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Dublin: 17 °C Tuesday 16 September, 2014

Column: Young people need to reject the ideas my generation grew up with

If the country is to emerge from the current recession and austerity measures, young people need to become more entrepreneurial writes Nick Leeson

Nick Leeson

IT’S STRANGE, ISN’T it: until recently, I don’t think I would have been able to give you a decent explanation of what austerity meant.

Now, we are all going to long remember what it means, what it looks like and most certainly what it feels like. At the end of the next decade, we will hopefully be able to look back on all of this. The effects of austerity won’t be quite as livid or raw in the memory and life will look an awful lot better.

Unfortunately it is a long, meandering path until we get to that point, still filled with many twists and turns, but one that we are slowly moving along. Over the last ten years we have been seriously let down by the government, we have all been burned by the banks and we have all been saddled with a debt that remains largely unpayable.

There is no single panacea to our problems – we can all agree on that. The last four years have been littered with a certain level of trial and error to cope with the problems that we face. There are small pockets of optimism but they are limited and difficult to find. As soon as jobs are created in one location, they are lost in another. I have written previously that I think it is impossible to govern by consensus. In Ireland that is compounded even further by the fact that there is a coalition government that is largely directed by its European partners. In those circumstances it is very difficult to drive direction, which is what we need more than anything.

The last government very clearly thought that we could spend our way out of any problem that surfaced. The current government is acting like a good housewife by cutting back but at the same time encouraging the banks to lend, not only is this confusing but ultimately wrong. Work is the only solution –  so in tandem with the acceptance of austerity, there has to be clear direction from the government of what life, work and community will look like in the future. Everybody needs that direction, that level of understanding and effectively a target to aim at.

‘Mass emigration in the past meant economic recovery was very slow’

If it doesn’t mass emigration to places such as Canada, as was reported this week,will become more common. If the brightest talent and those most inclined to work hard leave these shores, the foundation for recovery is very shaky at best. Friends of mine left for Alberta in Canada eighteen months ago. Not only are they enjoying life, they are enjoying the work and the Irish community that is growing around them. They already have GAA and soccer teams and I doubt they have any inclination to return. History shows that when there was mass emigration in the past, the recovery in the economy was very slow.

On the simplest level we need to understand where the recovery in Ireland is going to be based. It needs to be made clear to direct students and new generations of workers in their learning. Singapore and Hong Kong have developed financial centres on which much of the rest of the economy is based.

Dublin will never compete with London, Frankfurt or Paris in the same way. Construction has seen its day, retail, general manufacturing and farming will remain important but none have the depth upon which to base a recovery. Ireland has long benefitted from its low corporate tax rate and attraction to highly specialised industries. This needs to be expanded. Recovery has to be based around a high tech economy. NUI Galway and Hewlett Packard announced a new Masters course in cloud computing this week, and it’s courses like this that are the future. Developments in technology will provide a myriad of off-shoot business that can build and flourish.

Students need to move away from ideas my generation grew up with

For the next ten years we should expect students to be more entrepreneurial, to set up businesses with a particular high tech slant. We should look to provide mentoring to these individuals and small amounts of funding to set them on their way. We should move them away from some of the ideas that people of my own generation grew up with. The idea that there is such a thing as a job for life has to be consigned to history, there isn’t any such thing anymore. I remember my own mother directing me towards a career in banking because it represented just that. I certainly disproved that theory –  and many have accompanied me in doing so.

Imagine being a seventeen or eighteen year old at the moment, sitting the Leaving Certificate in June and trying to decide on a worthwhile course at university. It must be very difficult without any clear idea upon what this country will base its recovery. The longer the government delay in visualising a clear future for everyone, the more people will worry and choose to depart from these shores.

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