As emigration becomes more popular, Ross Walsh looks at the reasons graduates choose to leave.

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IRELAND’S current economic climate is not a friendly environment for the newly graduated jobseeker. In a market filled with often desperate young people looking for work, employers have the luxury of requesting that applicants have three, four, or even five years’ previous experience before they will even consider hiring them. This is a requirement that very few college graduates would be able to fulfil.

For those who find employment, the pay and hours are often substandard, and many graduates find themselves in jobs that they are shockingly overqualified for. Far from an ideal situation for a young person after spending three or four years studying in their chosen field. A solution to the problem, that many graduates are availing of, is to emigrate.

“We are experiencing a mass exodus not seen here in nearly forty years”.

The move harkens back to days gone by. Imagery of the victims of the Great Famine, when the population of the island was halved by death and emigration, is often invoked while discussing the current drive of young people fleeing our country. We are experiencing a mass exodus of the kind not seen here for forty years.

Ireland has had an infamous history of being unable to provide our young people with the opportunities they need in order to encourage them to stay and put down permanent roots in their home country. Although many of our diaspora returned during the affluent Celtic Tiger years, the more recent downturn in the economy means that, for new graduates, financial stability and opportunity all too often lies beyond Ireland’s shores.

The Union of Students in Ireland have said that nearly half (45%) of Irish college graduates found themselves unable to secure employment in 2012. Specialised degrees, like nursing and medicine, are perhaps the hardest hit, with 90% of Irish medical students considering leaving the country for work after they qualify. Opportunities in Britain, America, Canada, Australia and other countries prove a strong temptation for many.

“Those who pursue a higher education often feel as though they are being punished by the state for trying to get a degree.”

On top of this, the working conditions in these countries can be far superior to what is expected in Ireland. Nurses, in particular, see a sharp contrast in how they will be treated by the HSE and how they will be treated by the health services of foreign countries. In Ireland, junior nurses are given long hours every week with few breaks to eat or sleep. Their pay is far below what many feel they deserve. Some have even described feeling “like a zombie” at the end of the week. Any free time is then spent recovering from the trying task of taking care of the sick on a near constant basis throughout the week.

In comparison, nurses in Australia work fewer hours compared to their Irish counterparts, and for a higher rate of pay. Despite the greater cost of living in Australia, Irish nurses who have emigrated report having more disposable income at the end of the week than they did when working in Ireland. Given this reality, the fact that nurses in particular continue to emigrate in droves should come as no surprise.

However, nurses are not the only graduates feeling left behind and forgotten by the current government. Even as Fine Gael announces funding plans for apprenticeship programs across the country, the cost of third-level education continues to rise.

It seems that skilled workers are being targeted by the government as an easy source of income, with no regard to the effect this will have on the economy. With even UCD President Andrew Deeks recently revealing his support for a loan based system of third-level funding, similar to the English model, those who pursue a higher education often feel as though they are being punished by the state for trying to get a degree.

Teachers are another group of graduates who feel unhappy with the current situation in Ireland, as the strike organised by the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI) proves. Newer, younger teachers, who have often just graduated, are paid significantly less than their older colleagues, under laws sanctioned by the current government.

In both health and education, two areas of employment considered vital to the state of our nation, the government has shown a complete lack of regard for the graduates looking to enter these professions, and it is this lack of regard that drives the emigration of our bright young minds.

“The fact that nurses in particular continue to emigrate in droves should come as no surprise.”

Unless the substandard working conditions and atrocious pay rates facing Irish graduates are rectified by the government in the near future, our country will continue to experience a “brain drain”, especially in areas such as health and education. If we want to reap the maximum benefits from investment into higher education, the state must ensure that the employment waiting for graduates at the end of their degree is on a par with the opportunities available in the rest of the world.