There is a significant shortfall in qualified engineers despite increase in third-level Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education students, says Team Horizon
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There needs to be a greater emphasis by government on STEM in primary and secondary school according to an ongoing survey of more than 2,000 engineers in Ireland carried out by Team Horizon, the global life sciences engineering solutions provider with an expert focus on the pharma and biopharma manufacturing processes.

Speaking at the National Manufacturing and Supply Chain conference at the Citywest hotel, Dublin, Robert Grealis, CEO of Team Horizon, said: “The future growth of Ireland’s economy, in particular the pharma and bio-pharma industry, is dependent on this type of investment.

“The current STEM situation cannot support the expansion plans of the industry, which plans to invest approximately €700 million in Ireland in 2016. To empower and drive growth in the economy and engineering sector, Ireland’s belief, focus and investment in STEM education, training and development must become an integral part of our thinking and culture.

“This approach must be adopted by society as a whole. Without this systemic tactic Ireland will fail to achieve its potential and maximise its position in the global economy. This skills gap and the lack of suitably experienced engineers is not just unique to Ireland.”

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Robert Grealis

In Ireland, third-level STEM student numbers are increasing however there is a significant shortfall of qualified engineers. College applications for level eight engineering and technology courses increased by almost 1,000 this year to 7,741 but with an estimated 2,000 plus engineering vacancies in Ireland today, higher education programmes are still not producing the graduate pool to meet current demand.

The government and relevant departments have taken measures to tackle this issue, however according to Robert Grealis these are not enough: “The government has recognised the need for further investment however there is not enough attention on STEM as a key focus. There needs to be more development and an emphasis on education in this area. Team Horizon welcomes the initiatives of others such as Engineers Ireland and CoderDojo for their work in raising awareness and interest in STEM careers.”

Such government initiatives include:

  • Action Plan for Jobs 2016 – currently has 295 actions outlined, of these only one specifically refers to STEM. Table of Actions in this plan includes no reference to engineering in any of the 264 actions;
  • STEM Education Review Group, set up by Minister for Research and Innovation Seán Sherlock, has two employer representatives. No engineering or science employers are represented;
  • Science Foundation Ireland Discovery Programme – this focuses mainly on R&D discovery with little or no focus on manufacturing or engineering excellence as an important competitive tool;
  • Springboard conversion courses have an important role to play. However a search on engineering courses lists three, whereas ICT has 33 and construction has 15.

Not alone do we need to think outside of the box, we need to understand there is no box. We must capture the imagination of students, teachers, government and other decision makers to the potential of STEM and its positive impact on society. An investment needs to be made in STEM, starting from a young age, and the organisations making these investments need to be recognised. STEM is the future and an investment in STEM is an investment in our future,” Grealis said.

A new approach to equality in STEM careers and for women in engineering is needed. A recent Science Foundation Ireland survey found that 62 per cent of Irish students said that ‘fitting in’ was the biggest factor influencing their study choices, compared to career prospects (56 per cent) and course requirements (28 per cent). In Ireland, STEM third level students are only 28 per cent female and 72 per cent male.

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  There needs to be a greater emphasis by government on STEM in primary and secondary school according to an ongoing survey of more than 2,000 engineers in Ireland carried out by Team Horizon, the global life sciences engineering solutions provider with an expert focus on the pharma and biopharma...