Niall Keyes - managing director of recruitment agency with branches around region

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Irishman Niall Keyes is the managing director of Grafton Recruitment and is responsible for the agency's activities across the central and eastern European region. After almost a decade and a half in the recruitment business in this part of the world, he has lots of insights into how the labour market has changed here in that period. I discussed that issue and more with him at his Prague centre office.

"I come from Dublin in Ireland and in 1993 I had a friend who came here to do some business development in property. He told me what a wonderful place the Czech Republic and Prague was, and explained that there were potentially tremendous opportunities in the Czech Republic.

"I worked for the public service in Ireland, the Eastern Health Board, in a function within the personnel department. You could take a career break for up to five years and go back to your job, if it suited you.

"So I decided to take a year out of my career in Ireland and come over to Prague, and see if there were opportunities for me. That's how I got here in the first place."

A few years after you came here Ireland started to boom, and the Celtic Tiger started to roar. You didn't consider going home when Ireland started taking off?

"Well that's exactly what happened - the minute I left the whole economy took off, opportunities increased dramatically. But that also coincided with a huge boom that was going on here in Prague.

"I guess I took advantage to a certain extent of the fact that I was on the ground here in Prague, and thought the opportunity for me personally would have been greater in the Czech Republic than in Ireland."

You're the head of the Grafton Recruitment agency and you have several offices elsewhere in the region. About the Czech Republic, what are the main changes you have seen on the labour market in the last 10 to 15 years?

"The dynamic that was going on [in the early 1990s] was that fundamentally companies were looking for people who could speak languages. And if they had a university level education and could speak languages those companies were prepared and willing to train the people in the roles that they actually wanted to do.

"So in the early years you had a great deal of people moving around, trying to find the careers that most suited them, they suddenly had a choice about what it is they could actually do.

"For the first number of years there was a little sense of pandemonium going on, a lot of turnover in the market, people moving quite frequently, trying to establish what type of work they actually wanted to do.

"But over a number of years that started to settle down and people started to build careers, with organisations, and found the niche that they were most comfortable with in their careers."

I presume before May 2004 you were already placing some Czechs with companies in Ireland...But what was the impact of European Union enlargement on your work?

"There's quite a number of people who went to Ireland in the late 1990s, early 2000s, and that was driven really by the Irish economy and it's expansion at that particular moment in time.

"At that time the visa and work permit process in Ireland was quite restrictive. In other words, if you were a Czech looking to work in Ireland you had to really have secured employment before you left.

"So the difference from 2004 was that essentially you didn't need that. You could just turn up in Ireland, apply to an employer for a job and start working if you were successful.

"The effect was not hugely significant in actual fact. I think it played into the hands of students, who were more casual in the nature of why they wanted to go to work in Ireland. Usually because of language improvements they wanted to make - also just the experience of working abroad.

"But in absolute numbers of people that were travelling there wasn't that big huge wave that I think a lot of people were expecting around 2004."

You often here talk here of a shortage of doctors, dentists - do you think there's a real chance of a brain drain from the Czech Republic to western European countries?

"I think the brain drain scenario is one that doesn't really stack up particularly well, in my opinion. Doctors and dentists, particularly within the public sector, is a kind of a different dynamic in some respects, because the differentials between the public sector in the Czech Republic and public sector in Ireland are quite significant.

"However, historically the language skills among this particular group of professionals haven't been as strong as in some other disciplines...so, so long as there opportunities and or salaries that keep general pace with European levels I don't see a huge brain drain in those particular areas."

There's a perception that Czechs aren't inclined to travel to work. I think the former prime minister Milos Zeman even said Czechs wouldn't even travel to the next village to work. Is that true do you think?

"I think you can look at that scenario and say there are instances of that actually occurring. I don't think the scenario of not going to the next village is quite accurate, but I understand the sentiment expressed.

"Czechs in general will not move from a metropolitan area to a rural area to look for employment opportunities. The gravitational forces in the Czech Republic bring people to places like Prague and Brno from the regions, but don't send people in the opposite direction.

"Also on an international level they have been quite reluctant to move internationally. The overall sentiment is, yes, labour mobility is relatively low compared to other markets. It's got to be viewed I believe against the overall strength of the economy and the opportunities that actually exist within the Czech economy.

"With unemployment now at approximately 7 to 8 percent, with social welfare payments at a relatively decent standard relative to minimum wage levels and what industry is offering, it is very difficult to motivate people within that 7 percent group to go to work. And or the perceived benefit of going to work is relatively small, given the social welfare payments in place."

Finally Niall, your sister is Marian Keyes. She's a well-known novelist, I'm sure listeners in Ireland and the UK will be familiar with her. Does she often come to visit you here in Prague, and what's her relationship to the city?

"My sister is here at least three times a year. I have two young children and they're my parents' only grandchildren. I have three sisters and a brother and to date they're the only grandchildren. So there's a huge gravitational force to come and see Emma and Luka.

"My sister comes here extremely regularly, makes reference to Prague in some of the books and magazine articles she writes. They probably know more about the city than I do, to be quite honest with you. And they love coming here and spending time here.

"She's very familiar, really likes the place, and is due here in the next couple of weeks in actual fact."