Manufacturing sector overview

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Although recognised as a major global player in terms of the provision of services and export in terms of produce, Ireland is misleadingly believed not have a huge international manufacturing footprint. This is very misleading in terms of the scale of the manufacturing industry here, which have benefitted from significant government investment and years of neglect to now deliver the highest output levels in the European Union.

There are over 4,000 manufacturing firms operating in Ireland (2016 data) with 82% of them based outside Dublin. There are also approximately 150,000 people employed within this sector, making it one of the largest employers in the country.

Manufacturing firms contribute a massive 24% of national economic output while they also generate a €12 billion market in terms of purchasing from Irish suppliers and in total, manufacturing firms invest over €3 billion in the Irish economy. Almost two-thirds of manufacturing output is produced by indigenous companies and a third of those operating in the manufacturing sector have a turnover in excess of €20 million.

Manufacturing sector strengths

One of the strengths of the manufacturing sector in terms of employment is that firms operating in this area are traditionally large-scale employers. For example, 21% of companies in manufacturing in Ireland employ more than 250 staff and 62% say that their business has increased sizably since 2015.

In terms of the types of innovation that deliver best in Ireland, it has been recommended to government by the employer group IBEC that research and innovation based manufacturing is vital to a small, open economy like Ireland’s and that it is important that Ireland remains an attractive place to conduct research and development and innovation. The group have also advised government to reduce ‘red tape’ regulations and to focus on developing smaller players within the manufacturing sector who have the capability to develop into larger manufacturers within the ‘smart’ economy which the government has consistently said it is keen on fostering.

Regional jobs

With 82% of manufacturing employment based in regional areas, and with regionalisation of huge importance in terms of driving sustainable nationwide employment, there has been considerable focus on the infrastructural needs of major players in the manufacturing sector, particularly those related to the medical, pharmaceutical and biomedical sectors.

A recent report in the Irish Times (September 2018) said that the Irish manufacturing sector was gaining significant momentum, with the Investec Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) rising to a seven month high of 57.5. 56 percent of those surveyed for the report said that they expected a rise in production over the coming year, with just 4% anticipating a decline. With manufacturing obviously and import and export driven business, the effects of Brexit are particularly threatening and while the Irish PMI stood at an annual high, by contrast the UK PMI was at its lowest level for more than two years with both the rate of output and new orders slumping significantly. Effectively there has been zero growth in manufacturing production there. Ireland’s manufacturing rates recorded the highest levels of any country in the EU in August, with 15% growth. Enterprise Ireland’s latest research shows that 57 per cent of those surveyed had moved to protect themselves from Britain’s exit from the European Union. Approximately 84% of those surveyed were exporting to the UK, while two thirds were sending their goods to the eurozone. The Enterprise Ireland report also indicated that the Eurozone offered the best opportunities for growth in the near future.

Skills Required

In terms of what sectors of study employers are most interested in recruiting graduates from, engineering is particularly important, but also are areas such as technology, any area of science, food science, business, marketing and many more.

Employers also greatly value applicants having relevant, or indeed any, work experience. Many undergraduate and postgraduate programmes these days do incorporate an element of work experience or work placement, so of particular interest to employers are those who have sought out particularly relevant experience and can of course demonstrate experience as to how this has added to their skills sets. In terms of ’employability’, which is how employers measure how work-ready applicants really are, many graduates need to work on developing their commercial awareness and initiative skills and how they can function most effectively as part of a larger team. Knowledge of a foreign language is something that’s always important to employers, but particularly in Ireland as it is such an export driven market.


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