Key points for selected Science occupations
- In 2014, there were approximately 19,000 persons employed in the selected science occupations, representing 1% of national employment (Figure 9.1.1)
- Almost three quarters of employment was concentrated in three sectors: manufacturing (mostly pharmaceuticals), professional, scientific and technical activities (e.g. scientific R&D) and human health activities
- Almost two thirds of total employment was at professional level; the remainder was at technician level (i.e. laboratory technicians)
- Over the period 2009 to 2014, overall employment increased very modestly, at an average annual rate of 0.3%; however, this was in contrast to negative growth of 0.5% recorded nationally; over the same five year period, employment levels in each of the science occupations remained relatively static (Figure 9.1.2)
- Between 2013 and 2014, overall employment decreased by 0.3%; this was in contrast to positive growth of 1.7% nationally
- Almost 90% of science professionals were aged 25-54; the corresponding share was 70% for laboratory technicians; one fifth of employed laboratory technicians was aged 55 or older (Figure 9.1.3)
- Approximately 95% of science professionals held third level qualifications; the share was 70% for laboratory technicians (Figure 9.1.4)
- The overall workforce of both science professionals and technicians was almost gender balanced
- The majority of employed science professionals and technicians worked fulltime and were Irish-nationals
- In quarter 4 2014, the unemployment rate for science occupations was 5% ─ half the national rate.
Although accounting for a relatively small workforce (6,400 natural scientists (chemical, biological and physical) and 6,700 laboratory technicians), natural science skills are critical for the performance and future growth of high value added, exporting sectors of the Irish economy, such as pharmaceuticals medical devices and food processing.
The importance of the availability of natural scientists is illustrated by the Government’s investments in this area, with the most recently announced fund of €85 million for the life sciences sector.
Given the age profile of scientists in employment (less than 10% are aged over 55), exits to retirements are estimated to be small. However, replacement demand is estimated to be greater than retirements due to exits to economic inactivity (e.g. home duties, study etc.). In addition, sectors employing scientists are expected to perform strongly in the short to medium term. Moreover, a further move within these sectors to higher value added activities will further increase the annual recruitment requirement for scientists and scientific technicians.
Recent job announcements relevant to the recruitment of science skills were numerous and included Horizon Pharma, Life Scientific (R&D crop protection), Bausch and Lomb (contact lenses), ENBIO Space Technology Centre (thermal management treatments or sunscreen technology for satellites, spacecraft and space related hardware), Zimmer (orthopaedic implants), Advanced Laboratory Testing (food).
Graduate output from the life and physical sciences is significant, with over 3,500 graduates in 2013/2014, 80% of whom are at honours degree or post-graduate level. Based on the CAO applications, a similar number of graduates can be expected in the coming years.
Despite the available graduate supply and the supply from unemployment (in May 2015, there were 120 chemical, biological and physical scientists and 260 laboratory technicians (most holding third level qualification) job-ready job seekers), shortages of science skills have been identified. Many employers are experiencing difficulty in filling the following roles:
- Chemical and biological scientists and biochemists in the areas of pharma covigilance (drug safety and clinical trials), analytical development and product formulation
- Cardiac technicians (production process)
- Biotechnology technician (computerised maintenance (preventive, corrective, predictive), SOPs/EWI and GMP engineering systems, cleanroom).
There is also an issue regarding the availability of persons willing to work as laboratory technicians, as most graduates at technician level (NFQ 6 and 7) stay in education to progress to higher qualifications, while holders of NFQ level 8 qualifications and above seek more challenging roles than those available at technician level.