined.  We will return to the topic of 2016’s sectoral employment performance in a future post, but for now it is important to note that in the Western Region those sectors driven by self-employment are strongly out-performing the others.

Pauline White

What it takes to sustain viable rural communities

 This week the Western Development Commission (WDC) was invited by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to discuss what it takes to sustain a viable rural community.

The committee is holding a series of meetings to get to the heart of what makes a rural community sustainable and viable. Cathaoirleach of the Committee (Committee members can be seen here)  Peadar Tóibín T.D. has said: “There is a deep imbalance in the distribution of jobs, enterprise and resources in this State causing major difficulties in urban and rural areas. Developing sustainable enterprises, improving tourism opportunities, promoting and encouraging agribusiness and creating jobs are crucial in halting population decline and in sustaining rural communities”.

During their deliberations the Committee will examine all aspects of the requirements of rural communities in modern Ireland. They have divided hearings into six different streams: employment, emergency services, local services, quality of life, education and transport. They will gather evidence from witnesses from all four provinces, including the Gaeltacht, including representatives from Leader partnerships and Government agencies, local service and local interest groups, business, education, farming, financial and transport sectors, and health care, leisure, sport and charity organisations as well as the relevant Government Departments. It will be a wide-ranging and comprehensive study.

The hearing on Wednesday 26th October 2016 considered the employment stream which includes investment, development and employment in rural areas, doing business and locating workers in rural areas and incentives for rural enterprises, resource-based industries and creative and media industries.  It was attended by the WDC acting CEO Mr Ian Brannigan and Policy Analyst Dr Helen McHenry and also heard from Enterprise Ireland, Irish Small and Medium Enterprises; Údarás na Gaeltachta and the Irish Farmers Association. A recording of the webcast of the debate can be seen here.    The transcript of the meeting and the opening statement from the WDC will be available shortly.

The previous meeting of the committee on the subject (Wednesday, 12 October 2016) heard the views of a number of rural development organisations (the transcript is available here).


Helen McHenry


Enterprise in Western Counties

Last week the WDC published two new WDC Insights publications.  They were both based on our analysis of the CSO’s Business Demography 2014 data which measures active enterprises in the business economy.[1]  The publications were:

In a previous blog, I outlined our analysis of the data for the Western Region.  In this blog the focus will be on the analysis at county level. It should be noted that in this CSO dataset, enterprises are assigned to the county where they are registered with the Revenue Commissioners. A business with multiple locations (e.g. chain stores, multinationals) is counted once.  Although this limits the data somewhat, and tends to increase the numbers for Dublin, it is a good reflection of local business activity.

Change in enterprise numbers in western counties since 2008

There were a total of 40,797 active enterprises in the Western Region in 2014.  Galway had the highest number at just over 13,000, while there were 1,750 registered in Leitrim (Table 1).  All western counties experienced a decline in enterprise numbers between 2008 and 2014 that was greater than the national average (-2.4%).  At -13.4% Donegal had the second highest decline in Ireland (after Monaghan).


Not surprisingly, the sector which declined most in all counties was Construction.  Wholesale & Retail also declined across all counties and most strongly in Donegal and Clare – possibly influenced by their proximity to other large retail centres.  Accommodation & Food Service declined across most counties, especially Clare.  Combined with a large decline in Transportation & Storage, this may be due to reduced flights into Shannon airport.

In general the knowledge services sectors performed best.  ICT, professional and financial services grew strongly in all counties (with only Clare having a decline in ICT services).  Despite this growth however, these sectors continue to play a relatively small role in the enterprise base of most western counties.

Enterprise base of western counties

Construction and Wholesale & Retail are the largest enterprise sectors in every county (Fig. 1).  In the highly rural counties of Roscommon, Mayo and Donegal 34-36% of enterprises are in the traditional sectors of Industry and Construction, while in the more urban counties of Clare and Sligo it is around 30%.  In Donegal and Leitrim over 40% of enterprises are in the local services of retail, accommodation and transport which rely on domestic spending and tourism.  These activities play a key role in the enterprise base of all counties, though Galway’s more diverse enterprise mix means it is least reliant on them.


Galway city and Sligo town are strong regional centres for knowledge service firms and this is clear from the quite high shares of their enterprises in professional, financial and ICT services.  In contrast, these sectors account for only 17% of registered enterprises in Roscommon.

A few examples of particular sectoral enterprise strengths stand out, such as Administration & Support Services in Clare which includes aircraft leasing activities around Shannon and Information & Communications and Financial & Insurance in Galway.  Construction remains hugely important to the enterprise profile of the largely rural counties of Roscommon and Mayo.


There is considerable variation across the seven western counties in terms of their enterprise base.  In general, counties with a higher share of their population living in urban centres (Galway, Clare and Sligo) tend to have a greater share of knowledge services firms and lower reliance on traditional sectors.  The general pattern since 2008 has been one of growth in knowledge services but decline in Construction and local services, a similar pattern to employment trends.  This pattern has a spatial impact as the former tend to concentrate in urban areas while the latter are more important to rural economies.

Pauline White

[1] It excludes Agriculture, Health, Public Administration and Other Services, as well as activities of holding companies.  It includes data on Education but this is not counted in ‘total business economy’ as many of the enterprises are publicly owned and is not analysed here.

No. of Enterprises in Western Region declines 8.6% since 2008

The CSO recently released their Business Demography data for 2014 which, combined with the Preliminary Results of Census 2016, shows the continuation of clear economic as well as demographic spatial patterns.

The Business Demography data measures active enterprises in the business economy[1] and provides data at county level.  An enterprise is assigned to the county where it is registered with the Revenue, so for a business that has multiple locations (e.g. chain stores, banks, multinationals) the business is only counted in the county where it is registered (often Dublin).  This makes the data somewhat limited, however it does give a true reflection of enterprises that are registered and operating in a county.

Greater decline in enterprise numbers in Western Region since 2008

In 2014 there were 40,797 active enterprises registered in the seven county Western Region.  This was 8.6% below the 44,621 in 2008.  In contrast, in the rest of the state (all counties other than the seven counties of the Western Region) the number in 2014 was just 1% below the 2008 figure.  And there were even greater differences when we consider sectors.  Fig. 1 shows that with the sole exception of Real Estate, the Western Region had a weaker performance – greater decline or lower growth – than the rest of the state in every sector between 2008 and 2014.

Fig. 1: Percentage change in active enterprises, Western Region and Rest of State, 2008-2014. Source: CSO, Business Demography 2014 http://bit.ly/2ac2fw7

Fig. 1: Percentage change in active enterprises, Western Region and Rest of State, 2008-2014. Source: CSO, Business Demography 2014 http://bit.ly/2ac2fw7

Weaker performance for Western Region across almost all sectors

Unsurprisingly Construction experienced the greatest decline in the number of enterprises, while the locally traded services sectors of Transportation & Storage, Wholesale & Retail also declined in both the region and rest of the state.  For three sectors (Financial & Insurance, Accommodation & Food Service, and Industry) there was a fall in the region, but growth elsewhere.  The Financial & Insurance sector shows a very stark difference, while there was also a substantial difference for Industry.

In the sectors where the Western Region experienced growth, we can see there was a considerable gap with the rest of the state the knowledge services sectors of Information & Communications and Professional services.

Higher share of enterprises in traditional sectors and local services

The difference in the experience over the period contributed to the current enterprise profile of the the Western Region and rest of the state. Fig. 2 shows that, similar to employment patterns, the traditional sectors (Construction and Industry) and local services (Wholesale & Retail and Accommodation & Food Service) account for larger shares of all enterprises in the region, with a lower share of enterprises in knowledge services sectors.

Fig. 2: Percentage of active enterprises by sector, Western Region and rest of state, 2014. Source: CSO, Business Demography 2014 http://bit.ly/2ac2fw7

Fig. 2: Percentage of active enterprises by sector, Western Region and rest of state, 2014. Source: CSO, Business Demography 2014 http://bit.ly/2ac2fw7

Varying performance for western counties

From Fig. 3 it is clear that there were massive differences in the experience of counties over the period, ranging from a 14.2% decline in the number of enterprises in Monaghan to a 7.1% increase in Dublin, the only county with more registered enterprises in 2014 than in 2008.  This is of course influenced by the practice of registering business headquarters in Dublin even if they have locations in other counties.  Evan allowing for this, there is a clear spatial pattern with Border and Midland counties experiencing particularly large declines.

Among the western counties, two of the large rural counties (Donegal and Mayo) experienced the greatest declines in enterprise numbers.  Roscommon, Clare, Galway and Leitrim meanwhile had quite similar experiences, declining by around 7%.  Sligo performed best with a fall of just over 4% in its number of enterprises.  The enterprise profile of each county and the performance of enterprises in different sectors is a key explanation for these county differences and we’ll examine county patterns in more detail in a future post.

Fig. 3: Percentage change in active enterprises by county, 2008-2014. Source: CSO, Business Demography 2014 http://bit.ly/2ac2fw7

Fig. 3: Percentage change in active enterprises by county, 2008-2014. Western counties in green. Source: CSO, Business Demography 2014 http://bit.ly/2ac2fw7

In addition to the data on enterprise numbers, the Business Demography data also provides information on employment in these enterprises, which we’ll also examine in more detail in future. But this initial overview of the data clearly shows a significant decline in the number of enterprises based in the Western Region which is reflected in a weaker performance across all sectors of the business economy.

Pauline White


[1] It does not include Agriculture, Health, Public Administration or Other Services. While it does include data on Education, that sector is not counted in the total figures as many of the enterprises in the sector are publicly owned.

Why Broadband is so Important – Insights on the Digital Economy

Insights from the Digital Economy Conference, May 2016

The Digital Economy Now

The WDC has consistently argued for improved broadband infrastructure and services for the Western Region and indeed all rural areas. The WDC believe that broadband is the single most important infrastructure priority and has advocated investment in next generation broadband over the last few years in various reports, submissions and blog posts.

A conference in Dublin earlier this month provided a useful reminder – beyond Netflix and Youtube – of why broadband services are so important and will become even more so. Organised by Eolas, the conference highlighted the potential of the Digital Economy both in terms of the applications that are and will be available, as well as other countries’ experiences.

Digital Engagement

Some notable highlights included a presentation by the chief digital adviser to the Irish Government, Dr. Stephen Brennan who outlined the Government’s National Digital Strategy. This is aimed at facilitating citizens to get online and he cited some interesting facts, for example;

  • While 75% of the population uses the internet daily, 65% are concerned about data privacy. This is one of the key challenges of the Digital Economy (and Society), where digital communications is so pervasive but there is also widespread concern about the uses to which data is put.
  • 45% of those over 50+ years of age are online daily, again demonstrating how pervasive digital communication is, but also how important it is as a method of communication and that the various barriers to access; lack of broadband, access to devices and lack of technical know-how/ skills, are overcome.
  • Another interesting finding is that 9% of adults run a business from home and close to 2 in 5, 39% of the population, do some work at home. This highlights the importance of adequate telecommunications infrastructure at home, so as to enable self-employment and home-working on a frequent basis. The WDC is examining eworking/ teleworking, the extent to which it is occurring and the policy implications (forthcoming).

Dr. Brennan also highlighted the benefits of the Government’s Trading on-Line scheme which has supported over 4,000 participants and issued over 2,000 Trading Online vouchers, supporting small businesses to develop their online presence. This has led to a 20%+ increase in sales.

Lessons from Norway

There was a particularly interesting presentation on Digital Government in Norway. Heather Broomfield, a Senior Adviser to the Norwegian Agency for Public Management and eGovernment (Difi) outlined the progress of the Digital Economy in the Norwegian public sector.

Norway is not dissimilar to Ireland in that it has a population of 5 million people, yet digital engagement by the average citizen is much more widespread than in Ireland. This is despite its geography which is not conducive to high speed fixed line broadband deployment. Norway has a very long coastline, extending into the Arctic circle and is very mountainous.  Norway has a very low population density, with 13 persons per km2, compared to Ireland’s 65 km2. It is also interesting that much economic activity is dispersed and located around the coastline, with oil and gas exploration important sectors as well as the fishing industry.

Another important difference between Norway and Ireland is the greater degree of decentralisation in Norway which devolves power to 19 counties composed of 422 Municipalities.

In Norway in 2014 there were 38.8 fixed broadband subscriptions (per 100 people), compared to Ireland’s 26.9%. Close to 90% of Norwegians access the internet daily and there is very extensive online engagement with public services. For example, over 80% of individuals interacted online with the public authorities in the last year, compared to a European average of just over 40%.

Digital Inclusion

The importance of good design in promoting online engagement was highlighted by Dónal Rice of the National Disability Authority. In a survey it was found that 42% do not use or have difficulties engaging with public sector websites. Key factors are age and disability with the survey showing that persons with disabilities are three times more likely to encounter difficulties using public sector websites. However if basic good design is used in creating websites it can help ensure more efficient service delivery with more citizens self-serving online compared to queries by phone.

Another example of online service delivery promoting inclusion are some of the services delivered by Local Government.  Ruth Buckley, Head of ICT and Business Services at Cork City Council highlighted some new developments including a new online service for those on the housing list, where they can search online themselves for appropriate properties. Another innovation is the operation of litter management services which are now done electronically. This has been more effective in identifying offenders as well as significantly reducing the administrative burden.

Of particular interest is the extent of innovation occuring at individual local authority level in online service delivery, but more importantly the extent of collaboration and sharing of ideas across Local Authorities.

Michael Bunyan, from the Department of Social Protection outlined some significant developments in the delivery of public services. The Department of Social Protection is one of the largest Government Departments, engaging with most citizens at one point or another. It is also widely located with 400 locations across the country. The rollout of a new smartcard, the Public Services Card was described as well as the development of MyGovID which is designed to provide safer, simpler and faster access to multiple government services. Both of these initiatives are in the early stages of rollout.

In Autumn 2015, the Department of Social Protection was tasked with administering delivery of the Water Conservation Grant to individual households on behalf of the Department of the Environment. There was a very short timeline and online communication was a key delivery channel. Of nearly 900,000 applications, 77% were made online, with the remaining 23% by phone. There were no ‘paper’ based applications. The grant payment was mostly paid electronically, with 85% of payment by electronic fund transfer, and the remaining 15% by cheque. The extent of online engagement illustrates that this is now the communication method of choice.

The potential for delivery of health care using online access was described by Prof. Neil O’Hare, of St James’s Hospital. The ability to access online health records can provide for more effective delivery of health care as well as giving individuals greater ownership of their records. This can reduce the administrative burden as well as reduced costs for filing space in cramped hospitals! There are various developments across the health sector developing more efficient delivery across Ireland but the need for improved rural broadband now was emphasised by Prof. O’ Hare.


The conference highlighted that there are huge potential savings and benefits to be realised via online engagement and service delivery. This will benefit all who have access. The widespread deployment of  next generation broadband as well as supports for those who find online engagement challenging are needed so as to ensure these savings and benefits can be realised by all. The Norwegian case study clearly demonstrates that very low population density and difficult geographic terrain are not significant barriers to effective high speed broadband deployment and large scale online citizen engagement.

Deirdre Frost

Infographic from the Enterprise Ireland end-of-year statement 2015

Job creation in 2015 – EI and IDA end-of-year statements

Both Enterprise Ireland (the state agency charged with supporting exporting indigenous enterprises) and the IDA (the state agency responsible for supporting Foreign Direct Investment) issued very upbeat end-of-year statements this week. So, how did the region’s fare?

Enterprise Ireland

In 2015 total employment in EI client companies was 192,223, of which 165,630 were full-time jobs. 2015 saw the highest level of new jobs created by EI supported companies in the agency’s history (about 17 years) with 21,118 new jobs created. Taking into account job losses over the year, the net increase was about half this at 10,169 net new jobs.

Of this net increase in EI client jobs, 64% occurred outside of Dublin. It is notable that the regional performance got considerably greater focus in this year’s end-of-year statement Press Release than has been the case for the past number of years. The evident dissatisfaction in many regional locations caused by a two-speed jobs recovery, which led to the preparation of the regional Action Plans for Jobs and several other regional EI initiatives last year, has led to greater emphasis on regional performance in this year’s end-of-year statement. As indeed has the fact that that performance has been quite strong.

While the overall regional picture may be quite strong, the relative performance across the various regions differs (Fig. 1). The increase in jobs in EI client companies in 2015, compared with 2014, varied from +36% in Dublin to just +2% in the North West. Indeed the North West, Mid-West and West – the three EI regions covering the Western Region – had the lowest increases in job numbers across the country at +2%, +3% and +5% respectively. Sticking with the two-speed jobs recovery metaphor, the Western Region appears to be running at the lowest speed of all, at least in the context of indigenous exporting companies.

Infographic from the Enterprise Ireland end-of-year statement 2015

Fig. 1: Infographic from the Enterprise Ireland end-of-year statement 2015 https://enterprise-ireland.com/en/News/PressReleases/2016-Press-Releases/End-of-Year-Statement-2015.PDF

A previous WDC Insights Blog post highlighted the particular issue of the North West’s poor performance in terms of all types of agency assisted employment (EI, IDA and Udarás). Between 2005 and 2014 the North West experienced the largest decline in agency assisted jobs of any region in Ireland. And now in 2015 it’s the region with the lowest increase in EI supported jobs. This points to a very real concern for the North West’s capacity to generate new employment in export focused businesses, even when Ireland is experiencing some of its strongest ever jobs growth in this type of business.


2015 saw the highest level of employment in IDA client companies in the organisation’s 67 year history reaching 187,056. A total of 18,983 new jobs were created by their clients during 2015, when job losses are taken into account, there was net job creation of 11,833, slightly higher than that recorded by EI clients.

Similar to EI, the IDA’s end-of-year statement gives more focus to regional performance than in some previous years. Overall, 53% of all jobs created by IDA clients in 2015 were based outside of Dublin, which is an improvement over the 49% share in 2014.

While 53% of new jobs were created outside of Dublin in 2015, this area accounts for 59% of total employment in IDA backed companies. The legacy of past investments in more regional locations continues to influence the overall pattern of FDI jobs, even as new investments tend to be attracted to more urban areas.

The IDA end-of-year statement doesn’t provide detail on the differences across the regions, though it does note that every region experienced an increase in employment in IDA backed companies. It will be very interesting to see the detailed regional breakdown of this performance to see if it shows a similar inter-regional pattern to the EI client companies, with the Western Region having the lowest growth. Although the strength of Galway in attracting FDI means the West region may show a stronger performance in foreign owned employment in 2015 than in Irish owned.

While overall, 2015 was very positive in terms of regional job creation by both EI and IDA client companies, the inter-regional differences in the results for EI companies would indicate that more needs to be done to increase the pace of the jobs recovery in the Western Region.

Pauline White

WDC Insights- Christmas Quiz!

We hope you have been following and reading the WDC Insights blog in the last year. Take our Christmas Quiz (9 questions) and see how well you score on regional development and Western Region issues. The answers are below with links to more information and the relevant posts.

Good Luck!

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1      The WDC published its report on ‘Trends in Agency Assisted Employment in the Western Region’ in January. This included an analysis of data for each of the seven western counties. In 2013 what proportion of the total jobs in Sligo were agency assisted?

  1. 63.2%
  2. 27.6%
  3. 15.3%

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2      Agriculture in the Western Region of Ireland is characterised by smaller farm size, poorer land quality and a higher dependence on off farm income than in many other parts of Ireland. Nonetheless agriculture remains a significant employer and makes an important contribution to the regional economy.

What is the average farm size in the Western Region?

  1. 43.7 ha
  2. 15.2 ha
  3. 26.3 ha

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3      In the latest CSO data on Income and Living Conditions (released 26th November) poverty and at risk of poverty rates are given. What is the difference between the at risk of poverty rates between the BMW and S&E regions?

  1. 5.7%
  2. 15.2%
  3. 1.3%

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4      In a recent a creative momentum project survey what proportion of creative entrepreneurs were exporting?

  1. 8%
  2. 48%
  3. 68%

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5      Examining regional indicators can help us to understand the growth and development taking place in our regions, to highlight changes and assess issues of efficiency and equity among regions.

Looking at the data since 2003 are regional disparities

  1. Widening?
  2. Narrowing?
  3. Staying the same?

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6      Understanding the sectoral pattern of jobs in the region and patterns of sectoral growth and decline is particularly important to the development of job creation, skills and enterprise policy for the region.

What is the largest employment sector in the Western region?

  1. Industry
  2. Wholesale and Retail
  3. Public Administration and Defence

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7      The WDC has been highlighting rural broadband needs for more than a decade. It recently submitted its views to the consultation on the rollout of the National Broadband Plan.

What is the minimum download speed set down under the National Broadband Plan (in Mega bits per second (Mbps))?

  1. 30 Mbps
  2. 100 Mbps
  3. 12 Mbps

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8      In February 2015 the IDA published a new 5-year strategy which put considerable focus on the regional balance of future FDI investments. The strategy includes a target to increase the number of investments in every region, outside of Dublin. By how much are the investments in the regions targeted to increase?

  1. By 10-20% over the 5 years of the strategy?
  2. By 30-40% over the 5 years of the strategy?
  3. By 80-90% over the 5 years of the strategy?.

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9      With The Paris Agreement at COP21 marking a turning point in the response to climate change, it is time to consider how we will meet those targets in Ireland so we examine some of the issues for climate change mitigation in the Western Region in this post.

What percentage of households in the Western Region use oil to heat their homes?

  1. 63.1%
  2. 84.2%
  3. 38.8%

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  1. Assisted jobs

Answer:3) 15.3%

The WDC published a report on ‘Trends in Agency Assisted Employment in the Western Region’ in January 2015.week. This included an analysis of data for each of the seven western counties. Taking Sligo as an example in 2013, there were 3,880 people working in agency assisted jobs there. 15.3% of total jobs in the county were agency assisted, which is below the state average (19.3%). Some 55.6% of assisted jobs in Sligo are in foreign owned companies; lower than a decade earlier. Irish owned assisted employment has grown steadily since 2011 and was up 4.8% in 2013. Sligo’s second largest assisted sector – Traditional Manufacturing – has had the strongest recent growth, up a fifth (21.5%) between 2010 and 2013.

For more about agency assisted jobs in the other Western Region counties see this post

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  1. Farm size

Answer: 3) 26.3 ha

Agriculture in the Western Region of Ireland is characterised by smaller farm size, poorer land quality and a higher dependence on off farm income than in many other parts of Ireland. Nonetheless agriculture remains a significant employer and makes an important contribution to the regional economy.

The average farm size in the Western Region (counties Clare, Donegal, Galway, Leitrim, Mayo, Roscommon and Sligo) was 26.3 ha in 2010. Farm sizes are significantly smaller than in the rest of Ireland where the average farm in 2010 was 36.9 ha. Nonetheless farm size in the Western region has grown by a third since 1991 when the Western Region average was 19.8 ha with most of the growth occurring in the 1990s (almost 27% of the growth occurred between 1991 and 2000). For more information, read this post.

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  1. Poverty data

Answer: 1) 5.7%

The CSO released the latest data on Income and Living Conditions on 26th November 2015. The headline figures indicate a rise in incomes – increasing by 3.5% between 2013 and 2014, which in turn was higher than the figure in 2012. The release also provided data on poverty rates at a regional level.   Analysis of consistent poverty rates by region, which will be influenced by rural-urban patterns, shows that the rate for the Border, Midlands and Western region was 10.8% compared with 7.0% for the Southern and Eastern region in 2014. The at-risk of poverty-rate was also higher in the Border, Midlands and Western region compared to the Southern and Eastern region, 20.5% and 14.8% respectively. The difference was 5.7%.

For more on poverty and at-risk of poverty rates see this post.

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  1. a creative momentum project survey

Answer: 3) 68%.

In order to inform the development a creative momentum project activities, an online survey was circulated to creative entrepreneurs based in the participating regions. The survey ran from 28 September to 18 October and there were a total of 170 responses.

68% reported that they made some sales outside of their own country, which was higher than indicated in previous surveys. Cross-border business between Ireland and Northern Ireland seemed to be a strong element in these export sales. Of those businesses who did not export currently (44), 70% indicated a desire to export.

For more on the survey see this post

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  1. Regional Disparities

Answer: 1) Widening

There has been a significant widening of the gap between the BMW and the S&E regions since 2008, the difference in 2012 was 48.3 points and in 2008 was 40.6 points (in 2003 it was 42.6).

Disparities in regional GVA have been increasing in recent years and have been particularly significant since 2008 while, in contrast, disparities in disposable income reduced between 2003 and 2010, but have increased since then. For more see this post

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  1. Employment sectors

Answer: 2) Wholesale and Retail.

The largest employment sector is Wholesale and Retail and the two largest employment sectors in the Western Region are Wholesale and Retail, and Industry which together account for about 30% of jobs.  Of the region’s top seven sectors, all (except Health) account for a greater share of jobs in the region than the rest of the state.  Agriculture and Industry (manufacturing) are considerably more important in the region.  Among the region’s smaller sectors the share working in them in the region is considerably below that in the rest of the state.

In general the Western Region’s jobs profile relies more heavily than the rest of the state on the traditional sectors (Industry, Agriculture and Construction) and local services (Wholesale and Retail, and Accommodation and Food Service) which depend on domestic spending and tourism.  The region’s sectoral jobs pattern is influenced by its largely rural nature. For more information see this post

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  1. Broadband

Answer: 1) 30Mbps

The WDC in its submission to the consultation on the rollout of the National Broadband Plan suggests that one option would be to review the basic minimum standard, for both up and download speeds, every 5 years (or more frequently depending on technological change and demand requirements) and raise the minimum standard accordingly. For more from the WDC on broadband see here and here

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  1. IDA Strategy

Answer: 2) 30-40% over the 5 years of the strategy

The strategy includes a target to increase the number of investments in every region, outside of Dublin, by 30-40% over the lifetime years of the strategy. With Dublin maintaining a similar level to currently. For example for the West, which received 71 investments over the 2010-2014 period, the target is to achieve 92-99 investments over 2015-2019. For the Border region the target is 61-66 investments (it received 47 in the past five years). These targets do not just refer to new name investments, but include expansions by existing FDI companies and R&D investments.

Read more about it here.

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  1. Climate change

Answer: 1) 63.1% of homes use oil as their main heating fuel

The pattern of fuel usage in central heating is very different in the Western Region and the rest of the state. This is primarily due to the lack of access to natural gas across most of the region. Less than 5% of households in the Western Region use natural gas to heat their home compared with 40% in the rest of the state. Lack of access to natural gas makes the Western Region far more reliant on other fuels, many which have higher carbon emissions. Oil is used by 63.1% of households in the region compared to 38.8% in the rest of the state. Wood fuels and other biomass are slightly more important in the Western Region 1.4% compared to 1.3% in the rest of the state but there needs to be a significant policy focus using renewable energies for domestic heating. These include solid biomass (wood chips, pellets and logs). In many rural situations users have more space and fuel can be sourced locally with less transport required, so these options may be more suitable than for urban dwellers. Uptake could be improved with appropriate, targeted incentives.

For more on rural urban differences, western region statistics and the need for climate change mitigation to focus on rural areas see this post.

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How well did you do?

You got 8 or 9 answers correct

CONGRATULATIONS! You really know a lot about regional development, the Western Region and the Western Development Commission’s work.


You got between 4 and 7 answers correct

WELL DONE, a good score but some deficiencies in your knowledge. Perhaps you should read the WDC Insights posts more carefully in 2016!


You got between 0 and 3 answers correct

OH DEAR! Time to pay more attention to regional development and Western Region Issues. You’ll have to do some extra study over the holiday! Reread the WDC Insights blog and check out the WDC publications page and re-take the quiz in the New Year!

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Helen McHenry

Survey shows 60% of creative entrepreneurs working on their own

Later today (29 October), the WDC will launch a new transnational project to support the development of the creative industries sector.

The new three-year, €2m transnational creative momentum project aims to support creative entrepreneurs through innovation and skills development, opportunities to network and collaborate across the five partner countries and improved access to international markets. The project will be run by six partner organisations based in Mid-Sweden, North East Iceland, Northern Finland, South East of Northern Ireland and West of Ireland. It is co-funded by the EU Interreg Northern Periphery & Arctic Programme.

In order to inform the development of the project’s activities, the project circulated an online survey to creative entrepreneurs based in the participating regions. The survey ran from 28 September to 18 October and there were a total of 170 responses. The preliminary results of the analysis show some very interesting findings which have implications for policy and supports aimed at developing this sector.

  • 60% of respondents indicated they worked on their own, with a further 31% working in enterprises employing fewer than five people. The survey also showed that just over half (53%) of respondents worked from their own home. The sector seems to be strongly characterised by sole traders and freelancers.
  • 45% reported being members of some form of creative network or collective.
  • 68% reported that they made some sales outside of their own country, which was higher than indicated in previous surveys. Cross-border business between Ireland and Northern Ireland seemed to be a strong element in these export sales. Of those businesses who did not export currently (44), 70% indicated a desire to export.
  • For those who did make export sales, personal sales was the most significant route, reported by 21% of respondents, 14% indicated they used their own online shop, 11% that they exhibited at galleries in other countries and 9% indicated they used retail outlets in their target market.
  • In terms of mentoring, it found that 43% had not received any mentoring, while 43% had received mentoring. A further 10% had been both a mentor and had been mentored at some stage.
  • For training needs, showcasing/presenting your work, marketing, accessing new markets and sales were the top four topics.

Further analysis on these survey results will be published over the coming weeks on www.MyCreativeEdge.eu and will be useful in highlighting the current issues facing entrepreneurs across this sector.

Under a creative momentum project, the Whitaker Institute at NUI Galway will be undertaking a number of studies of the creative industries sector, and its value, to the partner regions.

Pauline White

The Western Region’s Labour Market

The WDC has just published a new analysis of the Western Region’s Labour Market. This is based on a special run of data from the CSO’s QNHS for the period 2004-2014 for the seven-county Western Region. Understanding the region’s labour market is important for effective job creation, enterprise and skills policy.

In 2014 the Western Region’s adult population was just over 600,000 with 350,000 active in the labour force. Its labour force has contracted since 2012, largely because of outward migration, and is characterised by higher part-time, under- and self-employment, for both men and women. These are distinct differences in the nature of the region’s labour market that may point to certain weaknesses which need to be addressed by tailored job creation actions for the region.

Western Regions adult populatin diagram


Some of the key findings of the analysis are:

  1. Lower labour force participation in the Western Region: A smaller share of the Western Region’s adult population is engaged in the labour market and therefore economically active. The region’s participation rate in 2014 is 57.7% compared with 60.1% in the rest of the state. As human capital is among the most critical factors for regional economic development, this has negative implications for the region’s economic growth and viability. The higher level of economic dependency, resulting from the larger proportion of the population outside of the labour force, also has important social impacts and increases the need for state transfers.
  2. Higher share of self-employment: The region has a higher share of self-employment (without employees) than the rest of the state – 16.3% of all employment in the region compared with 11.4% in the rest of the state. This increases the importance of policy and supports to facilitate the self-employed to establish and sustain their businesses, such as soft business supports, quality broadband, networking, etc. Many may work from home or are mobile and are engaged in local services and therefore outside the remit of the enterprise agencies. They play a particularly significant role in sustaining rural communities and economies. This role, and their needs, requires further investigation and policy focus.
  3. Higher share of part-time working and recent jobs growth more likely to be part-time: There is a higher degree of part-time working in the region with 25.7% of all jobs in the region in 2014 part-time, compared with 23.5% in the rest of the state. Recent jobs growth has also been more likely to be part-time in the region than elsewhere. While part-time working can play an important role for those with caring and other commitments, the greater share of recent jobs growth in the region that is part-time raises some concerns over the nature of employment and the quality of recent jobs growth. A focus on stimulating more full-time jobs should be built into job creation policy for the region.
  4. Lower employment growth: Employment in the region grew over 2012-2014 by 1.4% but this was less than in the rest of the state (3.9%). The jobs recovery in the region is lagging that elsewhere. Initiatives to stimulate and facilitate job creation in regional locations are required to address the region’s weaker jobs performance.
  5. Declining unemployment influenced by out-migration: Unemployment has declined by 28.4% since 2012 but this has only partially been caused by jobs growth. The greater part is due to the loss of unemployed people from the region, either overseas or to other parts of Ireland. The decline in unemployment in the region has been stronger than elsewhere, leading to its unemployment rate dropping below that in the rest of the state (11.5% compared with 12.1% in 2014), reflecting the significant impact of out-migration on the region’s labour market.
  6. Higher youth unemployment rate: The Western Region has a higher youth (15-24 yrs) unemployment rate, 29.2% compared with 24.6% in the rest of the state. As the region has a lower total unemployment rate, this indicates that youth unemployment is a more serious challenge for the region. High youth unemployment can have very significant long-term impacts, as a period of unemployment at a young age can hinder the person’s career prospects and earnings potential. The needs of young jobseekers in the Western Region should be a key policy priority, nationally and for the region, both to prevent them from falling into long-term unemployment and also to reduce out-migration.

These aspects of the Western Region’s labour market should inform the development of the upcoming Action Plan for Jobs for the West, Border and Mid-West regions. The distinctive characteristics of the region’s labour market profile should influence which policies are prioritised for the region and the sectors of focus for job creation strategies. A new WDC Insights on the Western Region’s sectoral profile will be published in coming weeks.

Download two-page WDC Insights WDC Insights-The Western Region’s Labour Market-April 2015 (PDF 0.2MB)

Download full WDC report The Western Region’s Labour Market 2004-2014-WDC Report March 2015 (PDF 2.5MB)

Pauline White