Monday 24 October 2016

Engineering a future free from skills shortage

Published 22/08/2016 | 06:00

Education Minister Richard Bruton Photo: Tom Burke
Education Minister Richard Bruton Photo: Tom Burke

Congratulations to the 50,000-plus applicants who receive an offer from the CAO today. The vast bulk of them will get one of their top three choices, which shows how well they know how to use the system.

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For all the criticisms of the CAO method of selecting students for higher education, it is seen as efficient and has been described as "brutally fair". This is important in a country where too many institutions are seen to be amenable to influence from politicians or other powerful people.

Many of this year's applicants opted for courses that hold out the promise of good, well-paid jobs. There has been an increase in the numbers applying for courses in the 'Stem' area - science, technology, engineering and maths. This is not to underestimate the importance of the arts to a country that has contributed so much to world literature and culture.

Engineers Ireland has welcomed the renewed interest in engineering, but has warned that there is still a looming shortage of professionals, which, it says, threatens the Government's house-building plans. It says that next year the number of civil and environmental engineering graduates will be down very significantly on the 2014 graduate output.

In fact, it's not just housing - other major infrastructural projects are at risk as well if there is a shortage of engineers. And the private sector is also clamouring for more of them.

A recent report from the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs (EGFSN) says the burgeoning biopharma sector needs a lot of engineers, as well as other skilled graduates including scientists. Projects worth €4bn have been announced for the biopharma area, and colleges need to increase their output to meet any shortage. Other sectors need more engineers as well.

There is a clear case for closer liaison between higher education providers, agencies such as Solas and the EGFSN and Government departments to ensure that the supply of skilled graduates is more closely tailored to the needs of the economy.

Over to you, Education Minister Bruton.

Never mind the sceptics, we need this incinerator

No matter what attempts are made to make it look pretty, the new incinerator in Dublin will inevitably be described as an unnecessary 'eyesore'.

But it is a long-overdue and much-needed addition to infrastructural development in our modern capital city. Only in Ireland could it take two decades to get such a project from concept to the operational stage.

During those lost decades our waste problems became worse, with illegal dumping in the garden county of Wicklow and the export of waste from our ports. It was unsustainable.

Lengthy delays in major projects are all too common in this country, and the incinerator was no exception - it faced years of opposition, complaints to the European Commission, allegations that competition law and procurement rules were broken, etc, before Dublin City Council entered into an agreement with the private sector to build the facility.

The successful bidder says the building will be aesthetically pleasing, but the doubters will remain sceptical. However, the plan to convert waste into energy may well go some way to convincing them of the benefits of the new facility.

Irish Independent

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