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Workers are weighing up the cost of living versus the cost of leaving

Ireland’s accommodation crisis means firms with overseas opportunities have a competitive advantage in recruitment

In the Dublin Chamber of Commerce’s Business Priorities list for 2023, housing took centre stage. The city is the “epicentre of Ireland’s housing crisis”, it said, with rising accommodation costs and a booming population.

If it’s tough for businesses, it’s tougher for citizens, for many of whom the prospects of finding a home to rent, not to mind a home to buy, seem vanishingly slim.

It’s not just Dublin. An acute shortage of affordable accommodation is being felt in Cork, Galway and other cities and towns around the country.

If you’re skilled and mobile the shortage of housing options here makes companies that offer opportunities to move overseas particularly attractive. Certainly it’s having a bearing on recruitment at Jones Engineering, one of Ireland’s oldest and biggest engineering firms, and one of the fastest growing.


As a multi-disciplined international engineering contractor, it works across a wide range of sectors, from high-end technology and manufacturing to life sciences, with operations across Ireland, the UK, continental Europe and the Middle East.

“The recruitment and retention of the best engineering and craft talent is a constant priority for us and is the foundation of our success. We’re currently hiring for a variety of positions – apprentices, graduate engineers and more senior hires both in Ireland and abroad,” says operations director David Fox.

Jones Engineering has seen first hand the impact Ireland’s accommodation crisis has had on recruitment and retention, particularly among younger workers.

“Like many employers, we’ve found that the accommodation shortages in Ireland are a challenge for employees, particularly graduates and apprentices,” says Fox. “We’ve also noticed that many of our younger employees are living at home and it suits some of them to work abroad or outside of Dublin. We’re lucky in that our variety of work is project-based and this gives us the opportunity to provide high-quality jobs across Ireland and in multiple locations abroad.”

The company offers opportunities both around Ireland and overseas and finds that demand for such moves is strong, again particularly among younger candidates.

“Our graduate programme, for example, offers an excellent opportunity to learn on the job in multiple locations, meaning that grads can work abroad in interesting places on projects after a certain amount of time in the programme,” he says.

Jones is currently working in countries including Britain, Spain, Germany and Belgium, as well as across Scandinavia and the Middle East. That doesn’t just create opportunities to experience life elsewhere, it can also drive career development.

Its international activities create “opportunities for our teams to spend time on state-of-the-art, leading-technology and innovative new projects across Europe and, indeed, beyond,” says Fox. “We have found that our people who have worked internationally have really valued the experience, as they have had the opportunity to gain exposure on different projects, teams and cultures.”

Recruitment firm Sigmar has its headquarters in Dublin and offices in Galway, Cork, Athlone and Poland, employing more than 150 people in total.

Sigmar’s head of growth and partnerships Claire Kelly has an acute understanding, both from Sigmar’s own experience as an employer and as a recruitment agency supporting the talent strategies of clients, of the ways in which companies can become an employer of choice in the current environment.

“One approach that works really well in relation to the current cost of living and housing crisis is to show flexibility,” says Kelly.

The company practices what it preaches. During Covid a colleague at Sigmar wanted to move home to Poland. “Rather than lose him, we opened an office there,” says Kelly.

As a recruiter, Sigmar has 15 specialist divisions, including IT, financial services, technical engineering, accounting and construction. Employers are experiencing a tight labour market across all of the above.

“When I’m chatting to companies the thing I hear most is, ‘What can we do to attract more staff?’” says Kelly. “And the single biggest thing they can do is to be flexible with their current staff because people outside the organisation will see that too.

“It doesn’t matter if that means going remote or hybrid, or just allowing more flexibility with times. In my own case, I work with a lot of US companies, so it suits me to start late and finish late. Other colleagues like to be able to miss the traffic when commuting.”

The workers most affected by the accommodation crisis are graduates and those in junior roles, says Kelly.

“If costs keep going up and salaries aren’t moving up too, it’s just not feasible for them to stay in Dublin, in particular, so their salary has to be sustainable,” she adds. “During Covid we saw a lot of people move to the regions, either home or just somewhere else to live. The fact that they can work from home and go into Dublin for just a couple of days a week or a month, or as required, really helps with retention.

“Ireland has a very mobile workforce. Young people, in particular, often move abroad and that has increased as they can’t find affordable accommodation. Even London, which was always considered an expensive place to live, has got to the point where it is now cheaper to live in than Dublin and, as a result, we have seen an increase in people moving there.”

Sadly for Ireland Inc, that means is that, for younger candidates at least, companies with overseas operations or postings have a competitive advantage in the recruitment stakes.

“Having that ability to travel, either domestic or internationally, has its advantages,” says Kelly.

Sandra O'Connell

Sandra O'Connell

Sandra O'Connell is a contributor to The Irish Times