The Government must invest in new technologies and skills to reap the benefits from advances in manufacturing, or get left behind as the UK and US fight for manufacturing investment and jobs. Ireland is recognised as a global medtech hub, with 18 of the world's top 25 medtech companies here and more than 29,000+ people working in the sector leading to career paths across Ireland and internationally. Now an additional 4,000 jobs are to be added in Ireland by 2020, according to a new report by the Irish Medtech Association Skillnet and Irish Medtech Association, the Ibec group representing the sector. Notably, nearly a third of these new jobs are to be in specialised areas of R&D and engineering, highlighting the importance of getting the right skills to maintain medtech's reputation as the leading industry for innovation in Europe with 12,400 patents filed in 2015.
Speaking at the report launch, Irish Medtech Association Chair and Boston Scientific VP Operations, Conor Russell said: "In our future skills 2020 report launched today, we've identified five major disruptors changing the face of the medtech industry globally. Businesses are already taking steps to prepare for opportunities arising from new personalised ways to get healthcare like connected health, advanced manufacturing, emerging markets, cost containment, and the biggest change in EU regulations for two decades. But to sustain strong growth we must continue to up-skill and re-skill people in the face of these disruptors, while making sure that the curriculum at third level, in vital areas such as engineering and R&D, remains relevant for graduates to pursue the careers of the future."
Irish Medtech Association Skillnet Manager Pauline O' Flanagan said: "Since 2008 our Skillnet has trained more than 7,500 people with industry led programmes to address skills gaps annually. We've also successfully retrained many unemployed people to equip them to start new careers in medtech. But more needs to be done to encourage students at primary and second level to pursue medtech careers. While engineering and technology courses have been popular in recent years, the CAO recently announced a 5% drop in these courses. This highlights the importance of improving awareness about opportunities in hitech sectors like medtech."
Irish Medtech Association Director Sinead Keogh said: "Ireland has one of the highest levels of third level graduates across the EU, and this has been a central pillar of Ireland's winning formula for growth. This has been underscored by job creation and investment by the medtech sector, with more than 2,000 jobs added in the past couple of years and €100 million publicly announced in 2016. Manufacturing is Ireland's second largest industry, employing more than 220,000 people and medtech is a key pillar with the potential to expand further in the right conditions. Now the Government must invest strategically, not only in infrastructure and education, but also in the establishment of an advanced manufacturing centre. Businesses in competing economies are experiencing significant productivity gains from new technologies like 3D printing, collaborative robots, data analytics and the Internet of Things. If we don't have the right facilities, not only will business suffer, but also manufacturing professionals will be compelled to move to get these key skills in facilities abroad."
The detailed survey carried out by Grant Thornton in 2016 and was commissioned by the Irish Medtech Association and Skillnet. It showed that nine out of ten responders found that it has gotten harder to recruit in the pas five years. To redress skills gaps and prepare the industry for a new jobs boom, key recommendations are set out in the report including:
Ensure Ireland's workforce are equipped for the jobs of the future: Review third level courses to ensure they prepare graduates for careers in medtech, tackle non-progression rates and; encourage teachers to champion STEM at both primary and second level.
Invest in further education, upskilling and alternative routes to medtech careers: Introduce student loan system to fund third level, focus on up-skilling through Skillnets and Springboard, support enterprise-led model for new apprenticeships.
Develop competencies for the medtech sector: Design and deliver competency models to identify skills and competencies for the medtech sector with a focus on industry disruptors.
Promote medtech careers and improve understanding of the sector: Encourage industry to engage in STEM promotion such as BT Young Scientist and Smart Futures, support the Department of Education and Skills recommendation to recognise these extracurricular activities and reform career guidance with a focus on specialist providers.
Make Ireland an employment destination of choice for mobile talent: Build a global workforce by marketing Ireland as a destination of choice to start medtech careers, support reform of visa and work permits, amend the personal taxation system to attract mobile talent and invest in infrastructure with an all-Ireland approach.
Embed entrepreneurial education at second level: Teach critical thinking, intelligent risk taking, communication skills and adaptability along with other key skills needed for entrepreneurship.
Make Ireland a world leader for gender leadership in STEM: Collaborate with government to address the gender imbalance in manufacturing, particularly at leadership level, and make childcare more accessible by means testing child benefit and increasing the ratio of adult to children in line with other countries for childcare.