Failure to Invest in Physics R&D could cost Ireland over 80,000 jobs

Failure to invest in physics Research and Development (R&D) could cost Ireland the opportunity to create over 80,000 jobs over the next ten years, according to the Institute of Physics (IOP), the largest professional body for physics in Ireland and the UK. This warning comes as IOP preliminary research shows companies in Ireland are already facing critical skills shortages, hindering the sector’s development and growth.

To build on its preliminary research, the IOP today launched a new consultation into its R&D Blueprint, supported by Ibec. The Blueprint provides a platform for stakeholders to highlight barriers to a thriving R&D system in Ireland and actions to overcome these. Findings will enable the IOP to make informed recommendations to Government and policymakers to ensure the policy environment and overall conditions are conducive to a strong R&D system in Ireland.

Skills Shortages

The IOP’s preliminary research, supported by Ibec and titled Paradigm Shift, shows physics-based businesses in Ireland are already facing critical skills shortages, which is preventing investment in research and innovation:

—  46% of respondents cited skills shortages as a key challenge to undertaking R&D/innovation activity.

—  In addition, 95% said they experienced difficulties recruiting across the board, both for specialist and technical skills, but also for manufacturing and commercial roles.

—  The result of these skills shortages means 61% of respondents said R&D/innovation activity had to be suspended or delayed in the past five years.

—  In order to address the critical skills shortage, many companies looked further afield, with a third (33%) of respondents recruiting from outside the UK or Ireland.

Increased public funding required

While the IOP commends Government support for research and innovation – evident through Government’s recent Impact 2030 report – Paradigm Shift highlights the inherent need for increased public funding to ensure R&D can continue. To put it in context, 70% of respondents said public funding had helped fill financing gaps, without which the activities would not have been undertaken.

Looking ahead, 65% of respondents said greater access to direct funding for early-stage R&D could encourage more R&D/innovation activity, while 65% also noted long-term funding schemes could encourage more activity in the next five years.

In addition, greater access to finance, such as loans, was highlighted by 65% of respondents as a policy enhancement that would allow them to undertake more R&D/innovation activity.

Commenting, Tom Grinyer, Institute of Physics CEO, said: “Today we launch our new consultation with a warning that a failure to invest in physics R&D could cost Ireland the opportunity to create over 80,000 jobs. Our R&D Blueprint, which will gather insights from the wider physics community, will enable us to make key recommendations to Government and policymakers to ensure Ireland does not lose out on essential job opportunities.

We are at a crucial point, as our preliminary research shows companies are already experiencing critical skills shortages, which is hampering growth, and are now looking abroad to fill these positions. As a driver of innovation, investment in physics R&D means vital industry will be embedded in Ireland and the resulting benefits will be seen here.”

Professor Philip Nolan, Director General, Science Foundation Ireland, said: “The IOP’s new consultation is vital for the physics sector and the wider research and innovation community, as gathering views from the community will be key in enabling the IOP to make well-informed recommendations to Government and will help us adapt our strategies better to support physics research and physics-based innovation.

The IOP’s preliminary research clearly shows there are important opportunities to be grasped if we are to accelerate physics-based innovation, and just how essential the Government’s support is in enabling innovation. I encourage those in industry to input into the IOP’s consultation so we can seize these opportunities and ensure a thriving physics R&D system in Ireland.”

Dr Sinead Keogh, Head of Sectors and Director, Ibec Medtech & Engineering Sectors, added: “Physics is an essential element in enabling new, ground-breaking technologies to be developed, which in turn can enhance Ireland’s competitiveness.  It is absolutely paramount that we invest in R&D to promote growth in the sector. While Government’s Impact 2030 report is a positive step, the IOP’s research clearly shows more public funding is required. As we look to the future, we must increase investment in R&D to address the evident skills shortage and drive job creation across the country.”