Future bright for science and tech graduates, IDA exec tells students

THE FUTURE is bright for graduates in the science, technology, engineering and multilingual (STEM ) sectors, according to Industrial Development Agency (IDA ) senior executive, Brendan McDonagh.

His words came on the same day that online financial services company PayPal announced plans for 1000 jobs at its new operations centre in Dundalk, Co. Louth.

Mr McDonagh, the agency’s manager of planning, Ssrategy, EU Regulations, strategic Investments and RD&I Policy, was speaking at NUI Galway on Tuesday last. He was giving a guest lecture to 350 Transition Year students from across Galway city and county. The event was organised by the Galway Science and Technology Festival.

Despite perceptions that all was doom and gloom in the engineering sector, Mr McDonagh reassured those attending that this was not the case. “Engineering is alive and well and recovering fast,” he said.

IDA Ireland is responsible for attracting foreign direct investment into Ireland, which is a vital part of our economy. Foreign multinationals account for 250,000 jobs in Ireland, and 65 per cent of our corporation tax intake.

Last year, more than 13,000 jobs were created by foreign direct investment, a 20 per cent rise on the previous year. The role-call of multinational companies comprises of big names like Facebook, Google and Apple. Investment in the biotech sector is also vital to the Irish economy, with nine of the ten top global pharmaceuticals operating in Ireland.

Medical device manufacturing is another rising sector. Ireland has made an impact on the world thanks to medical manufacturing. One third of contact lenses and half of ventilators in acute hospitals worldwide are made in Ireland. One such medi-tech company is Creganna-Tactx based in Ballybrit.

However Mr McDonagh warned that Ireland needs to stay competitive. “It’s not just low cost economies we’re competing against,” citing the examples of the US as one country which is also fighting for multinational investment. Ireland scored highly in the IMD World Competitiveness Yearbook in 2011- top in the world for corporate tax and the availability of skilled labour.

“The job opportunities are there for graduates with skills,” said Mr McDonagh.

He also stressed the importance of looking beyond the usual places for foreign direct investment. The recent visit of Xi Jinping, the Chinese vice-president, was very important for Ireland’s image in Asia. “That amount of publicity is huge,” said Mr McDonagh. His visit was the “number one story” back in China, which will lead to increased investment, export and tourism between Ireland and China. In years to come, fast developing economies such as India will be sources of foreign direct investment.

A science career is “often portrayed as a dull, boring monotonous job” but that is not the case, as famous faces with science degrees include comedian Dara O’Brian and actress Lisa Kudrow. “It doesn’t confine you; it opens up doors,” he added.

Games development will be a huge growth sector in the next few years. “Online gaming is a big growth area, with a lot of jobs and a lot of opportunities,” he told the audience. Companies such as EA and Blizzard Entertainment (the company behind online game World of Warcraft ) already have bases in Ireland.

In his closing remarks, Professor Garry Lyons of NUI Galway urged optimism. Ireland’s greatest asset is its young, highly-educated population, and recalling a sense of “doom and gloom” felt at a similar event last year, he said. “twelve months on, how things have improved.” Citing the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter, Professor Lyons said we were going through a period of “creative destruction”. Out of a crippling recession, there “grows a period of tremendous opportunity” and Ireland is primed to take advantage.

Mr McDonagh also stressed the importance of youth to the Irish economy. “It’s a great opportunity to engage with them at this time. It’s a great initiative by the Galway Science and Technology Festival to engage with them when they’re making decisions about their future.”.


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