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'A talented and flexible workforce is our trump card'

THE new president of the American Chamber of Commerce has expressed "realistic optimism" for 2012.

Peter O’Neill (the managing director of IBM Ireland) said yesterday that Ireland continues to "punch above its weight" in attracting US investment, but added that the country’s competitive progress is being continually eroded by a lack of investment in the areas of education and training.

"A competitive tax regime is only one element of our offering to inward investors," Mr O’Neill noted. "Another key component to Ireland’s proposition is its young, talented and flexible workforce. This is very much a trump card in relation to inward investment. We need to develop and retain talent, as well as attract talent from overseas," he added. "Ireland has an open economy, is very dependent on global markets, and much of our recovery to date has been export-led. While the Government must exert its influence within Europe to ensure a stable eurozone and the survival of the euro, we need to focus on the issues within our control at home which can be used to support both a competitive indigenous sector and the multinational companies operating within Ireland."

Mr O’Neill’s first address as American Chamber president comes at a positive time for inward investment — on the same day as 300 new jobs were announced by consulting group, Accenture and pharmaceutical company, Allergan; and less than a week after IDA Ireland reported 2011 as its most successful year ever, with a 20% increase in job creation at its supported companies. Mr O’Neill’s own direct employer, IBM Ireland, has also recently expanded here and is, he said, growth-orientated towards Ireland.

However, he added that Ireland is in urgent need of competitiveness improvements — proof being how the country’s universities have slipped down the global higher education rankings.

"This cannot be allowed to continue. Already, some of our member firms in the key digital, ICT, life sciences and financial services areas are reporting difficulties in hiring suitable candidates. This is borne out by a recent study, by Forfas, which showed that 55% of the demand for ICT professionals in Ireland is being met by inward migration.

"These companies are in Ireland because they’re highly mobile and were attracted here by our unique combination of talent, tax, pro-business environment and our position as the only English speaking member of the eurozone, among other reasons.

"If they can’t find suitable talent here, Ireland won’t be considered for future investments and, worse still, existing operations may choose to move on to a competitor country where they can find qualified staff," he said.


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