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Ireland’s life sciences sector is currently experiencing a period of growth and innovation, despite concerns about geopolitical and economic headwinds. According to the Irish Bioindustry Association (IBIA), the sector employs over 48,000 people and generates revenue of €22.5 billion per year. Additionally, a report by IDA Ireland shows that the life sciences sector has attracted €4.4 billion in foreign direct investment between 2015 and 2019, with multinational companies such as Pfizer, GSK, and Merck establishing significant operations in the country.

The Skills Gap Challenge​

However, as the sector continues to grow, there is a growing need to attract and retain skilled workers in order to maintain this momentum. According to a report by the IBIA, the skills gap is one of the main challenges facing the sector, with a shortage of skilled workers in areas such as biotechnology, medical devices, and pharmaceuticals. The IBIA estimates that the sector will require an additional 10,000 skilled workers by 2020 to meet the demand.

Addressing the Skills Gap ​

One solution that has been proposed to address this skills gap is the use of re-skilling and apprenticeship programs. These programs can help to provide workers with the necessary skills and knowledge to perform their jobs effectively in the knowledge economy. For example, the Irish government’s Apprenticeship Council has launched a program that aims to provide 3,000 apprenticeships in the life sciences sector by 2020. However, these programs may not always be the most effective solution as they can be costly and time-consuming.

Digitising of Manufacturing Processes​

Another approach that has been suggested is the digitisation of manufacturing processes. This can help to increase efficiency and productivity, while also reducing the need for manual labour. According to a report by Deloitte, digital technologies such as automation, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things (IoT) have the potential to increase productivity in the manufacturing sector by up to 30%. Gartner also suggests that by 2022, 40% of industrial manufacturers will use Industry 4.0 digital twin technologies to optimise industrial operations.

The Connected Worker Concept​

However, digitisation alone may not be sufficient to address the skills gap. Instead, a more holistic approach is needed that focuses on empowering and collaborating with workers. This is where the concept of the “connected worker” comes in. The connected worker is one who is equipped with the necessary technology and tools to perform their job effectively, while also being able to collaborate with other team members and access real-time data and information. The connected worker concept is a strategic approach that can help to solve the skills gap problem from within rather than outwardly looking for solutions.

Real-world Examples​

One example of a company that has successfully implemented this approach is Danone. The company has implemented a digital platform that allows its workers to access real-time data and collaborate with other team members. As a result, the company has been able to increase productivity by 20% and has also been able to attract and retain skilled workers. Other companies such as Siemens, GE, and Honeywell have also implemented similar programs with great success.

Conclusion​

In conclusion, the skills gap is a significant challenge facing the life sciences sector in Ireland, and it is important for companies to investigate and implement solutions to ensure the continued success of the sector. Re-skilling and apprenticeship programs can provide a short-term solution, but a more holistic approach is needed that focuses on digitising manufacturing processes and empowering and collaborating with workers. The connected worker concept is a good example of this approach and it has been successfully implemented by companies such as Danone. By adopting this approach, companies can help to attract and retain the skilled workforce they need to continue to innovate and grow in the knowledge economy.

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