Ireland’s engineers play a vital role in rebooting our economy, due to the fact that they work in practically every industrial sector. But to give the country a competitive advantage, Irish employers must invest in CPD, according to IDA Ireland’s Tommy Fanning


Ireland’s engineers play a vital role in rebooting our troubled economy, by virtue of the fact that they work in practically every industrial sector. But in order to give the country a competitive advantage, Irish engineers – and employers – must invest in continuous professional development (CPD) to keep at the forefront of engineering technology, according to Tommy Fanning.

IDA Ireland’s global head of engineering, industrial & clean technologies was speaking to delegates at the 10th annual Engineers Ireland CPD Symposium, which took place recently in Dublin’s Clyde Court Hotel.

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In IDA Ireland, Fanning’s business focus is on information and communication technology; life sciences; engineering and clean tech; international financial services; emerging business; and content industry, consumer and business services – in growth markets and in China.

“Foreign investors know that engineers are needed in all of these sectors – they’re not just confined to traditional engineering disciplines such as civil or mechanical anymore and there’s a lot of crossover,” said Fanning. “For example, there are more engineers employed in our medical technologies division than in our engineering division. There are also an increasing number of engineers working in the life sciences.”

In Fanning’s experience, overseas companies operating in Ireland – and exploring the possibility of investing in Ireland – find it hard to recruit sufficient numbers of engineers. “A French company that operates in Ireland told me that they had to bring in engineers from outside of the country, but what they really wanted were more Irish engineers because native engineers have unique qualities.”

Irish engineers are different, according to Fanning. “When they have a job to do, they’ll ask 20 questions as to why it should be done in that particular way and how it could be done differently. This really differentiates them from the competition. It seems that the national attitude is one of openness to foreign ideas – Irish engineers have always looked outwards to glean more knowledge, which in turn benefits our indigenous companies.

“Irish engineers – no matter in what sector they’re working – will only accept excellence, not second best,” he continued. “If they settle for second best, then Irish engineering will always be second best and that has never been an option for a small, island economy. Irish engineering can’t usually compete on price, but we excel at differentiating ourselves from the competition in terms of quality and innovation.”


Fanning explained that the IMD World Competitiveness Yearbook 2013 ranked Ireland as follows in key areas for foreign direct investment:

  • Firstfor flexibility and adaptability of workforce;
  • First for attitudes towards globalisation;
  • First for openness to foreign investors;
  • Second for national culture open to foreign ideas; and
  • Third for availability of skilled labour.

“Ireland has a world-class workforce,” he said. “In 2010, some 45.7% of the Irish population aged 25-34 had a third-level qualification. This compares very well to the EU average, which is 32.5 per cent. We’re one of the top ten best-educated countries in the world, according to the 24/7 Wall Street/Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Education at a Glance report.”

He added that Ireland was also ranked first in the world for the flexibility and adaptability of its workforce, according to the World Competitiveness Yearbook. Crucially, the country increased from 20th to 17th in the overall rankings last year.

“I can’t emphasise enough the importance of competitiveness – Ireland’s increase to 17th is excellent news for Ireland’s foreign direct investment [FDI] landscape. Competition for FDI remains strong and our ranking as third for the availability of skilled labour is very good news for Ireland, as this is a key factor in attracting FDI.”

Talent and skills are a big selling point in this regard, Fanning continued. “This doesn’t just include what’s learned at college and university,” he said. “CPD plays an important role too, because this is what keeps engineers’ skills up to date and puts them ahead of the international pack. When you look at growth areas in manufacturing, such as the making of medical devices, investment in CPD becomes even more important. We’re in a good position and we’re currently at the forefront of this sector, but we mustn’t get complacent.”

Ireland today is a proven location for advanced manufacturing. Companies like Valeo, Pfizer, Apple, DCNS, Pepsi, Stryker, Ericsson, Lufthansa Technik, SR Technics and HP all have operations here – not to mention international big hitters like Thermo King, Liebherr, Analog Devices, ABB and Zimmer.

“We’ve been very successful in attracting a wide range of industry sectors to Ireland,” Fanning acknowledged. We have nine out of top ten global ICT corporations; the top ten ‘born on the internet’ companies; nine out of the top ten global pharmaceutical corporations; three out of the top six games companies; and 12 out of 15 of the top global medical device companies.

“We have real clusters of excellence now. In the early days of IDA Ireland, we looked for big multinationals and we have those now. Of course, attracting FDI is always of great importance but we now need growth in existing companies, as well as attracting new ones. Irish divisions of multinational companies need to be smarter and more innovative than their sister branches abroad – for example, we need more investment in research, and engineering excellence is key to this.”

Fanning said that Irish companies should consider taking on the 100-Day Growth Challenge, whereby companies take 14 weeks to overhaul the way they do things in order to run their businesses more efficiently. “They need to examine their targets and ask: what can we do today to make a difference tomorrow?” he added.


Fanning went on to outline some sobering numbers, to stress that Irish manufacturing needed to more innovative and productive than ever before. “There were 435,280 people on the Live Register in August – that’s 13.5 per cent of the workforce. To put things in perspective, IDA Ireland has to date been responsible for the direct creation of 152,000 jobs and, indirectly, it has helped to create 270,000 jobs.

“Some 6,570 net jobs have been created by IDA Ireland in 2012, plus 3,338 jobs from Enterprise Ireland in 2012. This amounts to just under 10,000 net jobs last year, which is a long way from clearing the dole queues. We’re chipping away at the unemployment rates, but this is the basis for tomorrow. We have to help ourselves but, currently, there are just 150 CPD accredited employers. With just 0.4 per cent GDP growth at the end of August, we have a big challenge. There’s lots to do and we have to help ourselves.”

Other people get employed because engineers make the difference, Fanning stated. “I see it every day, when I come across companies looking for marketing executives or finance directors in companies that exist because of products or services developed by engineers. Ireland has a very strong image internationally – what we produce is technologically sound and technically innovative.”

Fanning told delegates that the first steps had been taken to developing a new Irish standard in operational excellence, to help give Irish manufacturing an international advantage. The National Standards Authority of Ireland, in collaboration with Enterprise Ireland, the University of Limerick and IBEC, has produced the Irish standard document for Lean, called ‘SWiFT 11: Driving Competitiveness Using Lean’.

This standard is aimed at helping any Irish company to get started on the Lean journey. The SWiFT 11 standard is part of a national effort to help Irish businesses become more efficient and effective in the provision of their services and products, whether for the domestic or international market.

“By being accredited, Irish manufacturing will be able to clearly demonstrate that it meets high standards and this can help to give us an advantage when pitching for international business. We need a natural step change in manufacturing and we need to revise our expectations upwards.


Fanning concluded that the chartered engineer title was not as visible as it should be. “We need to make sure that it’s recognised by senior management and that it’s promoted by companies. We need to get the message across that chartered status is a significant advantage and do more to promote the ‘brand’.

Fanning added that Ireland’s flexible workforce, openness to foreign investors and positive attitude to globalisation can give the country a competitive advantage amongst other nations. “But we have to scale up for international success and [companies that invest in CPD] have shown us how continuous training can facilitate this. It’s not just for multinationals, either – traditional, indigenous engineering companies should maximise their potential through CPD, too.

“We need more people to champion professional development in indigenous companies,” he concluded, “because, in my experience, the difference between companies that are CPD accredited and those that aren’t is striking.”

Tommy Fanning’s background is in business strategy, development and marketing, having held multiple business roles across IDA Ireland’s Irish and overseas operations. Prior to this, he was territory director for IDA Ireland in the US, with responsibility for the mid-US states while previously acting as territory director for Asia Pacific, based in Tokyo.

Fanning is s graduate in marketing with a professional qualification from the Marketing Institute of Ireland and also holds diplomas in business strategy and accounting & finance. O'RiordanMechCPD,Engineers Ireland,lean,manufacturing
  Ireland’s engineers play a vital role in rebooting our troubled economy, by virtue of the fact that they work in practically every industrial sector. But in order to give the country a competitive advantage, Irish engineers – and employers – must invest in continuous professional development (CPD) to keep...