Belfast Telegraph

We must show the youth a future to stop brain drain

By Paul Armstrong

Recent graduates from our colleges and universities, and those who will emerge from higher education in the next few years, will be coming into a jobs market still coming to terms with the UK's decision to exit the European Union.

These young would-be professionals now realise that the landscape is forever changed as a result of the Brexit vote and I think it could lead many of them to reconsider where they want to begin their career.

Of course, historically lots of our brightest and best have chosen to take their first career steps away from home and we're not in a situation where I'm suggesting there will be a return to the brain drain that Northern Ireland experienced during the Troubles.

But if we can't prove to this emerging generation that really brilliant jobs are available in Northern Ireland, then Brexit and the impact that will have on slowing both the NI and UK economies could make the decision to pursue a stint overseas a much more appealing prospect.

In the past few weeks employers across the food, engineering, manufacturing, IT and healthcare sectors, and similarly the other businesses who support these industries, have watched as the value of the pound dropped against the euro, a short-term boost for exporters but a long-term negative on the cost of importing raw materials. They've also heard of construction projects grinding to a halt and watched as the value of shares on the London Stock market dropped by a third.

We are already seeing Northern Ireland firms which had plans for expansion and growth put them on hold; at best until the dust settles, at worst indefinitely. Previously these companies would have snapped up Northern Ireland's most gifted, talented and ambitious youngsters.

But now there is a huge amount of uncertainty surrounding the next five years, which may well result in Northern Ireland-based companies, both locally owned and international, freezing and reducing headcounts even further in an effort to reduce the unnecessary costs. Companies will and have learnt from the financial crisis of the late 2000s and in a worst case scenario the cuts this time could be even deeper.

As a result our youngest and brightest graduates are facing a tough and important decision regarding their immediate future. Should they stay here to try and forge a career, or does their career path begin in another country? If not London or Dublin, then Australia, New Zealand or Canada perhaps? If we cannot show our graduates that Northern Ireland has the potential to mirror and support their own ambitions and career development with desires of home ownership, nice cars and a good salary - who can blame them for considering their options?

There are, of course, good jobs here and it is brilliant to see big companies like Tullett Prebon creating jobs in Northern Ireland. But while the salaries paid by the big foreign direct investors here are often well above average for Northern Ireland, in sectors such as IT, graduates with a 2:1 or better know they can command far higher salaries for similar jobs in London and Dublin, where their skills are just as much in demand.

We know that, historically, Northern Ireland has struggled to stem the brain drain and while we've largely stemmed this in sectors like technology, other parts of the economy have continued to lose people. Construction and healthcare in particular have suffered and both industries have struggled to recover since the last recession. Both sectors are now heavily reliant on bringing in talent and professionals from outside of the UK, and on occasion Europe.

It would be ironic if we end up in a situation where we witness a growing dependency on bringing in foreign labour and talent as a means to address the gaps and shortages left by our own 'exported talent' given that one of main reason for the Brexit vote was fear of immigration. At Reactive Recruitment we know the value and skills foreign nationals add and contribute to our economy. Their contribution helps grow the private sector and therefore the economy, whilst also promoting Northern Ireland as an economy and location to invest in. Brexit undoubtedly makes the job of selling Northern Ireland a little bit trickier.

Belfast Telegraph


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