Ireland must keep collaboration lines open between industry, academic and State bodies to foster the next generation of budding engineers, say engineering interest groups.
Engineers, particularly those with ICT skills, are very much in demand across all industries with roles in areas from software to mechanical engineering. For Ireland to stay on top of its game, those in the sector say it is vital that industry, special interest groups and the Government collaborate to ensure the next generation of engineers is being supported.
As Google’s engineering site lead for Dublin Dr Jessica McCarthy told Silicon Republic this week, the growing skills gap in engineering “needs to be addressed urgently” to help businesses deal with industry demands. A focus on bringing more diversity into this sector is also important, she added.
McCarthy sponsors the Generation Google Scholarship, which awards women studying computer science or computer engineering in Ireland €5,000 a year for the duration of their undergraduate degree.
Luckily, there are lots of other skills programmes and initiatives aimed at nurturing engineering talent in Ireland.
Engineers Ireland, the representative group for engineers around the country, runs Engineers Week every March. This year’s event wraps up today (Friday, 11 March).
The annual celebration of the engineering profession involves highlighting the importance of engineers of all disciplines. For 2022, Engineers Ireland director general Caroline Spillane said she wished to emphasise the importance of good cooperation between the body and its industry and academic partners to nurture Ireland’s engineers.
Steps for schools
One of Engineers Ireland’s major outreach initiatives is its Steps programme targeting primary and secondary school students.
“By affording students with opportunities to engage with engineering role models or to experience a real-life engineering setting, industry can provide hands-on immersive learning experiences and showcase the limitless opportunities a career in the sector can offer,” Spillane said.
For the last three years, Engineers Ireland has had Intel on board as a strategic partner for the programme. Intel Ireland factory manager Joe English said that working together with local communities and schools is something his company values.
‘The questions children ask would fill a day of discussion and their interest reminds me how special it is to work with such technology every day’
– PAT ENNIS
As well as getting involved in Engineers Week, Intel also encourages its staff to volunteer for other STEM outreach roles, such as judging the Steps Young Engineers Award primary school competition, presenting to transition-year students at interactive career talks, and running the Intel Mini Scientist competition.
This annual science competition gives primary schools students across Ireland a chance to put their thinking caps on and learn through science projects and experiments. Earlier this week, Síofra Ní Scanláin of Gaelscoil na Gcloch Liath in Co Wicklow was named Intel Mini Scientist 2022 for her project studying insects in rivers.
“Engineers Week provides a very important opportunity for us to further connect with students and to share our insight into the world of engineering with them. This year we were also very excited to have the chance to host our Mini Scientist grand final in the same week,” English said.
Intel Ireland engineer and school outreach volunteer Pat Ennis added that the children are “so interested and genuinely want to learn more about engineering”.
“The questions they ask would fill a day of discussion and their interest reminds me how special it is to work with such technology every day,” Ennis said. “I love volunteering at the schools. It’s the excitement they have for the simplest things that makes it special – a straw bridge or a balloon rocket gets their imagination running wild and they are visibly giddy with delight.”
Apprenticeships for teens
For secondary school students who may be interested in a career in engineering, Engineers Ireland also runs a Transition Year programme called Engineering Your Future, offering students immersive work experience in the sector.
Some of Ireland’s top engineering employers, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), ESB, DBFL Consulting Engineers, Palliare, Fingleton White and Clandillon Civil Consulting, will join 13 third-level institutions across the country this year to host more than 550 transition-year students.
The initiative will run for three to five days between March and May, during which time participants will attend interactive talks and presentations, visit local industry organisations and meet engineers at various stages in their careers. They will also have the chance to get involved in hands-on group activities.
This is the 10th year of the programme. Supported by the Department of Education, Arup, EPA, ESB, Intel and Transport Infrastructure Ireland, the scheme has already provided more than 2,500 students with the opportunity to explore the engineering profession.
“As a knowledge-based economy and an island nation, we have a reliance on the quality and quantity of our STEM graduates,” said Spillane. “Ireland needs a steady supply of engineers, with the necessary skillset, to boost local economies, create new jobs, facilitate sustainable development and meet Government ambitions.”
She encouraged young people to apply for the programme via Engineers Ireland’s website.
According to engineer Laura Burke, director general at the EPA, one of the programme’s supporting partners, engineers and other STEM professionals “are at the very heart of everything” it does.
“In our work, whether in assessing the quality of Ireland’s environment, the pressures being placed on it and the societal responses to current and emerging environmental issues, all rely on the ingenuity and dedication of engineers and their STEM colleagues,” she added.
Engineering trade group
Late last year, Irish business interest group Ibec launched a new association called Engineering Industries Ireland dedicated to representing engineering businesses and providing employer relations, industry insight and networking opportunities for members.
It is also very focused on nurturing future engineering talent, according to its strategy report for 2022 to 2025. One of the strategy’s key pillars outlines the need for lifelong learning in the workplace, nurturing diverse talent and attracting new talent to the sector via engagement programmes such as Engineers Ireland’s Steps programme.
The report warned that despite Ireland’s excellent skills base, first-class education system and thriving R&D sector, an “overheating of the market can be observed” and the lack of specialised skills “is holding back the upswing of the engineering industries” here.
“There is also an underrepresentation of certain groups progressing into engineering, particularly females and those from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds.”
Pauline O’Flanagan, the group’s lead, said the vision of Engineering Industries Ireland is for the country to become a “global engineering centre of excellence” where multinationals and homegrown companies collaborate to drive innovation and economic growth.
“Ireland’s engineering sectors underpins much of the Irish and global manufacturing and services economy and is responsible for over 46,000 jobs,” she added.
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