Concern about the future of remote working hubs has been expressed at a jobs fair in the midlands as many desks available for workers lie vacant.
Despite Government investment and new legislation to facilitate hybrid work practices, some employers are insisting staff return to the workplace, said Mary Hensey, who co-ordinates three hubs in Offaly for the Local Enterprise Office.
A voucher scheme offering three free days at a hub is available through the Government’s Connected Hubs scheme to encourage people to try out remote working, she explained.
“The concern is that very few hubs are at capacity. It’s like heritage centres a few years ago, they were being funded all over the country and now you can see so many of them empty.”
The Offaly hubs in Tullamore, Birr and Edenderry offer office space and hot desks. During the pandemic, extra funding was made available to upgrade ventilation, and the hubs all have hepa (high efficiency particulate air) filters. However, many desks remain empty.
In Edenderry, just two of the 16 desks available are occupied, while in Tullamore nine of the 15 desks are occupied.
“We would appeal to employers to allow staff to use hubs. They all have secure broadband and are a great alternative,” said Hensey.
The Local Enterprise Office was one of almost 40 stands at the jobs fair at the Tullamore Court Hotel on Saturday, which was organised by the town’s chamber of commerce in conjunction with Tullamore and District Rotary Club. Hundreds of visitors attended, many of them fresh from the Leaving Cert.
Gareth Bergin from Kinnity had come hoping to find some work experience before college but was delighted to discover an apprenticeship course in software development which would allow him work and get paid while studying.
“Earn while you learn is our motto,” said Padraig Boland of Solas. He and colleague Yvonne Foy had a busy morning “pushing apprenticeships” at the Generation Apprenticeship stand.
“Many did not realise the wide variety of apprenticeships,” said Foy.
Boland added: “It’s a great system where they learn in college and then go put that knowledge into practice, and then go back to college again with a greater appreciation of what they are learning.”
For Katie Kelly (20), from Mullingar, the jobs fair was an opportunity to interview directly with Lidl for a position in their warehouse in her home town.
A graduate scheme at Lidl was also of interest to her. “This would allow me to upskill and get some good work experience,” she said.
At the Lidl stand, local manager Kata Laszay and employment brand specialist Denise Baltatu were fielding queries about current vacancies. “We booked another room so we could interview potential candidates. So far we’ve done 25 interviews and hired four people [that morning],” said Baltatu.
“We’re hungry for staff and it seems people here are hungry for jobs.”
The sentiment was echoed by David Gleeson, chief executive of local recruitment company AllPro. “We reached out to all our clients about the job fair and there was great interest.”
The company’s clients range from med-tech to finance, admin to public bodies. “We would have 80-100 positions available at any stage and it was very interesting to see the number of people who came from outside the area who would be interested in moving here to work, and possibly live.”
With that cohort in mind, Tullamore & District Rotary Club produced a local directory for those new to the area. It contains lists of schools, creches, local services, faith groups and community groups.
“Our aim is to make this directory available to people in the new housing estates as well,” said Albert Fitzgerald, co-ordinator of the directory project.
Dominic Doheny, spokesman for the Tullamore Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber was pleasantly surprised by the level of interest. Up to 500 job hunters were expected to attend but by the end of the day that number was closer to 750.
As well as working with local training and education bodies, the chamber contracted a translator to assist Ukrainian job seekers. Svitlana Osmachko, a lecturer in English at the university in Kharkiv, has been living in Tullamore for three months at the Central Hotel. There are 100 Ukrainians living in the hotel, she said, many of whom attended the jobs fair.
Among the participants were the HSE, Bord na Móna, Supermacs, the National Learning Network, the Wheelchair Association and a wide range of local pharma, medical, agri and construction companies.