When location is no longer a barrier to opportunity – Joe’s story

2 min and 40 sec to read, 667 words

When you live in a rural or regional location, your access to job opportunities can be limited.

Now imagine how limited the job opportunities were for Joe Whelan, living on the small island of Inishturk, off the coast of County Mayo. But Joe’s story tells us that it doesn’t have to be that way – that opportunity can everywhere, even in the most remote places. You just need to know how to find it.

With a population of only 60 people and only 8 or 9 full time jobs available on the island, Joe always assumed that he would have to leave Inishturk to work on the mainland. And with limited ferry crossings and unpredictable weather, this meant being away from his home and his wife and kids from Monday to Friday every week.

“Employment opportunities in Inishturk are few and far between and that’s the reason why a lot of people leave. Most people I know from the island go on to university, they are all well educated and skilled. But there’s just not a lot of opportunity for them here.”

During the lockdowns in 2020 Joe started exploring the idea of working remotely. He converted a space in their house into a small office, hoping that someday in the future he might be able to work from there. 

He started to research how to find a remote job and he soon found Grow Remote and the Remote Work Ready training course. “I saw an ad for Remote Work Ready and I signed up for it immediately. I don’t have a third level education so at first I felt I was a little limited. But the Remote Work Ready course, particularly the topic of transferable skills, was a light bulb moment for me. I found it really transformative”. 

“I realised that I had all this knowledge and skills that I had gathered working in manufacturing, public transport and other areas. The training taught me to identify my transferable skills and how I can bring them into any workplace. I was able to present myself in a much better way.”

After completing the Remote Work Ready course, Joe set about finding a new remote role. “I received brilliant one-to-one support and advice from Grow Remote and very quickly found a new remote job”. 

Now Joe works full time from his home in Inishturk, in the office space that he optimistically converted back in 2020. He is passionate about the potential impact remote work could have, not just for him and his family, but for small communities around Ireland. 

“Inishturk is the most amazing place in the world to live. The children love living here. It’s beautiful and peaceful. If we could bring more families to live here, imagine what it could do socially and economically for the island. Even just 4 or 5 more families living here would be absolutely transformative.”

One of the biggest challenges for the island is keeping the school open. At the moment Joe’s two daughters and their cousin are the only pupils in the school. The youngest is in senior infants and with no new students expected to start school, it is likely to close in 6 years as its last student leaves for secondary school on the mainland.

“In rural Ireland we have seen that when the school closes it starts a spiral of decay”, says Joe. “When there’s no school there’s no attraction for young families to move to the area and it will be exactly the same here. If the school closes it won’t reopen and we can’t take that chance.”

Joe is optimistic that remote work can have a positive impact in the coming years on the island of Inishturk and other island communities. He has recently signed up as a Grow Remote Local Leader, and plans to organise events and initiatives for remote workers living in other island communities. “Remote work is absolutely key to the future sustainability of small communities. I’m an example that it works”.

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