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Speech by Minister Humphreys at the launch of Future Jobs Ireland

Taoiseach, Minister Donohoe, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I am delighted to be here today to launch Future Jobs Ireland 2019 - the start of a new chapter in our economic development.

It follows on from some extraordinary chapters...

The financial crisis tested our people and businesses sometimes to the limit of their endurance.

But Ireland’s economic turnaround over the past seven years has been remarkable with unemployment falling from a high of 16% to just over 5% today.

There are 390,000 more people at work since the start of 2012 and we now have more people working in Ireland today than ever before.

Through resilience, talent, and determination, we overcame enormous challenges with Ireland now having some of the highest growth and employment rates in the EU.

But our huge success has revealed new challenges, and we must act now to protect the hard-won gains of recent years.

That’s why we spearheaded Project Ireland 2040 to tackle the deficits in our infrastructure arising from the lost decade after the recession, and it’s why we have developed Future Jobs Ireland to secure our economic success.

Another challenge, of course, is Brexit.

It is nothing short of a tragedy that having emerged from the recession years, our country is now threatened once again by a once-in-a-generation event which could seriously impact on our economy.

As a Government, we are taking every possible step to ensure that Ireland is as prepared as we can be for whatever final shape Brexit takes.

It is equally important, however, that we do not become paralysed by Brexit. 

We must continue to plan ahead, focus on what is within our control and be masters of our own destiny.

The launch of Future Jobs Ireland today, a major new economic policy framework for the country, shows that this is very much what this Government is doing.

Brexit of course shares some characteristics with other worrying international developments.

The growing rise of protectionist policies, especially in relation to international trade, is of deep concern to open and trade-dependent economies like Ireland.

We must do everything we can, at EU level and internationally, to ensure that good sense prevails.

We cannot afford to be passive observers.

That’s why the Government is investing now to increase our future influence on the world stage through Global Ireland 2025.

And now, in spite of everything else that’s going on around us, it’s time to look forward and anticipate future chapters that are yet to be written.

Abraham Lincoln once said that “the most reliable way to predict the future is to create it”. 

Future Jobs Ireland is about creating the future we want.

Economic development has always been driven by technological change and we can be certain that more change is ahead.

Clearly, we have entered an age of rapid technological advancement – often referred to as the ‘fourth industrial revolution’. 

The landscape of the modern workplace will be transformed in the coming years by technologies such as Artificial Intelligence. 

AI can: automate parts of the jobs we do, influence our perception of the world around us, and shape the information we are presented with.

We know that it can drive commercial innovation and productivity, and we need to be able to take advantage of this.

To give one example: 

The ADAPT Centre is one of SFI’s leading research centres and it supplied us with today’s robot which I am sure you have all noticed.

ADAPT researchers are applying cutting-edge AI technology to business problems to help transform the modern workplace and empower individuals and society to engage in digital experiences with control, inclusion and accountability. 

Innovation and disruption created by AI adoption doesn’t have to be something to be feared – rather it is something we should embrace and use to our advantage.

That is why, as part of Future Jobs Ireland, we will deliver Ireland’s first ever National Artificial Intelligence Strategy.

We know that change is coming and while we cannot predict precisely what this will entail, it’s obvious that a highly resilient enterprise base and workforce will mean that we can adapt and succeed as the future unfolds.

Other Actions that we will be working towards in 2019 include:

  • The Development of a new GovTech Strategy;
  • Testing Autonomous Vehicles on Irish Roads;
  • Establishment of new Regional Clusters which will bring together SMEs and Institutes of Technology to drive innovation;
  • Enhanced incentives to promote Digital Skills Development in SMEs;
  • Major new investment in Disruptive Technologies;
  • And the development of Plans for a National Design Centre.

 

Future Jobs Ireland emphasises that increasing productivity is key to building resilience.

And productivity begins with our people.

We must focus on growing highly productive and skilled people - creating and working in highly productive and sustainable businesses.

Using all the talented people available to us, including through increasing participation, will help us to be innovative and therefore more productive than the competition.

But this isn’t just about the economy, it’s also about wellbeing for our people.

We all spend a huge proportion of our lives at work and striking a sustainable work-life balance can often be challenging, particularly for workers who have long commutes.

Productivity for workers should never be about working more for less.

It should be about working better for more.

That’s why we are introducing actions around the extension of flexible working options.

The world of work is changing.

Where once a 9-5, Monday to Friday job was the norm, that is no longer necessarily the case.

Technological and digital advances present us with new opportunities.

Can people work better if they have the opportunity to work remotely from home?

Will they be able to spend more time with their families if they don’t have to commute to the office every day?

Can flexible working hours help those with young children return to the workforce?

The benefits to employers of having a flexible, happier and ultimately more productive workforce are obvious but are there barriers which currently inhibit some employers from offering flexible working?

This is a conversation worth having and that is why as part of Future Jobs Ireland 2019, we will have a national consultation on the extension of flexible working options to all employees.

As part of this consultation, we will hear from business and workers as well as looking at best international practice in the area.

At a time when we are experiencing labour shortages in certain sectors, we will also progress other actions to improve participation in the workforce and encourage an increased emphasis on personal development and upskilling for workers.

This includes:

  • developing a service to assist people, particularly mothers, returning to work;
  • developing a new Six-Year Strategy for Female Entrepreneurship
  • engraining a culture of Lifelong Learning and creativity;
  • developing training for emerging technologies;
  • ensuring that our education and training system is responsive to enterprise needs;
  • encouraging employers to use all the available talent through greater employment of underrepresented groups, such as those with disabilities, older people, and women in certain age cohorts.

 

Ireland has a hard-earned reputation as a location of choice for FDI.

As we move forward, we want to ensure that our reputation is equally as strong in terms of our support of indigenous businesses and entrepreneurs.

Through Future Jobs Ireland, we will enhance the powers of our Local Enterprise Offices in collaboration with Enterprise Ireland to ensure that any gaps in supports for indigenous businesses and start-ups are addressed.

We will also work to reduce any barriers or obstacles for businesses by applying a new SME Test across Government Departments to any new legislation or regulations.

Our indigenous businesses are the backbone of our economy.

We want to ensure that all ambitious Irish companies, regardless of size, are supported so they can achieve their full potential.

During the boom years, there was a perception that the good times would last forever.

Government became complacent, they didn’t plan ahead and as a result Ireland lost competitiveness.

We are determined not to make those same mistakes.

That is why through Future Jobs Ireland, we will increase the powers of the National Competitiveness Council so that Government Departments will in future have to formally respond to the Council’s recommendations.

Never before have we sustained long term full employment in this country.

That is our challenge now and it is one which this Government will embrace.

Future Jobs Ireland 2019 is a first, but important step on a new journey.

Its 26 ambitions frame our focus for the years ahead and I expect it to evolve over time.

Each year, new ways to deliver on the ambitions of Future Jobs Ireland will be developed and published.

This will be done in consultation with stakeholders, who I wish to acknowledge and thank, for the valuable input provided over the course of its development.

I, along with my ministerial colleagues, found our conversations at the national summit last November to have been invaluable.

I am committed to involving stakeholders as Future Jobs Ireland progresses.

Of course, we can have all the best policies and plans in the world but these will count for nothing unless they are implemented properly.

In this regard, Future Jobs Ireland 2019 has set targets for each pillar and measurable performance indicators.

Through the Department of the Taoiseach and my own Department, we will ensure that every Government Department and Agency steps up to the plate in delivering this ambitious new plan for our country.

Progress reports will be published to ensure objectives are delivered on schedule.

Before I finish, I think we can all agree that we have a country with great people and great businesses.

I’m confident, that if we prepare now for tomorrow’s economy by building our resilience, by being better skilled and more productive, by grasping the opportunities and overcoming the challenges ahead, we will write the best chapter yet.

Lewis Carroll once said: “If you don't know where you're going - any road will do”.

Well we do know where we are going - so let’s get going!

Go raibh maith agaibh.

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