For Leaving cert students in Ireland, big decisions are ahead. For those who finished their exams this year the “change of mind” form for their University Course choices must be submitted this week for courses starting 2015. For those students going into Leaving Certificate exams in 2016, the time to make decisions on college courses is approaching, despite the fact that I’m sure most will want to just enjoy the summer and think about this in September.
For those students with an interest in engineering, science, technology and maths it is important to consider that manufacturing remains an extremely strong area for employment in Ireland. One sometimes gets the impression from the popular press that all manufacturing has or will move East to low cost locations. Or that manufacturing is a somewhat limited and unattractive career option for our brightest and best.
On the contrary, Ireland has been punching consistently above its weight in retaining and growing our manufacturing base. Recently the UK government cheered the fact that manufacturing there had increased from 10 to 11% of GDP. The EU average is 15% of GDP. In Ireland, manufacturing represents 23% of GDP and is growing. This is an astonishing statistic in the context of the overall export-led growth in the Irish economy that has been seen in the last two years.
Ireland has been successful in manufacturing through specialisation. The four main manufacturing sectors in terms of exports and employment are biopharmaceuticals, food, microelectronics and medical devices. This is no accident. In all four areas there is a high level of R&D intensity and intellectual property (IP): R&D embedded in both the product and the manufacturing process. In all four sectors there is zero tolerance for defect, with the highest quality standards required for every product produced and hence a high level of scrutiny on the manufacturing process. In particular in biopharmaceuticals and medical devices where regulatory agencies like the Health Products regulatory Authority (Ireland) and the Food and Drug Administration (US) scrutinise companies closely on their manufacturing practices and quality systems. Ireland has an exemplary track record in terms of quality and consistency in these key sectors and that gives companies the comfort to continue to reinvest.
Another commonality between these sectors is the capital investment required to establish high tech, high quality manufacturing facilities. Last year Intel announced that they had invested €5Bn in upgrading their state of the art manufacturing facility in Leixlip. In May of this year Irish company Glanbia announced a €185M investment in a Dairy processing facility. Since Dec 2014 alone, over €1.7Bn in capital investment in new life sciences manufacturing has been announced, from biopharma companies such as BMS, Alexion Mallinckrodt and medical device companies such as Vistakon and DePuy (both J&J companies). Today we had the announcement of a €40M investment by a biopharma company (Abbvie) investing in medical device manufacture. This investment is interesting because it represents another opportunity that Ireland offers: convergence. Abbvie need best-in-class, high quality medical devices to deliver their precious biopharmaceutical drugs to patients, and Ireland has the workforce that understands both biopharma and medical device manufacturing. Where else would Abbvie go?
But Ireland can’t be complacent about what it takes to win and retain these investments – these projects need talented people to be successful. IDA Ireland need to work closely with the universities and IoTs to ensure that there are a pipeline of suitably qualified and trained people emerging into the workforce and opportunities for qualified people who are out of work or underemployed to get the training and upskilling they need to fill these rolls in high tech manufacturing. IDA also continuously works with clients to support them to upgrade their existing operations and get more involved in R&D on process development or new product introduction. Abbvie have worked closely with IDA on these issues and are actively collaborating with IT Sligo on developing education and training courses to support the polymer engineering and toolmaking disciplines that have always been strong in the North-West.
The North-West of Ireland has a long and proud history in areas such as precision tool making, polymer engineering, advanced metrology and medical device manufacturing, A number of indigenous companies, supported by Enterprise Ireland are world leaders in these fields and Abbvie have also been a role-model multinational company in working with this base of indigenous companies to make their new investment as success, both for them and their partners.
So for those students out there (and their parents) who are considering the future, college and beyond, bear in mind that Ireland has a really vibrant manufacturing sector, making high tech, zero defect products and investing hugely in production capacity and R&D that will make those jobs sustainable for the future. These manufacturing jobs are spread very strongly across the regions and have an enormous multiplier effect, from construction to site services. There is an ecosystem of entrepreneurial indigenous companies and world class multinationals collaborating more closely all the time. The opportunities are there, we just need to keep the talent flowing: keep calm and make something!
Barry Heavey, Head of Life Sciences, IDA Ireland
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