Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 3 November 2015
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation
Increasing Employment through Training: Innopharma Labs
I remind members, visitors and those in the Public Gallery to ensure their mobile telephones are switched off for the duration of the meeting as they interfere with the broadcasting equipment, even when in silent mode.
I welcome Dr. Ian Jones, chief executive officer of Innopharma Labs, to the meeting to discuss the potential to increase employment by upskilling and reskilling people in pharmaceutical, medical technology and food-based education programmes.
Before we commence, in accordance with procedure I am required to read the following. By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to this committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. Witnesses are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I remind our guest that his presentation should be no more than ten minutes in duration. Members have been circulated with the presentation submitted. I invite Dr. Ian Jones to make his presentation.
Dr. Ian Jones:
Dia dhaoibh a Chathaoirligh, a Theachtaí Dála agus a Sheanadóiri. I thank the committee for the invitation and this opportunity to speak today. I will read my three page presentation and then will be delighted to answer any questions members may have.
Innopharma Labs is an award-winning Irish technology and training company. I set up the company in 2009 after having worked in the pharmaceutical sector for ten years and then the food sector for four years. In terms of the technology side of the business, we operate a research and development budget in excess of €8 million in collaboration with multiple international academic institutions and industries. We sell these analytical technologies globally to the pharmaceutical, medical technology, food and fine chemical sectors. One of the things we do is to develop sensors and cameras that control how one binds powders together before proceeding to make tablets. We are now in more than 20 countries around the world. Earlier this year we launched our business in India and that is where we hope there will be major growth in the market for the technological side of the business over the next five years.
Education is another side of the business. We are one of this country's leading providers of innovative training programmes in the pharma, food technology and medical devices industries. We employ 27 full-time staff and more than 40 associate lecturers and industry professionals. Our courses are run nationwide in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick and along the east coast.
Through the Springboard and MOMENTUM initiatives, in excess of 2,000 people have completed our upskilling and training programmes since 2010 which have focused on providing in-demand industry skills. Over 70% of participants have returned to employment within six months of completing their programme and many people have returned to employment before the six-month mark. This proves that the Innopharma Labs' specifically recruited team and jobs-centred approach works.
I will outline the opportunity for Ireland.
The economy is recovering with the private sector creating jobs. The pharmaceutical and medtech sectors never stopped creating jobs as they have been doing well even during the past five years. A gap has emerged, however, in providing the necessary qualified personnel in Ireland’s science, technology and engineering sectors, particularly the pharmaceutical, food technology and medical devices industries. Positions are, and will be, available but major companies in Ireland struggle to fill them with Irish graduates and workers at present. Attracting appropriately skilled labour into Ireland can be expensive. There is a global shortage of personnel with such STEM skill sets, and this is not confined to Ireland. I have been to India twice this year. Even India is struggling although it is producing 2.5 million science and engineering graduates every year. This is an international challenge. It is also leading to the outsourcing of some of the services that we could provide in Ireland when we are building a new pharmaceutical company or supporting an existing company in engineering facility design and start up activities. This skills deficit is a risk to the accelerated growth currently being experienced by these industries and will have an impact on future foreign direct investment decisions in the life science sector.
What I am saying is no longer news. The expert skills groups from 2013 to 2015, inclusive, have been discussing the skills gaps and have invested in upskilling programmes, such as Springboard and Momentum, in these sectors. There is also a consensus that Ireland needs to increase its output of STEM graduates over the next five years. A further education and training strategy document dealing with that was published by SOLAS last year. We want to anchor our current graduates in Ireland in order to meet the needs of technology and science driven companies. We want to ensure that our third level institutions are continuing to increase the number of science, technology and engineering graduates. We need to increase the number of secondary school students who study these subjects. We need to ensure that we can attract people with those skills to return home. We need to hold on to our STEM graduates. We cannot let them go abroad unless they want to but we must ensure we have the right industries to keep them interested in staying in Ireland. Even after doing all that, we must ask how we can fill the gap that results from insufficient STEM graduates.
We must take the opportunity to upskill people from other sectors and using cross-skilling initiatives prepare them for the pharmaceutical sector. There are various ways to try to fill that skills gap. I am aware of the need to introduce an early warning system that would highlight at risk jobs, where redundancies may occur, and take the opportunity to transfer people from companies or industries that are at risk to higher value roles and-or roles where there are great opportunities for career development. We are interested in supporting such initiatives. There is a requirement to implement a nationwide approach to ensure there is a nationwide economic recovery.
Innopharma Labs proposes the expansion of an agile third level education fund that can rapidly react to industry skills needs and upskilling for the unemployed and at risk employed in Ireland through evaluating certain outcomes to ensure they meet current and future industry needs. I will outline some of the roles of this agile third level education fund. These projects should focus on enabling the long-term unemployed, particularly those under 25 years and recently unemployed, to return to work through upskilling; enabling those in at risk or in low-paid sectors to cross-skill to more stable and value-adding sectors; increasing the number of STEM based graduates and helping to meet national STEM targets through cross-skilling these at risk participants and people who are unemployed with STEM skills; enabling emigrants to return to Ireland through providing upskilling and bridging services; providing a rich supply of skill sets and human capital necessary to maintain the up-turn in high-tech manufacturing in Ireland over the next five years and beyond; and reacting to specific industry skill set needs in a rapid and flexible manner. Some components of this agile and nationwide third level upskilling are currently funded through Springboard and other similar upskilling initiatives. This could potentially continue to be the vehicle for funding such initiatives.
The jobs secured by Innopharma Labs trainees are located throughout Ireland, supporting balanced regional development. In the past year alone, more than 600 people trained by Innopharma Labs found jobs in high-end manufacturing who otherwise would have remained unemployed.
It is not just Dublin-based. As can be seen from the table, in Galway, there are well over 80 jobs, predominantly in the medtech sector. In Limerick, it was mostly medtech as well, involving mostly long-term unemployed individuals in a project we focused on there, which I will talk about later. There are 380 along the east coast from Waterford to Louth, including Dublin, in pharma, medtech, food and chemicals and, for example, Intel, which wanted to hire graduates with a good manufacturing qualification. They hire our graduates. There are food and pharma jobs in Cork. Westmeath and Roscommon, through a programme delivered in Athlone, are doing well in the medtech and pharma sectors predominantly, as are Kerry, Sligo and Mayo. Many of these 600 jobs went to jobseekers who were long-term unemployed. They would not have been filled through conventional approaches, as they were attained through a great deal of networking by our team and our graduates and support from the Innopharma Labs industry liaison team. That sounds fancy, but it involves people being on the road every day talking to companies in the pharma, medtech and food technology sectors and asking them questions such as what jobs they are hiring for, what skill gaps they have now and what skill gaps they will have next year, and whether they will consider hiring graduates from our programmes. We try to use a matchmaking process in which we engage with the industry and the graduates.
I refer to Exchequer savings to provide context and to validate the logic of the proposal. We are happy to provide detailed figures. Assuming an annual number of 10,000 students participating in upskilling, an average saving to the Exchequer per unemployed participant of €15,000 - currently the Government uses €20,000 as the calculated saving to the Exchequer when someone moves from unemployment to employment - an average annual starting salary of €30,000, or €18 per hour, which would be typical for graduates of our programmes based on these sectors, and an average worse-case cost per student to the programme of €6,000, there will be a direct net saving to the Exchequer of €120 million over five years. These are first-time graduates who do not have a third level qualification. To get people on the third level ladder and start thinking about higher-value roles is an intangible but it is important in terms of manoeuvring people who are unemployed or people who are at risk of employment in lower-value roles into higher-value roles with good career opportunities.
With student coaches supporting the participants, industry experts delivering the training, and industry liaison specialists engaging with companies on a daily basis, we have developed a tailor-made team for successful upskilling. Innopharma Labs' training programmes are designed in conjunction with industry - pharma, medtech and food companies - as well as representative bodies. This is one of the reasons behind the huge success rate for graduates in finding employment. With 70% of graduates finding employment within six months of programme completion, we are not only delivering for industry but helping to create jobs, because some of these jobs would not have been filled had our graduates and staff not been out networking and looking for opportunities. We picked an example in Limerick because it is ongoing and it is fresh in our minds. A recent upskilling programme with a focus on long-term unemployment has realised a back-to-work result of more than 70%, with graduates who were previously unemployed between 18 months and six years, some as far back as the Dell closures in 2009, now working in high-value roles within the local medtech sector in companies such as Teleflex Medical, Vistakon, Beckman Coulter and Reagecon.
Our programmes range from level 6, certificate level, all the way up to level 9, and our accreditation partners for the programmes are the Institute of Technology Tallaght, with which we have worked strongly for the past five years, and Griffith College for some of our pharma business programmes. We do a survey of industry every year and the feedback two years ago was that more graduates who were savvy in the pharma business, rather than pure technical graduates, were needed. They wanted good supervisors and managers who understood the bigger picture and could run meetings and so on.
Therefore, we developed several pharma business-type programmes in collaboration with Griffith College. From the initial programme design, student recruitment and intensive training, all the way through to taking up employment, the programmes are designed to support participants' job readiness. Work preparation, student coaching and industry engagement are integral components of the programmes.
I thank the committee for the opportunity to make this presentation. We at Innopharma Labs are very proud of what we do. Our team works really hard and it is very rewarding when we receive e-mails, as we do on a daily and weekly basis, from programme participants who were out of work for two years, for example, and have just got their first pay cheque. We have been involved in this initiative for the past five years and felt it was time to make the committee aware of our successes and explain what members are supporting on behalf of the taxpayer. Go raibh míle maith agaibh.
Thank you, Chairman. I welcome Dr. Jones. His company seems unique in having traditional technology bases and a training component. Will he indicate which came first, or have the two elements operated in tandem since the company was founded?
Dr. Jones referred to the programmes run by Institute of Technology , Tallaght and Griffith College, as well as a recent upskilling programme in Limerick and the jobs created in Galway. Are the programmes at ITT Dublin and Griffith College the only two currently operating in the country?
Dr. Ian Jones:
That is a good question. This all goes back to 2010 and it relates to the Deputy's first question about which aspect of our activities came first. I did a programme in Harvard in 2008 in the course of which I engaged with Massachusetts Institute of Technology on a number of projects. I was very interested in what I saw there, which was a really strong emphasis on education coupled with research and development activity and technology commercialisation. Nobody else in Ireland is doing what we do in the area of technology development. In fact, there are only a few companies in the world that do what we do in terms of the centres and technologies we develop. In 2009, when we were trying to figure out the risks that were presenting for our company, one of the issues we identified was that there were not many people who could service and sell our technologies and understand pharmaceutical processes in the way we needed them to do. In other words, we identified a need to develop our own skilled people. At that time there was a labour market activation fund call for education, and we worked with ITT Dublin to put in a call around that.
The typical graduate participating on that programme was an unemployed person who had perhaps worked formerly in the construction sector, had a civil engineering or architecture qualification and was good at managing people and projects. Together with ITT Dublin, we developed a level 8 special purpose award with a pharmaceutical focus which formed a subset of participants' final year degree in science. That programme was delivered over a six-month period, the objective being to bring people who were working in the construction sector through a successful transition to the pharmaceutical and medical devices sectors. That is an example of one of our programmes. In subsequent years, we listened to industry in order to understand where the unemployment challenges were. As a result, we went down the education ladder to level 6, to provide a pharma, medtech or food entry-type qualification for people with a leaving certificate. We also went up the ladder to provide a master's programmes for graduates who want to work in an analytical laboratory. Those graduates might come from an environmental science or forensics background but do not understand the tablet manufacturing side of things. The master's programme allowed them to transition into laboratory analyst roles in the pharma sector.
Dr. Ian Jones:
Absolutely. We align with examination timetables. The examinations occur in January and May, and we align with the repeat examinations, which are in August. They are our examination periods, in accordance with the accreditation partner. Typically, our programmes from levels 6 to 8 last between six and seven months. Our Master's programmes are one year, plus a thesis.
Do industries with vacancies or that predict they will have vacancies contact Innopharma Labs directly or indirectly asking whether it has anybody in a certain area or whether it can formulate a course in that area?
Dr. Ian Jones:
It is less about the formulation of the course and more the case that they would contact us, on foot of which we would engage with them. They would be familiar with the content of our courses. We have people on the road every day engaging with food, pharma and medtech companies, in addition to recruitment companies. We try to trigger vacancies and hiring, especially among small and medium-sized companies. Especially in the medtech and food sectors, there are smaller businesses and there is always concern over hiring people. They feel hassled figuring out who they should hire. That we are removing some of these barriers and making it easier for companies to hire people is helping them. We get calls from larger medtech or pharma companies if they are going through a major change. They might need five or ten extra staff, particularly at operator level, because they have got more orders and because their projections for the following year are looking really strong.
Dr. Ian Jones:
That is a matter we have really tuned into over the past 12 to 18 months. There is a real opportunity. We have not figured it out absolutely yet, but more returned emigrants are approaching us. It is more of a passive phenomenon right now. Emigrants return and then approach us saying they have certain skills and qualifications and they ask how they could enter pharma. That is the type of engagement. There are many more people who are still abroad who could benefit from these types of programmes.
The skills and experience emigrants generate abroad do not always match up with what exists in Ireland. Even with pharma, for example, there are more clinical trials, research and development and hardcore research abroad. Here there is less of that happening, but the returned emigrants would be brilliant at supporting roles more associated with formulation development and technical support. It is through generating an understanding of how that transfer could happen that we have helped people in the past. There are opportunities in that regard.
I was at a recent IBEC conference with businesses in Galway. The view was expressed that it is difficult to get technicians, for example. It was felt many people with qualifications were possibly overqualified or did not want to go down this road. Does Dr. Jones have involvement in this area, or does he envisage a role in this area?
I thank Dr. Jones for attending. This debate is really enlightening. We recognise that we must be much more flexible in the workforce because larger companies are changing rapidly.
I have been harping on about apprenticeships for many years. Did Dr. Jones make a submission to the Apprenticeship Council of Ireland at the time the question? He referred to an entry level of level 6. There are considerable opportunities for young people to get away from what was perceived as a third level style education and move towards a more practical, apprenticeship-based education. Has Dr. Jones done something on this?
I am delighted to hear that, because we need to expand the number of apprenticeship-type roles that we have. Over the years, third-level education institutions, particularly colleges and universities, have been very inflexible with regard to the requirements of the workforce. How does the witness find that? Are colleges becoming much more flexible and adaptable to what is required of a student emerging from college life in order to make him or her employable, as opposed to the course being the most important element? The end product should be a job for the student.
Dr. Ian Jones:
Traditionally, the institutes of technology would have filled that role, and they still have a role in that respect. There is a dichotomy between servicing a typical CAO or leaving certificate student and servicing an evening student who may be working. There is a third group - I suppose it is now a trichotomy - of people who are currently unemployed or unsure where they want to go, and who perhaps need to be supported more. That is where we seem to fit, and we find that we have been able to develop a structure and process in marketing to them. We advertise on Facebook and the Galway Advertiser, for example, not only to individuals but to mams, dads and grannies. They may see it and encourage people to meet us. We meet everyone who comes into our programme and do not take anybody unless we meet first to determine the level of motivation and suitability. That is not a bad thing, as we want to ensure people are comfortable signing up for a minimum six-month programme, especially if they have a mortgage - for example, if they are nine months behind on it and they have three kids. We do not want to waste such people's time. We want to ensure people will have a great chance of getting a role in the pharmaceutical, medical technology or food sectors.
When individuals come on our programme, we have life coaches who engage with everybody on a one-to-one basis to help them understand the position - this is their three-year plan or five-year plan - and help to manage the self-esteem issues or challenges that go side-by-side with being unemployed. We are engaged in the industry liaison side, helping people understand roles, providing introductions and facilitating matchmaking. We have developed a tailor-made process, and it would have been very hard for an institute of technology to do all that. The institutes of technology are still serving a very good role in terms of engagement with industry and being the third-level leaders in industry-focused education, but we see ourselves as having developed a strong role also.
Dr. Ian Jones:
We are accredited at a formal level by the Institute of Technology, Tallaght, on behalf of Quality and Qualifications Ireland, QQI, and directly with QQI through Griffith College. At a brand awareness level, we are finding that the Innopharma Labs certification or qualification is recognised more within the industry at all levels, from operator all the way through to an analyst working in a lab, as well as middle and senior management. Our team has come from the industry, so many of our team have been senior leaders internationally and domestically in pharma and medical technology companies. They know us as individuals and what our reputation stands for and also as a brand; we are lucky that five or six years later we have many alumni now hiring graduates. That is because they are alumni or they know and recognise our programmes.
How do students contact the organisation? There is a need for it. In the Naas area we have a severe shortage of high-level skills that are required. People are being brought from Spain and Portugal, which leads to other pressures. How do students contact the organisation and know what courses are being provided that may be suitable for what is needed in the area?
Dr. Ian Jones:
We engage directly with the Department of Social Protection offices, including in Naas and Newbridge.
We engage directly with them and help the Department of Social Protection officers to understand the profile of the suitable candidates we seek and where they could get jobs, and they provide introductions and enable us to have a stand to meet and present to people queuing for their social welfare benefits. As well as this direct interaction, we advertise in local and regional newspapers, which are great. We also use Facebook for clear profiling and very targeted marketing at national level.
I congratulate Dr. Jones on the great work in which he is involved. In November 2011, Fasttrack to Information Technology, FIT, came before the committee. This organisation involves information technology companies which work together to ensure the skills gaps in the sector are met in some fashion. It always strikes me as bizarre that although this country is still in an unemployment crisis we have a skills crisis in certain sectors, which is an international skills crisis as such. According to analysis, what are the skills gaps? Are there figures on the pharmaceutical and medical technology sectors in the State which show they are shy 5,000 or 2,000 staff? What is the analysis of the number shortages at skill levels from technician to doctorate level?
Dr. Ian Jones:
That is a good question, and I do not have the answer for the Deputy. The skills document published by the expert skills group in June or July referenced particular skills gaps. It did not mention numbers, but I can give Deputy Tóibín a broad overview if it would be helpful. The basic feedback we have from the industry shows that in the pharmaceutical and medical technology sectors in particular there are still skills gaps at operator level all the way through to specific technical roles, such as validation engineers, commissioning engineers and technology specialists. From an analytical perspective in the laboratory, there are also many gaps. We see opportunities to match these to unemployed people. If people do not have a third level qualification, their first would be at operator level. If people come to us with a degree in environmental science or another science qualification, they transition into laboratory roles. The validation-engineer-type roles which are cited as being a gap are rarely entry-level positions. People usually migrate there having previously worked as operators or laboratory analysts.
It strikes me that the skills gap has been a theme for the past four or five years. Is there any information on how the education sector has reoriented itself over the past four or five years to fill this skills gap? The CAO form has approximately 1,400 college courses. How have these altered over the past four or five years to resolve this problem?
Dr. Ian Jones:
I do not know. I know there was a trend towards the generalisation of degrees and a migration towards broader science qualifications, and I agree with this approach for 18 year old leaving certificate students. They should do a broad qualification first and then specialise once they understand the industry dynamics four years later, or if they figure out they do not like chemistry they can do something else. Beyond this trend towards more generalisation of qualifications, I am not aware of any other reaction measures by the institutes of technology or universities towards meeting specific skills gaps or industry requirements.
Yes. They are the two groups in respect of which there has been no success with regard to the creation of jobs and are the two stubborn elements in the context of the unemployment figures. How successful has Dr. Jones been in breaking those two groups down?
Dr. Ian Jones:
Some 400 of the 2,000 would have been long-term unemployed and approximately 250 of the 400 were aged under 25. Of the 2,000, some were unemployed for four, six or nine months and were aged 23 or 24. Probably 800 of the 2,000 would have been under 25. I would like to think that we activated their employment in some form before they met the categories of being both long-term unemployed and still aged under 25 years.
What is the position regarding Springboard, to which Dr. Jones referred? I know something about this initiative and it seems to have done a very efficient job. Is there anything he would like to see it do differently? If he was Minister, what changes would he make if he had the opportunity to do so?
Dr. Ian Jones:
I would also be complimentary of Springboard. It has been a very good partner with us. There is an opportunity in terms of broadening it to the at-risk group to which I referred, namely, people who may be about to be made redundant or who are in an at-risk or industry category. It could also be broadened to those who have a degree but are working in a corner shop and are stuck in a cycle whereby they cannot pursue a Springboard course unless they are unemployed but they do not want to be unemployed because they want to keep some money coming in. There is an opportunity for the category of people earning no more than €23,000 or €24,000 per year to further their education and career prospects by entering programmes such as ours by means of a Springboard-funded vehicle. That is another group in which we are very interested, as well as the emigrant group.
It is expensive to get our word out in Canada, the United Arab Emirates, Dubai or wherever, but there is a real opportunity to do so. We have dipped our toe in the water through Facebook in trying to attract people home and that has worked. People have returned from New Zealand, Australia and Canada in order to access our programmes. It is a small percentage because we have not marketed it sufficiently abroad. We are interested in attracting that cohort, as well as the groups that are at risk, those on lower wages of pay who should not be forgotten about - there are great opportunities for them to develop in their careers - and the emigrant Irish.
Dr. Ian Jones:
I will take the pharma sector as a example. In terms of challenges, we will have more and more automation. As a result, we will need more and more people with software, programming and strong hard engineering skills. The cloud will have much more influence. We are now trying to develop programmes and the technology side of our business is also migrating that way. Not only do we have a sensor which measures how granules are formed, we are also developing solutions so that we can see from Dublin how granules are being formed in Shanghai. Remote controlability is becoming very important and it will have an impact on the sector.
In the pharma and food sectors, there will be more automation and intensification. We need more and more people who understand lean processes and how to make products more efficiently and in a safe manner. That is something that will be a requirement as we grow. If we want to continue to grow our levels of employment in Ireland and attract foreign direct investment in the high-end manufacturing sector, we will need more people who have an appreciation for lean automation, working within teams and understanding processing data in terms of what it is telling them. All of those skills will be really important five years from now. They are already important.
I welcome Dr. Jones. It was a very interesting presentation. What percentage of the business of Innopharma Labs is on the training side? Perhaps I missed it in the presentation, but how long has the company been in business? How are the participants on the various courses funded? Are they sponsored through the MOMENTUM programme and Springboard? Does Innopharma Labs charge them a fee in addition? How does Innopharma Labs generate income from this operation?
What is the position for at-risk employees and employees potentially facing redundancy? Does Innopharma Labs get invited by companies to assist in planning the futures for those employees or do those companies come to Innopharma Labs? How is that interaction organised? I note that to date Innopharma Labs has put over 2,000 people through the programme. What is the business plan for the coming years? How does Dr. Jones envisage growing that business in the coming years?
Dr. Ian Jones:
Senator Mullins is starting to sound like my bank manager. My bank manager asked me many of those questions in terms of business growth. How long have we been in business? I founded the company in 2009, so we have been in business for six years. Approximately 40% or 45% of the work is on the education side and the other half is on the technology side. Do we charge? No. For State-funded projects, we do not charge anything on top of that - whether to the individual or the company. There are no placement fees or anything of that nature. We offer private programmes for people working in the pharmaceutical, medical device or food sectors. Our master's degree programmes are popular but there are also many people with a leaving certificate who are working in the pharma sector and who might have been doing so for the past 20 years. They are being encouraged by their employers to start thinking about third level. We are starting to engage with operators and technicians to get their first ever qualifications. That is part-funded by both industry and the employee.
Senator Mullins asked whether we charge on the non-Springboard side. We engage with pharma companies and medical device technology companies to try to develop bespoke programmes for them. However, that is a long process. We try to engage with various pharma companies to improve things, particularly on the pharma business side. Often these companies have supervisors who are good at operating a schedule and managing three or four people. The companies want these supervisors to elevate to team leader or manager positions where they can manage ten people, communicate the plan for the coming three months and so on. These pharma business programmes are proving to be very successful with industry.
There was a question about at-risk companies. It is a tricky question. What are the indicators which determine a company is at risk? I can offer examples of how we engaged with the Lufthansa employees but that case was after the fact. Some of those individuals were unemployed for six months before they came on one of our programmes. We would like to intervene earlier and act as a partner with at-risk companies earlier in the process. Given that I have name-checked Lufthansa, I am keen to point out that those involved have been brilliant employees in the transition to the pharma and medical devices technology sectors. They have high-end skills given their work with engines and other high-end equipment. The transition to the pharma and medical sectors has been quite a success for them.
I apologise for being late. I missed part of the presentation. Innopharma Labs strikes me as a rather unusual company in that, in the first instance, it is a direct employer and obviously a successful one. However, alongside that, the company provides training programmes and work for unemployed people who may then leave the company and go and work with competitors.
It strikes me as laudable, but unusual. Is taking that responsibility a unique approach?
Dr. Ian Jones:
There are no real competitors in Ireland for what we do. We are not a giant, but we have a global market for our sensors and our customer base in Ireland is not large. Conversely to what the Deputy said, it is industry-led education and we are the company that is leading it and developing content. This is based on an appreciation of an international dynamic not just a domestic one. We are engaged with Rutgers University, Purdue University, Pfizer, GSK, Boston Scientific, Kerry Group and so on around the world. We have a good appreciation of what is happening in those sectors globally and are developing content and programmes that meet the needs of those industries. Understanding the global dynamic ensures that our graduates are relevant at a domestic level as well.
There is no conflict. At least, we have never encountered one. We have hired many students from our programmes. That is brilliant, as they are adding great value to Innopharma Labs. If one considers our Springboard or Momentum programmes, our metric is all about getting people jobs. We do not mind whether they work with us, although we are delighted if they do. The most important factor is whether they get jobs and are happy.
Dr. Jones mentioned that Innopharma Labs was on Facebook. Does it have any other online presence? People might want to know whether the places that courses are being run suit them. Does the company have something they can check from the safety of their own homes instead of searching the company out physically?
Dr. Ian Jones:
Absolutely. Our website is www.innopharmalabs.com. We try to activate people to make a call to us as quickly as possible. We try to help them to join the dots and understand where they are at, where they could be and whether they are suitable. All of the content, the list of programmes that we run and when and where we run them are on our website. Usually, there is a three-month run-in to the start of a programme. We will advertise in local newspapers. It is an active marketing campaign rather than a passive one.
Dr. Jones mentioned the expansion of the third level education fund. Is there an example of that at EU level or elsewhere and how might that fund be financed? Would it be via public-private partnership, PPP?
Dr. Ian Jones:
I am unsure. The UK has the Skills Funding Agency, which reports to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills rather than the education Department. It is more industry led and has a budget of approximately £4 billion per annum. As to how the fund would be financed, that is to be determined. There would be an opportunity for a PPP. The UK has public and private education providers as part of its solution.
Dr. Ian Jones:
Only in my kids' national school. We encourage all of our engineers and scientists to get out into public schools, in particular national schools.
Given our age profile, most of us have children in national school rather than secondary school. We will get out and try to convert children early.
Dr. Ian Jones:
I will have to bring my wife with me next time because she has certain opinions. While I do not have an opinion on the teaching of mathematics, I believe we need to remove the routine schedule at general primary school level. I appreciate the reasons teachers like to have a routine and want to know what they will do between 9.30 a.m. and 10.30 a.m every day but we must, as a society, become more comfortable with change. The quicker that occurs, the better. The timetable at national school level needs to be rotated to ensure, for example, that Irish is not the only subject taught between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Subjects need to be rotated and it is important for all our children that we become comfortable with change as opposed to the status quo.
FIT, the fast track into technology programme, was referred to by an earlier speaker. This approach, which was developed in Dublin, is being extended to other European Union member states, with three pilot projects commencing this year in Spain, Portugal and Lithuania. Would Innopharma Labs consider expanding in a similar manner?
Dr. Ian Jones:
We would certainly consider doing so. I must be honest and state that I do not know much about the programme to which the Chairman refers or the opportunities available to expand into the rest of Europe. However, we would be interested in understanding more about this issue. We know, for example, that the Spanish pharmaceutical market is similar in size to the market in Ireland, employing approximately 40,000 employees directly and indirectly. The Irish and Spanish markets are, therefore, a good fit, as is the market in Italy. There may be opportunities elsewhere, particularly in areas where unemployment levels are high, notably among those aged under 25 years. With good science and engineering qualifications, there could be a good fit.
If it would be helpful, we will put Dr. Jones in touch with FIT to establish how it linked in with Europe to secure funding to roll out its programme in other countries. I will circulate the details to Dr. Jones.
I thank Dr. Jones for engaging with the joint committee in what has been a most interesting meeting. It was good to hear about the regional aspects of this issue. I am glad the opportunities available are not all centred in Dublin.