Saturday, February 23, 2013

23/2/2013: Irish Knowledge Economy and the Labour Market

In a recent post I looked at some troublesome trends in the overall R&D spending in Ireland. As promised, here are some more details, with the employment levels and R&D spend breakdown by nationality of enterprise ownership. This data, unfortunately, only goes as far as 2011.

Here's the chart showing the spending by enterprise type (Small Enterprises (SE) with <50 all="" and="" as="" base="" categories="" category="" employees="" enterprise.="" enterprises="" for="" here="" is="" of="" on="" other="" p="" select="" specific="" spending.="" taken="" the="" total="">

As the chart clearly shows, the bulk of R&D spend is allocated to Labour costs. I wrote about this earlier, so no need to repeat. But time trend is interesting in all costs:

  • The importance of labour costs is falling in 2009-2012 for Small Enterprises (from 61.6% to 53.4%) and is rising for all other enterprises.
  • The importance of Purchases (defined as expenditure on land & buildings, payments for IP licenses, instruments and equipment purchases and purchases of software) is rising for SEs (from 9.7% in 2009 to 24.4% in 2011) and falling for all other enterprises (from 17.5% to 6.8%). 
  • In comparative terms, SEs are spending nearly four times more on purchases than other enterprises.
  • The above is consistent with general theme around the world: SEs require more inward purchasing, while larger enterprises carry out more in-house activities. In turn, this means that SEs must generate more value-added to offset higher costs associated with purchasing.
  • Remarkably, there is much less difference across enterprises types in terms of spending on own in-house software development. This suggests that in-house development is not associated with cost-shifting by enterprises (reallocation of normal business costs to R&D activity category to reduce tax exposures).
In terms of employment generated / supported by the R&D spending, the chart below shows distribution across the core categories of employees:

Despite the fanfares around 'Knowledge Economy' jobs, the chart clearly shows that the numbers of R&D employees with PhD qualification - the basic level in modern science to engage in advanced research - has declined in 2009-2011 period by 8.6%, although it is still ahead of 2007 levels for the Industrial & Selected Services sectors. It also dropped in 2007-2009 and 2009-2011 in the Manufacturing sector, with 2009-2011 decline of 10%.

At the same time, 'Other Research Staff' numbers rose in 2009-2001 by 22.2%. 

This is probably consistent with the R&D activity shifting into ICT services sector, where share of PhD-led research is smaller and much of the research activity conducted is focused not on primary innovation, but adaptation, customisation, other incremental innovation. This is also consistent with much of the R&D activity in Ireland being secondary in nature - not patent-generating or new product development, but incremental improvement. The third potential factor driving these changes is possible expansion of collaborative work between academic institutions and producers.

A very interesting chart plots the sectoral R&D staff employment as a ratio to total R&D staff engaged:

It is very apparent that our flagship exporting sector, the 'Big Hope' for the 'Innovation Ireland' programmes - the agricultural sector is simply not engaged with much of R&D activity. The sector posts lowest share of R&D employment by far. Exactly the same holds for virtually every indigenous sector. The chart is extreme: MNCs-dominated sectors are clear leaders in R&D-related employment, domestically-oriented sectors are clear laggards. Remember renewable energy? We are supposedly filthy rich in inputs in the sector (wind, wave etc). We are also, supposedly, engaging in massive research in the area and have aggressive programmes to drive the alternatives energy sector into exporting electricity to the UK and selling know-how all around the world. However, even with the 'white elephant' project like e-cars from the ESB, sector employment of R&D personnel is simply inconsistent with the grotesque claims made about our alternative energy industry competitiveness or position.

Another worrisome fact is that for all the successes of the IFSC and international financial services in general in Ireland, the sector - a major source of innovation (good and bad) worldwide - is yet to put forward appreciable levels of R&D-related employment in Ireland. What is worse, while employment in the IFSC held up relatively well during the recent years, employment of R&D staff in financial services shrunk, relative to the levels of employment if research staff across the economy.

I will post on the breakdown of R&D activity by the company ownership (Irish v Non-Irish owned enterprises) later, so stay tuned.

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