A booming employment market is luring nationals home and attracting new people to Dublin.

Ireland has certainly turned full circle in the past decade. During the 1980s, the outlook was bleak; opportunities were limited and emigration was a constant fact of life. Since then, Ireland has transformed itself from being an economic backwater to a dynamic and thriving force within the international markets.

Individuals now have the chance to realise their full potential in a buoyant and prosperous economy. In the past four years alone, almost 400,000 new jobs have been created in a total – but growing – population of less than four million. Within this time frame, the unemployment figures have dramatically decreased from 86,000 to 25,000, as new opportunities exist for anyone with a willingness to work.

Only a few years ago, emigration was part of Irish culture. The national debt seemed to be a millstone carried by everyone and Ireland's record on long-term unemployment was one of the worst in Europe. Today, the national debt is one of the lowest in the European Union and unemployment rates are forecast to fall to below 5% – in effect, full employment. Indeed, the Irish economy is currently experiencing a reversal of fortune and is enticing experienced and talented people of Irish descent back from overseas. During the 1980s, over 200,000 people emigrated from Ireland but now the nation is seeing a net inflow, attracting experienced professionals who are bringing back the expertise that was not needed in the past but is in high demand today.

Recent governmental predictions indicate that over 350,000 new jobs will be created over the next five years and more than two-thirds of these will be filled by non-Irish workers. This factor has led many companies to embark on overseas recruitment campaigns in a bid to find potential candidates. Dublin is one of Europe's most vibrant and cosmopolitan cities, attracting Irish and non-Irish alike. This is largely welcomed, as foreign staff bring special insights and values to Irish society.

International companies recognise the benefits that Ireland offers, including competitive operating costs, a favourable corporate tax environment and a highly educated, productive workforce. These factors ensure the highest return on investment for those choosing to set up in Ireland. Additionally, Ireland has the youngest population in Europe, where over 40% of people are under the age of 25 years. If we compare this with the UK, trends currently indicate that by 2010, over 40% of those eligible to work will be over 45.

If we underline the financial services sector, the key to success has been the ability to draw in foreign investors, particularly from the US. Over 1,200 overseas companies have now chosen to base their businesses in Dublin, mainly to take advantage of full and sophisticated access to European markets. These investors are also attracted to a tax system that is favourable, stable and transparent. As a result, growth is increasing at an alarming pace and the search for qualified employees is beginning to pose recruitment problems for businesses.

Jewel in the crown
In 1987, the Irish government established the International Financial Services Centre (IFSC) in Dublin and it has since been one of the driving forces behind Ireland's economy. This project was launched in direct response to the startling growth of financial services on a worldwide basis and the strong economic and demographic arguments for establishing in Ireland. Since its inception, the IFSC has been responsible for repositioning Ireland as a centre for knowledge-based industries. Today, the IFSC is responsible for the direct employment of more than 7,000 people and plays a pivotal role in the Irish economy, offering a wide range of EU-approved incentives to companies within the areas of banking and bank asset finance, collective funds management, insurance and treasury. The primary aim of the IFSC was to establish an international financial services industry in Dublin capable of creating extensive employment and sustained growth in a competitive global market, and at this it appears to have succeeded.

Now, many international insurance, assurance and reinsurance companies are established in Ireland. Their activities include direct writing of life and non life-insurance, reinsurance, international broking and risk management. Insurance may be the smallest sector within the IFSC, but employment opportunities within the industry remain extensive. Companies find Ireland to be an incredibly profitable location, with numbers of players increasing at an exceptional rate.The Industrial Development Agency (IDA) is the Irish government's agency responsible for attracting overseas investments into the country. Its role is to attract new projects into Ireland and also to assist existing companies in broadening their range of activities in the country. The IDA's target was to place Dublin at the forefront of international development – a goal that appears scored. Additionally, now that Dublin's future seems secure, the IDA is exploring ways in which IFSC companies can benefit the rest of the country. The idea of regionalisation has emerged of late, with companies being encouraged to locate some of their activities to other parts of Ireland. The task at hand is to build on its current success and benefit the rest of the country as a whole.

For candidates with the right skills and experience, career opportunities now abound. The availability of a well-educated workforce has made Ireland the perfect choice for international businesses; the country is renowned for having one of the best education systems in Europe. Two decades ago, just one in five school leavers attended university. Today the proportions have reversed, with 80% entering third level education and over one million people in full time education. Hence, the quality of the Irish workforce is constantly improving, with countless students emerging with professional skills and qualifications.

But with the country's success come challenges for employers. Companies nationwide are having to rethink their recruitment strategies radically as it is essential to now sell themselves to career-thirsty candidates. Job seekers can now pick and choose from a massive range of positions, particularly candidates with the most developed skills. Many companies have turned their sights overseas in order to fill the people gap; there has never been a better time to be a job seeker in Ireland. Skills shortages are being experienced across all areas and employers are having increased difficulty filling jobs.

People business
If we look at the insurance industry, it is essentially a people business. A company's success or failure can depend largely on an employee's ability to be inventive and creative and to forge good client relationships. It is not surprising, therefore, that insurance companies, particularly reinsurers, are realising how essential it is to invest in their people. Money is not the only thing that motivates staff; they desire reward and recognition in a satisfying working environment. Everyone needs to be assured that their company is willing to invest time and resources in their personal and professional development. Employers need to take responsibility for the training, development and retention of employees in a market where the quest for valuable people continues unabated.

Dublin is also a very attractive location for captive insurers at present, mainly owing to its ability to write insurance directly into Europe. Such companies have also benefited from operating in Ireland, as it is the only English-speaking country committed to the Euro. The future looks bright for captives and they are getting consistent interest from European, US and Japanese companies.

The working culture of the financial services sector is similar to that of most other financial centres. People generally start work early, and activity levels and standards are high. For the insurance professional interested in locating to Ireland, there is no better time to take the leap. With unrivalled opportunities and a highly attractive quality of life, it is definitely an option well worth considering, though high property prices and rising inflation are unsightly blots on the landscape.

Nevertheless, the country is undoubtedly going through a period of intense economic growth and cultural rejuvenation. In the last five years, Ireland's economy has grown nearly twice as fast as that of the US. Some may argue that the business environment is old-fashioned in many areas, citing examples such as national incomes. There is in place a partnership arrangement where government, unions and business representatives discuss wage increases, taxes and other industrial relations issues. This method of managing the economy has, however, led to progressive tax reductions and sustained job creation. It also buys industrial relations rest, which once again, deems Ireland a more attractive place to be employed.

The Irish financial services industry faces the new millennium with impressive confidence and it has already proven its adaptability and willingness to meet numerous challenges and changes head on. In recent years, insurance in Ireland has expanded quite rapidly, as companies have continued to grow and consolidate at the same time. This success certainly looks set to continue as the industry braces itself for prosperous times ahead.