Tuesday 22 January 2019

Major skills shortage looms for manufacturing sector

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John Mulligan

John Mulligan

Ireland's manufacturing sector is facing "significant" skills shortages in key areas including automation, engineering and polymers, according to Skillnet, the national agency that promotes workforce learning.

Its chief executive, Paul Healy, has warned that the growth of artificial intelligence, the internet of things, and advanced automation "is creating a widening gap between the jobs that need to be filled and the talent pool capable of filling them".

"Employers here in Ireland are already facing challenges recruiting for positions in engineering, polymer processing and polymer science, automation and controls," he said.

"The shortage of specific skills is forcing companies to look outside the country to fill key roles in advanced manufacturing and production environments," added Mr Healy.

Speaking to the Irish Independent, Mr Healy warned that the economy is nearing full employment, and that the issue is also compounding the skills shortages.

He said Ireland is in the bottom quartile of OECD and EU nations in terms of SMEs engaging in management development, for instance.

"Is there great productivity happening in Ireland? The answer is yes, but it's being masked by the performance of large corporations and multinationals," said Mr Healy. "What we see in our indigenous SMEs is stagnating productivity," he added, pointing out that Skillnet expects to train at least 60,000 people this year.

Skillnet has also warned that Brexit is underscoring skills gaps here, and urged businesses to address the issue.

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"Along with operational considerations, it is clear that different skills will be needed so that firms can adapt to the new circumstances they are presented with," said Mr Healy, who was speaking in advance of next week's National Manufacturing and Supply Chain Conference in Dublin.

"For now, the single greatest challenge for business owners is making sound future-proofing decisions in the context of ever-changing events," he said.

The most up-to-date figures from the Central Statistics Office show that there were just over 201,000 people working in the manufacturing sector in Ireland in 2016.

That made it one of the largest sectors in the State, after retail and the health services sector.

The manufacturing sector has been spurred by a recovering economy.

But the pace of growth decelerated in December to its slowest rate in nine months, according to the latest IHS Markit purchasing managers' index.

Irish Independent

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