Tuesday, 23 November 2004
Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment
Question 278: To ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he has carried out an evaluation of the employment opportunities in the electronic engineering and microelectronics sector; if there has been a decline in employment in these sectors; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29939/04]
Electronics and microelectronics is a sub-sector of the information communications technology sector, which was reviewed as part of the Forfás technology foresight report in 1999. Employment in Enterprise Ireland-supported companies classified as being sub-sectors of electronics and including microelectronics, fell by 5% to 12,600 between 2002 and 2003 and is expected to remain at this number for the remainder of 2004.
Employment and wealth creating opportunities for indigenous clients in electronics are under continuous review at Enterprise Ireland. To maximise the potential of companies in the electronics and microelectronics sector, Enterprise Ireland is focused on supporting activities, including the development of the export revenue stream of client companies, by structured direct engagements with the Enterprise Ireland network of overseas offices. Other activities include accelerating the competitiveness and technology development of key client companies; increasing the number of sub-supply companies with international reach and overseas presence, especially in Europe and the CEE; driving the development of proprietary products in sub-supply companies using the various Enterprise Ireland, research and development support and incentive programmes; driving the development of the photonics industry in Ireland in line with the agreed initiatives as set out in the Enterprise Ireland strategy for 2002-07.
This strategy includes supporting research and development from basic research through to commercialisation; encouraging the start up of photonics-based companies; exploitation of the technology in existing companies; facilitating collaboration across the sector; and branding Ireland as a centre of excellence in photonics. In Ireland, the photonics industry is still in its infancy, with approximately 12 indigenous pure play photonics companies, all Enterprise Ireland client companies, with a combined turnover of approximately €35 million in 2003. The strategy also aims to progress the implementation of the strategy and plan for the electronics sector, agreed by the Enterprise Ireland board in 2001. The strategy encompasses export development, scale, competitiveness, technology development, new business sectors such as photonics, regional development, infrastructure and funding.
IDA Ireland, through its information communications technology division, and network of overseas offices, is working to secure additional investment in Ireland from both new target companies, and its exiting client base, with a view to creating new employment opportunities within the sector. Employment in IDA supported overseas companies within the information communications technology sector over the last five years was 45,651 in 1999, 52,624 in 2000, 46,513 in 2001, 43,660 in 2002 and 41,459 in 2003. The recent global economic downturn impacted heavily on corporate information technology spending, and resulted in significant global job losses across the information communications technology sector. Job losses in Ireland's information communications technology sector were disproportionately lower than those experienced in other countries.
FÁS has not carried out a study of these sectors in recent times. The fourth report of the expert group on future skill needs, published in autumn 2003, included chapters on information communications technology skills and engineering skills. Information communications technology skills relate to both the hardware and software parts of the information communications technology sector including electronic engineering and microelectronics. The information communications technology sector has been a key focus of the expert group on future skills needs over recent years. The Government has responded positively to the reports of the group by increasing significantly the provision of computer and engineering courses within the third level sector, as well as a variety of activities in primary and second level schools through the information communications technology investment fund.
The expert group's 2003 report estimated that employment in the information communications technology sector would grow by 11% across the sector from 2004 to 2010. Microelectronics design is an area of high growth potential, and a significant source of potential demand for degree graduates in electronic engineering. Significant growth is expected in the international delivery of services over the Internet and mobile networks. Mixed trends are expected in electronic hardware and systems, with lower value added activities likely to continue to migrate out of Ireland. However, some areas of high-end manufacturing are expected to grow along with a variety of back-up, support and research and development activities. While employment in the information communications technology sector has fallen in recent years, Ireland has performed better than most in terms of restricting the impact of the global downturn on employment levels here.