A woman and three men stand together in Thomond stadium at the Talent to Thrive: Future Skills for Ireland’s Medtech Sector launch.
From left: Paul Healy, Minister Patrick O’Donovan, Ann O’Connell and Eoghan Ó Faoláin. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

What are the future skill needs of Ireland’s medtech sector?

3 Jul 2024

With the Irish medtech workforce predicted to reach 56,000 employees by 2028, what skills are urgently required as the industry grows?

Ireland’s medtech industry currently employs more than 48,000 people, producing crucial medical apparatus, such as stents and joint replacements, and is growing rapidly in response to global trends of accelerated digitalisation, AI and sustainability.

With the medtech workforce in Ireland projected to expand to more than 56,000 people by 2028, it is important to think about how this workforce can be upskilled to meet the demands of an evolving world. 

Irish Medtech Skillnet, in collaboration with Skillnet Ireland and Irish Medtech, commissioned a report by KPMG, Talent to Thrive: Future Skills for Ireland’s Medtech Sector 2024-2028, to provide a future skills assessment for the sector. The report listed 125 skills needed with 30 skills identified as high priority.

High priority skills include the use of AI in data analytics and simulation, data visualisation, smart device regulatory knowledge, micro robotics, human-centric manufacturing principles, cybersecurity expertise and circularity principles.

Recommendations for targeted upskilling include utilising industrial PhDs to drive innovation, sustainability training, support for more apprenticeships and digitalisation courses for HR professionals. While general upskilling needs for the sector include leadership skills, commercial acumen, project management, problem solving and communication skills.

The survey compiled information from more than 400 people working in the Irish medtech sector, 100 people working in international medtech hubs, 35 interviews and five focus groups to gain critical insights about current and future talent development needs.

A particular set of skills

The survey identified five key areas in which current and future skill needs can be best addressed and they were research, development and innovation (RD&I), manufacturing, sustainability, regulatory affairs and human resources (HR). 

Individually, each area was found to be in need of a unique set of skills, as well as skills that overlap with other areas. Workers in RD&I for example, as the drivers of innovation in medtech are largely responsible for creating the medical technologies that enhance and improve patient care. 

As such, the report found that because professionals in this field are involved from the conceptualisation of the idea or product, all the way through to marketing, it is imperative that they possess the ability to cross collaborate, internally and externally. 

RD&I employees will have to understand how products are manufactured at scale, as well as the regulatory processes that ensure safety. Additionally, their job scope has the potential to overlap with sustainability as they are part of the circular product design that will make items more environmentally friendly. 

Furthermore, the ever-increasing demand for advanced cybersecurity will mean that cyber resiliency and AI will likely generate significant future skill needs in RD&I.

The report also suggests that manufacturing, as the largest area of employment within Irish medtech, is in need of significant upskilling in terms of digitalisation, cybersecurity and AI and is at a critical turning point as it moves from the manual to an era of automation. 

The HR function is becoming increasingly digitalised with the move towards remote and flexible working arrangements. HR workers need to have technical skills to communicate effectively and to manage and manipulate increasing amounts of data.

Transversal skills

Another key focus within the report was the importance of transversal skills, that is, the soft skills that are used in almost every role or industry, therefore making them vital for current and future training programmes. 

The survey found that in comparison to global hubs, Ireland is not as keenly focused on the development of transversal skills for medtech professionals. A current need identified in the report was the development of problem-solving skills. 

The HR function in particular considers the ability to assess and resolve workplace challenges, a priority for the smooth running of an organisation. Similarly, regulatory experts, who are often expected to make decisions despite a lack of clarity, regard problem-solving skills as crucial to the effectiveness of their own role. 

Also missing from the current skill set is stakeholder management abilities, most noticeable in HR, regulatory and RD&I roles. This is important as it is how professionals identify and build solid relationships with internal stakeholders, such as their co-workers and other departments, as well as with external stakeholders including customers, regulators and suppliers. 

The report found that project management skills are of particular relevance to the medtech sector. More and more companies are being expected to engage with sustainability measures and project managers will need to be able to clearly explain the environmental, social and governance value of a project. 

International standards

According to the survey, Ireland’s medtech sector is in a healthy position as it is a leader on the global stage, however, there are a number of areas in which Ireland could implement improvements based on the success of other countries. 

Take for example Germany’s approach to medtech RD&I, which has been fostered through upskilling and training opportunities often offered online or through university training courses. These programmes often incorporate elements adjacent to the RD&I process, such as teamwork, reimbursement and business skills to build a well-rounded set of transversal skills, as well as specific knowledge. 

Likewise, Ireland should take note of Costa Rica, which has seen its medtech sector grow to more than 30,000 people in the last 20 years, prompting developmental agencies to establish at least 40 training initiatives in support of this growth. The report indicates that the region has a flexible and responsive HR element that can adapt without sacrificing productivity. Costa Rica has partnered with the US to advance processes and research. 

Meanwhile, the UK offers “a robust offering of short courses” for the sector, according to the report. A number of experts cited Cambridge University’s training as the “gold standard” for sustainability professionals.

Speaking at the report launch, Irish Medtech chair and CEO of Mergon Group Padhraic McGinn noted that Ireland, like all international hubs, is subject to macro trends, such as accelerated digitalisation, automation and AI. 

“We’re also seeing changing ways of working, and a growing focus towards sustainability, which will impact not only on how the sector operates, but also how we develop talent,” said McGinn. “As a business leader, it’s worth noting that in terms of transversal skills, problem solving, leadership and project management are in the highest demand as business enablers.”

Dr Eoghan Ó Faoláin, the director of Irish Medtech, said that Ireland’s medtech sector must remain adaptable “as the international landscape of the medtech industry continues to shift and evolve”.

O’ Faoláin said the growth of RD&I in particular, at 7pc annually, highlights the need to equip the workforce with the necessary skills to enable Ireland’s medtech sector to move “up the value chain to compete internationally”.

Find out how emerging tech trends are transforming tomorrow with our new podcast, Future Human: The Series. Listen now on Spotify, on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts.

Laura Varley
By Laura Varley

Laura Varley is a Careers reporter at Silicon Republic. She has a background in technology PR and journalism and is borderline obsessed with film and television, the theatre, Marvel and Mayo GAA. She is currently trying to learn how to knit.

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