The first graduates of a unique degree in polymer processing, delivered jointly by Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT ) and IT Sligo, were conferred recently, and have begun to address what has been a growing skills shortage in the country’s €2 billion polymer sector.
The degree was designed in 2009 in collaboration with Skillnets, the agency set up to fill skill deficiencies in particular industry sectors, and was designed after a survey of the industry in Ireland determined that there was an “urgent” need to address a skills shortage in the polymer sector which employs 1,000 people in Ireland.
This is the only qualification of its kind currently available on the island of Ireland and is delivered chiefly online as a distance learning programme, with some practical sessions scheduled throughout the year.
“The skill sets of these two institutions are appropriately married to meet this market need. On one hand, AIT’s long-standing leadership as a national centre for polymer development offers the benefits of access to state-of-the-art facilities and to research leaders, while on the other, Sligo’s proven expertise in online programme delivery offers a ready and easily accessible platform for learners in industry,” said Austin Hanley, head of the School of Engineering at AIT.
Head of the School of Engineering at IT Sligo, Frank Carter, believed the online element of the course offered important flexibility for the students, who could remain in employment while undertaking the training required for upskilling.
Skillnets and a number of leading companies in the polymer industry initiated the development of the course when an urgent need for skilled graduates in the growing industry become apparent.
“We approached IT Sligo because of their excellent track record in online delivery which has made it very accessible to students, many of whom are working full-time. We look forward to continuing our support for this programme, which is fulfilling an acute industry need,” said Catherine Collins of First Polymer Training Skillnet, who provided the funding for the degree.
Programme Support Manager with Skillnets, Mat Kujawa, said it is confident that the course is contributing positively to the polymer industry. “Skillnets is delighted to have supported the development and delivery of the BEng in Polymer Processing. This programme, which is the only qualification of its kind in Ireland, has helped address skill shortages experienced by the plastics industry through the delivery of up-to-date, flexible training and we are confident that these newly acquired skills will make a real difference in the workplace.”
Pat Whyte of Irish Micro Mouldings in Inverin in Co Galway, was one of the employers involved in the development of the course and an employee of his company is amongst the first cohort of graduates from the BEng.
“This course has filled a huge gap in education and training of much needed plastics engineers in several industries – particularly the medical device area, which was of particular interest to us. We are delighted to have one of our employees Jonathan Martin as one of the first graduates. Since the start of the course Jonathan has taken on more plastics-based projects with great gusto and enthusiasm and Irish Micro Mouldings were already reaping the benefits long before the course finished. This was a win-win for all involved,” he said.