Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted to be here today for this very important discussion on Future Jobs, the Government’s new plan for the next phase of Ireland’s economic development.
I would like to sincerely thank you for your presence at this summit, and for your active interest in our new whole-of-Government plan.
The economy has seen enormous success since 2012 with almost 386,000 new jobs created but we are now in a new space, which means we need a new approach to avoid the mistakes of the past.
Against this backdrop, the Government is developing Future Jobs to embed resilience in our enterprise base and secure long-term economic prosperity.
Because, as a small, open-trading economy, we need to remain competitive.
We can see Brexit coming down the tracks; we can see growing protectionism; we can see developments internationally on taxation; we can see accelerating technological change; and we can see the need to move to a low-carbon economy.
We need to build our resilience in the face of these challenges and it’s clear that a key component of this will be improving productivity, particularly among our indigenous SMEs.
In this way, we will be able to deliver the standard of living that our people aspire to.
Our economic future isn’t just about “survival of the fittest”, to borrow a term from Charles Darwin.
Future Jobs is about managing the change ahead, and we have identified five pillars where change is most needed.
Firstly, as I have already said, we must improve the productivity of our firms especially our Irish SMEs.
We know that the gap is widening between highly-productive multinationals and smaller indigenous companies – so we need to look at new ways of supporting these firms to ensure we remain resilient.
Secondly, we need our enterprises to be innovative and we need to prepare for the technological changes coming down the tracks.
And while there are definitely challenges in this area, there are also many opportunities and we must be ready to make the most of them.
One thing we are certain of is that many roles are going to change, and some may even disappear.
In fact, a recent OECD study estimated that the average Irish worker faced a 46 per cent probability of being automated by the 2030s.
That’s why upskilling and reskilling our workforce is vital.
Ireland needs to embrace a culture of lifelong learning if our workers are to keep apace of the changes coming our way.
We have seen great progress in reducing unemployment from 16% in 2012 just over 5% today but there’s always room for improvement.
So, what can be done?
Well, we can ensure that we have an inclusive labour market, which supports people to stay in work or to return to work if they so choose, regardless of the changes on the horizon.
Although we are nearly at full employment, there is still scope to increase participation rates in some groups, for example, women aged between and 25 and 64.
And, if there are barriers stopping them from returning to work, we must remove them.
Finally, despite what some people may think, we know that climate change is a real and increasing challenge.
In the enterprise sector, we need to move towards a low carbon economy and some sectors and firms will find this harder than others.
We need to ensure that workers have the skills required for the bioeconomy and the green tech sector.
We also need to offer incentives to companies to help them transition to a low carbon economy.
As a country, this will cost us money now but save money in the long-run and, ultimately, it will create jobs.
In addition, we need to position Ireland at the forefront of this transition through our research, development and innovation, or in standards development in the low carbon economy.
I’m sure that some of you here are old enough to have watched Tomorrow’s World – well, this plan is about tomorrow’s jobs.
I certainly never imagined that we would be seeing the first driverless minibus taking to the streets of Dublin, or drones delivering parcels to Clare Island in my lifetime.
Ireland has come a long way in recent years but we’re not finished yet – and the challenges we face cannot be tackled by my Department alone.
That is why we all need to work together – across Government and across society – to ensure a brighter future for our young people, our workers and our enterprises.
It is also why your participation here today is so important and valued by Government.
For 2019, we will be focusing on a small number of actions to prepare for the future, and your input will help us make sure we get it right.
But this is not a one off.
Future Jobs is a programme that will be developed and implemented over a number of years, and your ongoing feedback and participation will be very important.
I am delighted to be joined today by five of my ministerial colleagues, who will each chair a breakout session.
For my own part, I am very much looking forward to dealing with the issue of improving SME productivity.
Meanwhile, Minister Breen will look at how we can maximise the contribution of multinationals.
Minister McHugh’s session will be on future skills and talent.
‘Labour Market Participation’ discussions will be led by Minister Mitchell O’Connor.
Minister Bruton will chair a session on innovation and transitioning to the low carbon and digital economies.
Finally, Minister Doyle will look at how we can ensure balanced regional development.
This summit is chance for you to tell us what new, innovative ideas should be included in Future Jobs in the coming years, and I look forward to meeting you again after the sessions to hear about your discussions.
Thank you again for coming today, and for joining us in preparing now for our future economy.
Go raibh mile maith agaibh.