With advanced manufacturing accounting for 36.7% of GDP in Ireland, and employing 231,000 direct employees, technology is driving manufacturing breakthroughs across all manufacturing sectors. Jennifer McShane speaks to Domhnall Carroll, Site Director at the National Advanced Manufacturing Centre about why Ireland is the best place to attract the STEM talent needed to keep up with this advancing industry. 

With technology advances in the advance manufacturing sector enabling companies to reduce inventories, create more efficient supply chains, customise products, and reduce R&D costs and time to market, naturally this requires a skilled workforce with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) skills. 

However, this talent pool is in demand in many other industries as well, and manufacturing may not be top-of-mind for young people starting to build their careers. Ireland, however, is an excellent choice for those wanting to enter the sector. However, as Domhnall explains, advanced marketing is not really settled into a distinct sector. ”It sits across multiple sectors, such as pharma devices, food, and so on. And there are some of each of those companies that will consider themselves to be an advancement factory company. So, advanced manufacturing is more or less an approach that companies take to decide to invest more heavily in things from technology onwards.”

“Manufacturing is ultimately about designing and making real things for people: medicines, washing machines, cars and so on.  It’s a great way to see the impact of your own expertise in the real world. In advanced manufacturing, you get to do this in a way that brings better products to the market, products with higher quality, reduced environmental footprint and that are available economically for more people.”

 He agrees that Ireland’s manufacturing sector has a lot to offer those wanting to enter to begin their careers. “I think there has been continued success in growing the manufacturing base in Ireland because of the very positive experience of companies that have set up here,” Domhnall says. “It’s not unusual for repeat investments and expansions to be made within a short time of the Irish base being established. This positive experience and fast growth is mainly driven by the talent pool for direct employees and also by a very innovative and responsive supply chain, both for the initial build and for the support of ongoing operations.”

And, what, in particular, does advanced manufacturing have that will appeal to prospective STEM graduates in the technology field?

“Manufacturing technology is in the process of transforming from being predominantly mechanical to being predominantly mechatronic, software and data based. This makes manufacturing the ideal environment for those with a STEM background to excel – as an individual contributor, as a team member and as someone that can shape the future of many industries such as  life sciences, transportation and clean energy,” he explains.
Of course, retaining this talent comes with its own challenges in a post-pandemic world, and the way around this, he says, is to make positions as attractive as possible for potential employees. “I think that talented employees like to be challenged with meaningful work, a role with a purpose and one that provides opportunities for advancement of the skills and knowledge that they have developed through their education and early career.” 

“Covid certainly got in the way because, for a number of years, it changed everybody’s focus from the plans and trajectory they were on, which meant that we had to begin develop agile and resilient set-ups, just to get through Covid. There’s definitely been a slowing down, I would say in some of the innovation projects that companies would have planned to do, because they had to just react to Covid. On the other hand, what we’re seeing now is an acceleration in those projects, because people are starting to understand or realising that those projects implemented earlier tend to make the industry more agile, with redefining and an acceleration of the adoption of some of the newer manufacturing technologies.”

There’s a lot of awareness of more opportunity now in life science in terms of what scientists can actually do for manufacturing, he agrees, saying that one positive of the pandemic has been that this was highlighted, particularly when it came to the manufacturing of vaccines. “When it comes to the development of vaccines and all of those things, I think that the particular atttention that Ireland’s biopharma industry got because of Covid, probably highlighted some of the really good scientific opportunities for people to work in that space.”

“There are some sectors within manufacturing that are really making great strides in those areas. And biopharma has always been a good example, because it’s quite a new industry, yet has always relied on things like data, control systems and a high degree of automation – and some of the more traditional businesses haven’t seen that yet,” he continued.   

Naturally, some companies will be better at attracting and retaining those in the STEM industries than others, but even if some feel they have work to do in this regard, they can still take certain steps so that potential employees see the potential that can be developed within that company. “Assuming that salary and benefits are set at a fair level, I think it’s then important that a company can explain and demonstrate how prospective and current employees can continue to learn and develop over the course of a career with that company,” Domhnall adds. 

“In addition to this, its important for employees to feel that an employer will  move with the times – for example being open to progressive work practices, addressing sustainability in a meaningful way, and so on.”
Going forward, he says, there are things that can be done to improve the industry, but that it has shown resilience in the aftermath of the pandemic. “As an industry, the response to Covid showed an agility and resilience that had not surfaced before,” he added. “Companies have adapted well to the post-Covid world, maintaining that agility for current challenges. There’s still some way to go in terms of consistency of performance across every manufacturing sector and this is something that Ireland’s manufacturing base could accelerate towards – which would bring advantages relative to international baselines.”  

This article was taken from Innovation Ireland Review. Innovation Ireland Review is produced by IDA Ireland & Ashville Media. Link to full magazine: https://issuu.com/ashvillemedia/docs/ida_summer_2022_digital_edition_f51428277576e6?fr=sZjYyZTQ4NjQyMjQ