Senior executives in many of Ireland’s leading pharma, life sciences and technology companies did ordinary level maths in their Leaving Certificate.
Admittedly, most of them have taken a more circuitous educational route, but that hasn’t prevented them reaching the top of their industries. That is a very encouraging fact for the young people attending STEM South West.
The STEM (Science Technology Engineering & Maths) South West Industry and Careers Showcase takes place in Rochestown Park Hotel in Cork, from 4pm to 9pm, on Wednesday, November 13. With 50 top companies — including Apple, Boston Scientific and VMWare — attending, the free event is expected to attract students from all over the region.
“There’s a very wide variety of roles in these companies, and very many people working in them did not need honours maths in their Leaving Cert,” said Shane Ruddle, director of engineering, Gilead Sciences, which employs over 360 full-time employees across three sites in Ireland — two in Cork and the third in Dublin.
“It may have taken them a little longer. They may have done a level four course, then gone to work, then returned to education by night. I’ve seen a lot of great people with trades who’ve upskilled by night in courses in CIT, UCC and Sligo IT.
Shane himself did ordinary level maths for Leaving Cert. He knows many others in senior roles in pharma and life sciences companies with similar tales to tell.
Shane completed a Bachelor of Technology in Manufacturing Engineering in UL, then took a job with Golden Vale Food Products in Charleville, Co Cork.
He says the entire Leaving Cert hons maths syllabus was covered in his first few terms in college. He did later return to Project Management studies. He steadily rose through senior roles with Stafford Miller (GlaxoSmithKline), Shanley Mechanical & Electrical Contractors and Merck Millipore before joining Gilead Sciences in 2012.
“I started in the food business,” he recalls. “It’s a great industry in which to learn the value of money and cost pressures. People come from all sorts of backgrounds to work in life sciences, pharma and technology companies. And people bring a lot of skills that are valuable in the workplace.
“Engineering is all about problem solving, which is probably why many of the people in leading roles are from an engineering background. Engineers probably don’t do enough to publicise themselves, which is something that people from a business background are often better at.
"What people will get to see at the STEM South West showcase is the wealth and variety of companies operating in this tech space. These are large multinationals down to smaller indigenous businesses"
Life sciences companies alone employ more than 30,000 people in Ireland, producing exports worth €45bn. The sector provides challenging and well-paid employment, and the 50 companies supporting STEM South West want to inform people of the great careers the sector has to offer.
“Naturally, we don’t expect this to make a huge difference in one year. Promoting STEM is part of a cycle that can make a big difference gauged over four to ten years,” said Shane.
Gilead Sciences has invested over €190m in Ireland and last year opened a new €9.5m facility at its Cork plant in Carrigtwohill.
The Cork plant manufactures drugs for the treatment of HIV and Hepatitis B and C, and is responsible for 30% of the company’s total production in tablet form. Where once a HIV patient would have to take a large number of drugs to suppress the virus, Gilead was the first company to launch a single tablet regimen for HIV treatment, which transformed the treatment of people who are living with the condition.
“Panty Bliss [drag queen] came to talk to us about her experience as a patient taking our product,” said Shane. “She said she simply wouldn’t be alive were it not for us.
“Gilead isn’t the only place where you get that job satisfaction. It’s similar if you’re working on replacement hips and knees in Depuy, where you play a role in someone having a full and active life rather than a limited life.
“Our industry has exciting, fulfilling careers to offer. That is something we could do a lot more to publicise.”
Others among the 50 exhibitors at STEM South West include Arup, EPS, Flex, IT Tralee, McAfee MSD, PLAS Consulting Engineers, PM Group, Qualcomm, Rockwell Automation, Sisk, Stryker and UCC.
An Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, recently joined representatives of the local authorities and third-level colleges, as well as some participating companies to launch the showcase.
Along with insights on career opportunities, the event will feature demonstrations of Robotics, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Virtual Reality (VR), MedTech and Engineering , hosted by dynamic tech sector companies.
Ray O’Connor, South West regional manager, IDA Ireland, said: “Ireland continues to attract some of the most innovative and successful global businesses today, including those in STEM industries. This very welcome, industry-led initiative gives students an opportunity to explore the STEM study option and to find out how it can lead to successful, exciting and worthwhile careers.”