Tánaiste urges focus on education and innovation

10 Jul 2003

The Tánaiste Mary Harney TD has urged a strong focus on education and training, in addition to greater investment in research, technology and innovation as key factors in maintaining Ireland’s competitiveness.

She was speaking at the launch of a report published by the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs (EGFSN) in association with the Institution of Engineers of Ireland (IEI) entitled The Demand and Supply of Engineers and Engineering Technicians.

“Ireland’s economy is undergoing fundamental change and the challenge is to keep pace with that change so that we can consolidate and build on the huge progress we have made in recent years,” said the Minister for Enterprise, Trade & Employment. “Ireland is no longer a low-cost economy and we can no longer compete, for example on labour costs, with less developed economies. That means that many traditional, labour-intensive industries are moving out of Ireland and relocating to other parts of the world. The way in which we respond to these changes is critical to our future economic prosperity.”

The Tánaiste called for a multi-faceted response to the issue and said that Ireland must become more productive, promote competition and regulatory reform, and invest in infrastructure. She also urged greater investment in research and development, in technology and innovation, in product development and design. “We must concentrate less on making other people’s products and more on designing and making our own,” she said.

“IDA Ireland has already put in place a series of initiatives which reflect these changing priorities and which concentrate less on jobs numbers and more and more on job quality, which concentrate less on Ireland as a straightforward manufacturing location and more and more and a centre for innovation and strategic management,” she pointed out.

The Government has said it is to invest close to €700m over the next few years in basic research and development. This investment, through Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), will help to make Ireland a centre for world-class research in the key growth areas of ICTs and biotechnology. Last week the Government passed legislation to put SFI on a statutory footing.

“As Ireland seeks to move up the value chain, the emphasis will be on encouraging companies to locate higher value-added activities including product and process development capabilities here,” said the Tánaiste. She added that Ireland needs to provide a labour force capable adapting to these activities in order to be successful. “We must ensure that Ireland has the right mix of skills to allow us to move successfully to the next phase of our economic development. This concentration on higher value activities will require greater numbers of highly qualified graduates. We must continue to review and adapt our entire enterprise offering, including skills, to ensure that Ireland is in the best position possible to compete against increasing global competition.”

The minister expressed her concern at the declining numbers choosing third level courses in engineering and the sciences, adding that reversing this trend should be made a priority. “In this country we have great talent, great ideas and a tradition of great engineering. We must build on this and ensure we have a sufficient supply of engineering skills to meet the demands of a knowledge-driven economy. Certainly, a supply of new engineers with enthusiasm, creative ideas and vision to drive forward our engineering capability is critical to securing economic success.

“I want Irish industry to be a byword for quality and innovation. These characteristics will be the key drivers of our overall economic progress and they will be fuelled by a strong engineering and scientific workforce,” she concluded.

By Gordon Smith