My first job as a Minister in Government from 2014 to 2016 was as Minister for Skills, Research and Innovation. I am now Minister for Housing and Urban Renewal.
In my previous job, as Minister for Skills, Research and Innovation, straddling both the Department of Education and Skills, and the Department of Enterprise, Jobs and Innovation my goal was to bring together industry and education in key areas to ensure that we got the best results for Ireland.
Below, I set out just some of the ways I went about this work.
The first is Apprenticeships.
Ireland has a good educational system at primary and secondary and third level. But there are significant gaps in how we build skills in Ireland, and there is a growing demand for skilled workers.
Apprenticeships combine the best of classroom and practical on the job training are key to building skills for a 21st Century economy, but Ireland is lagging in the provision of Apprentice places.
Apprenticeships offer massive potential to equip Irish workers with saleable skills – and provide real jobs for real people.
So what are we doing to grab this opportunity? For starters we need to think that apprenticeships are much more than jobs in the construction sector.
So, we have brought together, onto an Apprenticeship Council, all of the key players –business leaders, unions, educationalists and state agencies to do two things:
One, identify the trades that would most benefit from a re-invigorated programme of Apprentice Schemes – 25 new schemes will begin in 2016
Two, put in place supports to develop these schemes.
The Group is led by Pat Doherty, the CEO of ESB. Pat is leading by example – the ESB recently announced that it would recruit 300 Apprentices over the next five years at a cost of over €40m.
Let me turn now to supporting Science and Innovation.
Another great source of future employment are jobs which come from science and innovation. Science is a critical driver of a modern economy, and innovation is changing the way we live every day.
Smartphones, tablets and greater IT access and literacy have changed the way both young and old access news, listen to music, and engage with our family and friends.
Nor is innovation confined to high tech gadgets – if you had potatoes for dinner this week the chances are you were eating Roosters, which were originally bred at the Teagasc Oak Park Research Centre.
Ireland has developed.
Our 12½ percent corporation tax rate is a significant factor for Foreign Direct Investment.
But in the last fifteen years Ireland has become a research and development location with a growing international reputation for research in immunology, nanotechnology, nutritionals, computer science, and advanced materials.
Nature, the scientific publishing journal, has named Ireland as a top five country for up-and-coming high-level research, based on the quality and quantity of scientific research being carried out in its research institutes.
Innovation is driven by investment in Research & Development. Ireland has increased R&D from $465m in 2000 to $1.5bn in 2012.
There is strong evidence that investment in R & D has helped companies weather the recession.
Exports from R & D performing companies increased almost threefold -from €44bn in 2003 to €117bn in 2013. Over the same period the exports from companies who did not perform R&D almost halved from €48bn to €26bn
Innovation in Ireland creates jobs in Ireland, we now have 13 of the top 15 medical tech companies in Ireland, 9 out of the top ten software companies and 9 out of the top 15 Internet companies operating in Ireland. Irish companies too are benefiting from innovation.
Late last year 2015 we published a new Science Strategy: Innovation 2020. Our aim is to keep Ireland at the forefront of R&D, drive innovation to 2025 and in the process build a pool of world class highly skilled researchers in Ireland.
The new Strategy takes account of what’s happening here in Ireland and internationally.
How do we make sure that Ireland remains are the forefront of what’s best in the science world?
Like the apprenticeship programme, it is about getting the right policies and programmes in place.
Policies and Programmes that create quality, sustainable jobs, not jobs built on a bubble or shakey foundations.
Personally, my time in the Departments of Jobs and Education from 2014 to 2016 has been hugely fulfilling. As well as representing my own constituents, politics for me has always been about making a difference to peoples’ lives.
I am delighted that we made the right decisions about apprenticeships and about our research investment and I hope that this work yields big dividends for the Irish economy, and also very importantly for our society long into the future.
The prize of tens of thousands of new jobs and lives transformed deserves nothing less.