In this contribution I want to discuss the nature of Working Lives in Dublin and the many challenges that we as individuals and a city are likely to have to face over the coming years. Similar to other contributions in this blog, I use the word ‘work’ in terms of a whole life view. This means talking about education, skills, training, social protection, transport, spatial planning, economic globalisation, job creation and economic sustainability. As a city, what can we do on a regular basis and what could local government possibly do to assist in the development of more rounded and sustainable Working Lives?
As noted in earlier contributions, this discussion is taking place in the context of other important aspects of sustainable development that are contained within Dublin’s Sustainability Indicators Framework (2011). The diagram below shows how interlinked the topic of Working Lives is with every other aspects of sustainable development. This indicates how complex and broad ranging sustainable development is, linking all areas of Working Lives.
A Broad Range of Working Lives Issues
The expert group that discussed Working Lives identified a number of what we called Headline Issues and Crucial Underpinning Factors. Similar to other groups in the D5P initiative, we worked on the basis of looking 5, 10 and 15 years into the future at the type of changes we could expect to see and how we could accommodate these.
With regard to the Headline Issues we saw three major issues for discussion:
• Public Governance and Public Policy;
• Business Infrastructure;
• Finance and Investment.
In relation to Public Governance and Public Policy we discussed a wide variety of issues and challenges likely to face employers, employees and the City in the coming years and devised a series of linked suggestions for change. The challenges we face as a city include:
• The globalisation of much of our economic activities;
• The weakness of the indigenous enterprise sector and our corresponding reliance on transnational corporations for a significant proportion of well-paid employment;
• The more fluid nature of employment, i.e. the increasing number of people employed on short term contracts in the private sector;
• The growing number of not-for-profit groups providing services, previously considered to be public service;
• A large number of skilled people remaining unemployed.
In terms of what we called Business Infrastructure, we focused on a small number of issues. These included commercial rent and lease costs, and the provision of world class digital infrastructure. In both of these areas we felt that Dublin faced very significant problems and they were areas where coherent local responses could really help the situation.
With regard to Finance and Investment we recognised that while the problems facing Dublin were easily identifiable, many of the solutions were rooted in national, if not global, responses. There were, however, a number of areas where effective local initiatives could be delivered.
The Crucial Underpinning Factors included:
• Education and Skills;
• Social Support;
• Sustainable Development.
While many of the challenges we identified are complex and require multi-level responses, as a group broadly representative of Working Lives, we suggest that there are a number of changes that could make very significant differences to how Working Lives could be improved in Dublin.
The principal suggestion is that we need to radically reform the nature of public policy decision making in Ireland and devolve much more power to the local level. Many of the challenges that impact on Working Lives don’t require changes to the corporation tax rate. Instead, they require better communications between employers, labour market agencies, training providers and education institutions. That doesn’t necessarily mean more meetings, it can simply mean better relationships between public and quasi-public agencies and how they engage with employers. Many employers and employees recognise the need for incorporating a lifelong learning ethos into their Working Lives, but require access to more flexible methods of delivery. To be meaningful, these will have to be locally derived and appropriate solutions.
We need to empower local stakeholders to develop locally appropriate solutions to the challenges they face. Whether is it access to start up capital or developing a more integrated economic development/spatial planning process so that brown-field development is given precedence over green-field development, as a society there has to be a recognition that for Dublin’s economy to be sustainable in the coming years, a fundamental rethink of how we make decisions has to take place. Is this possible?
We believe that it is, but that it will take a long term commitment from all the stakeholders. It requires more flexibility and innovation from many and more coherent and structured systems thinking in spatial planning, economic development, and the delivery of services. It will require a rethink of our social supports to address the ‘benefit trap’ and lack of appropriate affordable childcare in the City Region, a rethink of how the City’s transport system operates and how it relates to sustainable spatial planning. At a very basic level, urban sprawl undermines the economic competitiveness of the City and negatively impacts on Working Lives.
How can we address the City’s economic reliance on Foreign Direct Investment? Should we? How can we address the costs of doing business in the city that still allows businesses to recruit the best talent available? How can we develop world class training and education systems that are responsive, flexible and affordable?
Who do we need to make these decisions and lead the change process the city requires? Are our existing institutions the right institutions? What scale should we look at? What is best for Dublin?
These comments and questions are designed to generate a discussion and debate that can contribute to a broader process in Dublin. There are unquestionably a wide range of opinions and our hope is that our contribution will offer people an opportunity to reflect and make a positive contribution.
Learn more about Sustainable Development and Dublin: Introducing Sustainable Development and Dublin, by Dick Gleeson, City Planner