Home » Manufacturing » How close university-industry collaborations are helping to bridge manufacturing skills gap

As the war for manufacturing talent intensifies, one Irish university is working with industry partners to close the skills gaps with various enterprise-focused educational pathways.

Low unemployment and skill shortages fuel talent competition in Irish manufacturing. University of Limerick leverages industry relationships for collaborative initiatives to bridge the skills gap.

This encompasses Ireland’s largest and longest running cooperative programme, allowing students to apply classroom learning to real-world settings and connect with industry partners. It also offers tailored training and continuing education for upskilling with up-to-date industry requirements.

Big pharma sees UL as an important stakeholder in cultivating talent, from undergraduates and postgraduates, because of their embedded problem-solving, critical thinking and technical focus. Undergraduates complete work placements and, after graduation, host companies tend to rehire them.

At the Bernal Institute, dedicated instrument scientists provide problem-solving services to manufacturing sites nationwide. University staff detail a unique approach to skills training and collaboration, addressing talent pipeline issues and creating enterprise value.

How is the university helping to address the war for talent?

“By producing more industry-ready graduates who can hit the ground running. For example, we’ve launched a new Integrated BE/ME Digital Mechatronic Engineering programme that explores robotic and industrial automation and includes a placement in a relevant industry setting. We designed the course in response to industry demand; it attracted 70 students in its inaugural year. As a young university, we’re agile and can adapt quickly to what the industry is looking for.”

— Professor Conor McCarthy, Digital Mechatronics Engineering

How important are industry-university partnerships?

“Industry partnership is key to forging manufacturing excellence. The Bernal Materials Research Institute is always poised to fuel innovation and position the university as a leader in education and research. Placing industry-experienced staff within the Institute has created a unique environment — one where people from academia and industry meet and speak each other’s language. Our analytical services are driven by world-class instrument scientists who work with every size of partner from startups to multinationals. The knowledge and experience levels they have is phenomenal.”

— Ray O’Brien, Bernal Institute, Enterprise and Research Services

Industry partnership is key to
forging manufacturing excellence.

Ray O’Brien

How does the university’s approach create value for enterprise?

“The Mid-West has the biggest concentration of multinationals outside of Dublin. UL collaborates with industry players on our doorstep to help fill their talent gaps through development of learning pathways; pathways that meet the learner where they are; short, accredited modules (microcredentials) — enabling progression to a Professional Diploma or Masters. With a significant portfolio of microcredentials — short, sharp, accredited modules — we enable professional learners to top up or convert their skills for career progression.”

— Geraldine Carroll, Professional Education Manager

How does the university meet career advancement needs of professional learners?

“Professional learners have unique educational needs. We cater to them with a wide variety of programmes, whether it’s our Professional Doctorate or a portfolio of Master’s programmes, many are delivered online. We have Professional Diplomas that learners can stack to build a customised, interdisciplinary Master’s degree, and we offer a range of microcredentials linked to these professional diplomas. The post-grad programmes we develop with our industry partners frequently inform our undergraduate degrees and help keep them up to date.”

— Professor Ann Ledwith, Director, Human Capital Initiative

What makes the university’s approach to industry engagement different?

“UL has a well-developed community of practice, highly skilled in supporting industry challenges. Whenever a company approaches us with a requirement for a capability that we rarely don’t possess, we take the initiative to tap into our extensive network to assist in finding a solution. As academics, we visit our students on-site and meet their managers. This nurtures our relationship further and ensures that both parties are getting the maximum benefit from that placement.”

— Dr Eoin O’Connell, Associate Professor, Electronic and Computer Engineering Dept.

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