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Thursday 7 December 2023 Dublin: 10°C
Sasko Lazarov/

Jobs market at 2016 levels as government tells PUP recipients to 'genuinely seek work'

Jobseekers will face tough competition with hundreds of thousands of people still out of work as a direct result of the pandemic.

EMPLOYMENT EXPERTS HAVE said the jobs market will likely have a slow recovery, as the government this week told recipients of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) they should be “genuinely seeking work”. 

The PUP was introduced by the previous government for people whose jobs had been lost due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the resultant government restrictions brought in to contain it.

Though the government has said a “common sense approach” will be taken, ministers made it clear that there is an expectation that people who are on the payment make an effort to look for new jobs now. 

According to managing director of Lincoln Recruitment Shay Dalton, the level of new vacancies is down 20-25% in the high-skill sectors his agency works with, such as engineering and construction, accountancy, financial services, technology, healthcare and legal. 

“People are comparing the current situation to 2019 – that was a bumper year and 2018 was a very active year too – but there was a sizeable shock this year so it’s a difficult comparison to make. 

“The 2020 market is like the late 2016 or early 2017 benchmark I would say from an activity point of view. The only difference is that we knew in 2016 and 2017 that the market was going to continue to grow an at the moment people are kind of working month to month.”

Dalton said he thinks the market will likely stay this way until the end of the year and possible even until there is a vaccine. 

‘A common sense approach’

When the Dáil voted this week on legislation giving the payment a legal basis, a proposed amendment to remove the condition to seek alternative work was was defeated by the government parties of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party.

Speaking during the Dáil debate on the legislation, Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys said some people in receipt of the payment are “waiting for their jobs to come back” while others will not see their job return.

“In relation to people looking for work and I know there are some sectors that haven’t opened up yet and hopefully the remainder of those will be allowed to open on 10 August,” the minister said.

But the department, in terms of making sure people are looking for work, they will take a common sense approach. So if you’re in a sector that is waiting to reopen soon, then that’s okay, that’s fully understandable that you’re waiting for your job to come back.

“But unfortunately, a lot of people won’t be, you know, returning to their jobs. And that is why we want to help them get back into new jobs.”

Humphrey’s department this week said 286,900 people were paid the PUP. 

The sectors with the highest numbers of people in receipt of the payment are:

  • Accommodation and food services activities (63,700)
  • Wholesale and retail trade (40,000)
  • Administrative and support service activities (27,700)

Figures from the department this week also show that a significant number of workers in sectors that either continued to operate during the lockdown or have been able to reopen in recent weeks and months are still not back at their jobs yet. 

  • Just less than half of those who were receiving the payment in May in the agriculture, forestry, mining and quarrying sector have not returned to work (4,100).
  • In May 37,400 recipients were from manufacturing – 15,200 of those are still out of work.
  • 24,300 construction workers still not returned – in May there were 79,300 workers from this sector receiving the PUP.
  • 40,000 retail workers have not returned – in May there were 90,300 receiving the payment.
  • There are 7,100 workers in the financial and insurance activities sector who are still out of work, down from 12,500 in May.
  • 12,000 people in the human and social work activities sector have not returned to work, down from 22,500 in May.
  • In the arts, entertainment and recreation sector, more than half (7,900) are still out of work compared to May.

Dalton said even the high-skill sectors his agency works with have taken a hit, though some are recovering better than others.

He said mechanical and electrical engineering contractor hiring demands remain “unphased” by the Covid 19 pandemic, due to the large levels of construction, with no visible impacts on salaries or job losses.

“Main contractor clients appear to the worst hit, largely due to the reliance on commercial and hotel builds especially in the Dublin region.

With investors withdrawing or putting projects on hold as well as the fact that theses building sites typically are limited on space, the volume of people on sites is already posing an issue, with projects being delayed due to clusters of Covid.

coronavirus-thu-jul-23-2020 Brian Lawless / PA Workers from an industrial cleaning company using an electrostatic sprayer for deep cleaning at the Grangegorman East Quad construction site in Dublin. Brian Lawless / PA / PA

Tech companies that operate in the SAAS (software as a service) and IAAS (infrastructure as a service) space are continuing to do well, he said, as more and more employees continue to need to work from home.

After a busy March, April and May, the healthcare market has settled back to pre-Covid levels, or slightly below.

‘It’s going to be tough’

An analysis of job advertisements on by on one day this week found many companies in a range of sectors are still hiring, despite the economic uncertainty.

There are more than 286,000 people who are still out of work after losing their jobs due to the pandemic. And it would require significant time retraining to qualify for many of the jobs that are currently being advertised. 

  • There were 20 bartending jobs nationally. Three were in Dublin.
  • There were 33 waiter/waitress jobs – nine were in Dublin.
  • There were 36 retail sales advisor/sales assistant jobs nationally. There were also 57 management jobs in retail across the country.
  • In hotels there were eight cleaning jobs – half of those were part time – 20 postings for night porters, 29 for kitchen porters, 21 receptionist jobs. 
  • There were 156 receptionist or office/administrative assistant jobs.
  • There were 38 advertisement for construction labourer positions nationally.
  • There were 57 jobs in agriculture, eight in forestry, 22 in the mining industry and eight jobs in quarry sector.

Sectors with a large number of postings include chefs – 454 postings at different levels – and software development jobs, with over 900 ads on the site for jobs in this area. 

Jack Kennedy, economist for said according to the site’s own data, job posting is still 47% down on this time last year. In the hospitality sector, job posting are 80% down on last year’s trend.

The top three job titles as of 24 July were:

  • Registered nurse
  • Healthcare assistant
  • Cleaner

On the same day last year the top three was:

  • Cleaner
  • Line cook
  • Chef

Kennedy said it is “clearly going to be very tough” for jobseekers to get work again in the short-term. For people who have been displaced from the worst-hit sectors, he said they may have to start thinking about transferable skills to apply to other sectors.

However he said a “big challenge” for these jobseekers will be competing against thousands of other applicants who already work in the sectors they’re trying to move into. 

“What we’ve seen across the markets – there are similar patterns – you’ve got a limited set of options really, many jobs that are still available require specialist skill or training and experience that those jobseekers just aren’t going to have. 

They’re almost funnelled into a relatively small number of sectors that they can theoretically go into, relying on transferable skills, and even in those they’re competing against other people possible with more experience in that sector. 

Minister Humphreys and Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris last week announced over €200 million in education and employment supports to get people back to work or education. 

These include measures to reskill workers for growing sectors and incentives for employers to recruit apprentices and those who are unemployed. 

More than 43,000 current recipients of PUP are aged over 55 and Kennedy acknowledged that getting a job in an entirely new field, even after a period of education and retraining, will be a challenge for this cohort of workers.

“To be honest, if it’s going to require training, firms will have less of a budget and less of an inclination to provide training. And when it comes to the potential return on hiring somebody a bit older, they’ll be weighing that up against the length of service they might get from a younger person.”

Kennedy said if Ireland managed to keep the level of Covid-19 in the community at a low level and the economy can continue to open back up, we should begin to see more jobs early next year. 

“But I don’t think it’s going to be a quick recovery,” he said. “By nature the labour market tends to lag behind wider developments in the economic activity – that takes time to feed through into the labour market.”

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