The Irish polymer industry plays a vitally important role in almost every area of our lives from food packaging through advanced medical devices to next generation air transport solutions and beyond. As such it must keep pace with ever more rapid technological advances while contending with a range of powerful disruptive forces including pressure to become ever more sustainable, rising raw material costs, unprecedented supply chain disruptions, along with an evolving and increasingly complex regulatory environment.
First Polymer Training (FPT) Skillnet supports companies to meet these challenges by offering funded training and education to help them acquire the talent and skillsets needed to utilise the latest technologies and processes as well as by providing market intelligence and insights to prepare them for future developments. Established in 1999, FPT Skillnet has long been Ireland’s ‘go to’ provider of training and education for the sector. Programmes offered span the full qualifications spectrum from Level 5 right the way through to Level 10 with degree level courses being provided in conjunction with partner institutions Technological University of the Shannon (TUS) Midlands and the Atlantic Technological University (Sligo).
Last year, 560 people participated in FPT Skillnet programmes. Overall, some 130 companies from across the industry have availed of these programmes with more than 70 companies participating regularly.
The polymer industry in Ireland is made up of more than 200 highly innovative companies which between them generate sales of €1.7 billion and €1.25 billion in exports, according to Mark McAuley, Director of Polymer Technology Ireland, the Ibec trade association which represents the interests of the polymer industry in Ireland, and which is the promoting body for FPT Skillnet. “The sector is a significant employer paying out €266 million in wages annually to more than 6,500 people. It’s a very advanced sector producing high quality precision products and components for high tech industries like ICT, MedTech, automotive, and aerospace,” he says.
“The industry is in competition for highly skilled people like every other sector,” McAuley adds. “That’s where the FPT Skillnet comes in. It provides high quality training and education programmes for industry employees and people seeking to enter the sector. Those courses simply aren’t available anywhere else in Ireland.”
And many of those courses are provided at heavily subsidised or no cost to FPT Skillnet member companies thanks to funding received from Skillnet Ireland, the agency responsible for advancing the competitiveness, productivity and innovation of Irish businesses through enterprise-led workforce development.
FPT Skillnet combines unrivalled training expertise with deep industry knowledge, says Catherine Collins, Network Manager of First Polymer Training Skillnet. “We are able to leverage the resources of our promoting organisation –Polymer Technology Ireland, an Ibec trade association – to gain unique insights into the current and future skills needs of companies in the sector. We are also very fortunate to be guided by a voluntary steering group made up of senior industry representatives,” Collins explains.
“The steering group gives strong strategic direction. They advise us on course content and development and highlight current and future problems for the industry which can be addressed through training and education. That direct industry input allows us to anticipate developments which might affect the industry in future and build timely solutions to help companies and their employees prepare for them. The group also monitors our performance to ensure that our programmes remain relevant and aligned to industry needs.”
That breadth of expertise and knowledge is critically important in serving the needs of the Irish polymer industry which ranges from large multinational companies in the MedTech and automotive sectors to small indigenous polymer processors and manufacturers operating in intensely competitive global supply chains.
Those needs can be as seemingly straightforward as finding entry level production operatives or as complex as introducing cutting edge advanced manufacturing processes or incorporating the latest materials into those processes.
The common factor is skills. Without the people with the skills and qualifications to operate the production equipment, handle novel materials, manage existing processes and develop new ones, companies will fall behind their competitors both at home and overseas.
And without the services provided by FPT Skillnet, companies would have no choice but to go abroad for training or pay to bring trainers in from overseas. That is simply not an option for smaller Irish companies who would struggle to survive if they didn’t have access to the training and education provided by FPT Skillnet.
“The training wildly exceeded our expectations. FPT Skillnet has the ability to tailor courses to suit a company’s individual needs. The training was done in-house on our machines and the FPT Skillnet trainers made it interesting, relevant and useful.” Ann Jevens, MD Smallwares.
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