There has never been a better time for anyone who has ever fancied working in Ireland. For a country where emigration was etched on the national psyche, the recent change in economic fortunes means there is now a shortage of labour at every level of skills, with civil and structural engineers among the scarcest.
'There is demand across the board, but there are chronic shortages, particularly in roads and highway engineering, ' says Hays Montrose Dublin office manager Rowan O'Grady, himself a returned emigrant. The previous steady influx of Irish people returning seems to be drying up, he said.
While the private sector can offer flexible salaries tailored to suit the applicant, the public sector is finding it harder to attract people and retain staff because lower salaries are tied to fixed national scales. With direct responsibility for implementation of much of the infrastructure work under the National Development Plan resting with local authorities, this is of serious concern to the government.
Dublin Corporation has recruited engineers in Moscow to fill vacancies.
The government has created two year work permits for construction professionals which can be obtained rapidly on confirmation of a job offer, can be renewed indefinitely and do not tie the holder to the employer.
This makes Ireland a particularly popular destination to people from outside the EU, especially the southern hemisphere and Eastern Europe.
'We are seeing more Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans coming here.
Some will come after they have been in the UK. There is no problem getting work, with more demand for people here than we are seeing in central London, for example, ' says agency Anders Elite Dublin office manager Nick Fugaccia, himself a former mining engineer from Sydney.
With higher taxation and sterling strong against the Irish pound, anyone intending to come from the UK make a fortune would need to compare their net salaries, take account of currency fluctuation, and consider the high cost of living, particularly in Dublin. On the wage front, UK workers seem to be affected more than those from other countries primarily because of the UK's relatively low personal taxation and the high value of sterling. Engineers from South Africa find working in Ireland financially attractive because of the scarcity of work in their home country.
Someone in the UK weighing up the pros and cons for a job on a similar salary to that in the UK should not make the move if money is the only criteria, according to O'Grady. 'You would need to have some reason for coming here, or simply to want to live here.'
One reason could be the level of experience which can be gained given the volume of work and shortage of people. 'If you're prepared to get stuck in, experience can be gained very quickly because of the amount of work and opportunities, ' he adds.
Dublin's charms with its warm pubs, vibrant social life and entertainments, attractive location beside sea and hills and its image as a 'happening' European city has helped entice some.
'We recently had a dinner with 60 people who came from abroad to work here through us.
The general feedback was very positive, ' says O'Grady. 'Despite expensive accommodation, people were generally delighted to be here. There were a few complaints about the climate however, which we can't control!'
Dublin's sites and design offices now boast a growing international construction corps, with large complements of Romanian, Portuguese and Spanish site workers along with others from Eastern Europe, and many young engineers from the southern hemisphere.
Derek Leys from Brisbane in Australia, who is working on water projects with consultant MC O'Sullivan in Dublin, decided to make the move last October after seeing ads for engineers placed by the Irish government in The Australian newspaper. 'I had been to Ireland three years ago and fancied coming back, but there weren't many opportunities back then. But I kept track of what was going on here, and then things started to happen, ' he says.
Leys worked on environmental, water and sewage projects in Australia and came without any job lined up. On arrival, four interviews meant four job offers, and he is now working on a major upgrade for one of Dublin's key water supply plants at Ballymore Eustace for Dublin Corporation. 'Accommodation is a problem but I got a place through someone at work.
Overall it works out financially probably not much different to Australia, ' he says.
His colleague and compatriot Greg Alford from Sydney came over last summer. Like Leys, he says rich experience can be gained from the wealth of work available. 'I worked nine months in the UK but came here because of the work on offer. The scale of projects is large, and you can quickly get good experience because the volume of work around, ' he says.
Ricki Bligh decided to move from Australia after seeing the opportunities on the Internet and the ease of obtaining work authorisation from the Irish government website. From Western Australia, she worked on environmental and sewage projects before taking a job with Arup in Dublin, where she is involved with environmental studies for road projects.
'I'm learning lots about Irish history from researching old maps and visiting sites around the country. There is a demand for this kind of environmental impact statement work now, but I'm looking forward to getting more into the civil engineering side of things later, ' she says.
Ireland's climate, however, is a different problem. The strand at nearby Sandymount where Bligh lives differs considerably from the Gold Coast and the surfing culture there. While missing the weather, the indoor attractions of Dublin's vibrant social scene make up for the outdoor activities back home.
What is on offer
Higher taxes than in the UK, a low but strengthening Irish Pound, and an accommodation crisis in Dublin to match the labour shortage must be considered before taking the plunge. But the demand for engineering staff means that employers are now being forced to recognise these problems in the packages on offer. Bonuses are common, while some, particularly contractors, offer generous relocation deals and flights home.
According to the Institution of Engineers of Ireland/Hays Montrose salary survey for 2000 published this month, the average starting salary for a graduate civil engineer is almost IR£19,000 (£15,200) with an average bonus of IR£3,000 (£2,400). However, the upper limits are much higher - some young graduates are earning up to IR£35,000 (£28,000) while some, with between six and ten years' experience, report earnings of up to IR£65,000 (£52,000).
However, average salaries are probably poor guides because they include lower public sector salaries.
'Graduate site engineers can expect to earn IR£22,000-24,000, with up to IR£25,000 for a consultant. Experienced site engineers will get between IR£32,000 and IR£37,000 with a car and relocation expenses plus a bonus, ' says agency Anders Elite Dublin office manager Nick Fugaccia. Hourly paid contract work is becoming more common, with rates over IR£18 per hour depending on the job and experience.
Public sector salaries in Ireland for engineers are relatively low.
The salary for a mid-range grade council executive engineer is around IR£32,000 (£25,600) rising to more than IR£36,000 after 16 years experience. Mileage and other allowances would boost this however, along with cheaper living costs when working in rural areas.
Personal tax in Ireland is higher than in the UK but improving. After April, monthly take-home pay for a single person on IR£20,000 will be IR£1376, IR£1814 for an IR£30,000 salary, IR£2,277 for IR£40,000 and IR£2,741 for someone earning IR£50,000.
Accommodation prices have rocketed in Dublin over the past few years. A survey by real estate firm Hooke and MacDonald shows that rents have risen by around 75% since 1998 for one and twobedroom apartments, with a 25% increase last year. The average rent for a one-bed flat last year was IR£700 per month (£560) while a two-bed went for IR£950 (£760).
Some employers are now offering arranged accommodation to staff, which is preferable to dealing with sometimes unscrupulous agencies that often 'auction' property off to the highest rent offered. Rural areas are generally cheaper but may have less on offer.