STEM Careers in South East Ireland
In the latest Acorn Regulatory careers blog our CMO Brian Cleary writes and speaks about the importance of STEM careers to the south east of Ireland and the launch of the new South East Regional Skills Forum.
Anybody that knows the business landscape of the south east of Ireland will understand the importance of the science sector to the region. Companies, such as ours, are significant employers in towns and cities across the region. Over the last forty years the region has welcomed companies such as Merck, Abbott, Boston Scientific, Teva, Waters Technology, Sanofi Genzyme and more. Indigenous companies have blazed a trail in the sector and have placed the south east of Ireland ahead of many, if not most, other parts of the country in terms of innovation in life sciences. The sector is now a significant contributor to the economic lifeblood of south east Ireland. The region itself has fared less favourably than the rest of the Irish regions in recent years. During the economic crash parts of the region experienced unemployment at twice the national average. Now however, the region is rebounding.
Brian speaks about the issue in this video blog.
The resurgence of the regional economy and the subsequent need to identify the best people to work in local companies was the main subject for the launch of the South East Regional Skills Forum at Hotel Kilkenny on December 5th. I attended along with other representatives from industry and guidance counsellors from the education sector to hear speakers from Carlow, Kilkenny, Wexford, Waterford and Tipperary talk about the need to encourage students and graduates to take up STEM careers. Perhaps the most shocking aspect of the day for me, and I believe for others, was the fact that the south east of Ireland still has higher than the national average unemployment (just over 10% compared to the national figure of 7.4% – that’s 25,000 people approximately) yet numerous companies are struggling to identify and attract the right people.
Why are the companies struggling to attract the right people? Much of it is down to the lack of second level students opting to progress into relevant third level courses or the unwillingness of second level students to choose STEM related subjects for state exams. So, what can be done here? It was very encouraging to see representatives from companies such as Unum in Carlow and Suir Engineering in Waterford speak about their interactions with school children from 12 years of age and up and of how they have visited a significant number of schools on an annual basis trying to encourage students to focus on subjects such as maths, physics, chemistry, biology, technical drawing and more. Nevertheless, it is the responsibility of the pupil, parent, school and the wider community to impress on the prospective STEM employee of the future the need to engage in the aforementioned subjects.
While all of this may appear to be laudable and the right thing to do, the stark reality of the situation was highlighted by one of the speakers. Multinational companies that fail to fill open headcount positions within a timely manner tend to lose that headcount figure and it is assigned to another part of the international organisation. In short, if we don’t start filling these jobs then our competitiveness within the international structure of FDI companies is at risk and jobs will be lost. Furthermore, if I may add this, if indigenous companies begin to find it difficult to add staff to their cohort they will encounter difficulties fulfilling contracts and may need to look to secondary locations or lose the business. That is the reality of what we are facing.
So, what is to be done? Essentially, we need as a country to do more to highlight the successes that we have engendered in the STEM sector and we need to highlight the opportunities available. This means demonstrating the nuances that exist within science careers and other sectors. This needs to be done to encourage new entrants, sustain the sector and enable the south east region to continue to be a vibrant hub for STEM careers.