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Connecting business with the very best research expertise

Enterprise Ireland’s Career-FIT programme recruits high-calibre research fellows to deliver valuable industry-focused research Irish to companies

Micol Martinelli, Career-FIT programme manager with Enterprise Ireland: “We are trying to attract the best research talent around the world to come to Ireland.”

Micol Martinelli, Career-FIT programme manager with Enterprise Ireland: “We are trying to attract the best research talent around the world to come to Ireland.”

 

Irish companies are benefiting from the talents of world-class researchers thanks to the Enterprise Ireland Career-FIT programme. Launched in 2017, Career-FIT is a trans-national scheme co-funded by Enterprise Ireland and the EU that offers an opportunity for experienced researchers worldwide to develop their careers in market-focused applied research in Ireland’s Technology Centres.

These centres are jointly supported by Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland to deliver industry-focused research to the 482 company members. The Career-FIT programme recruits post-doctoral research fellows from around the world to help fill the skills gap in some of the Technology Centres, ensuring that Irish companies have access to the best academic researchers in their industry sector.

Following two competitive calls, 50 high-calibre researchers were selected to engage in a three-year fellowship, including a secondment of up to 12 months to a company.

The success of the programme has prompted the launch of Career-FIT Plus. Similar to its predecessor, the new programme aims to enhance the training and mobility of experienced researchers through individually driven, market-focused research projects. An important difference is that it has been expanded to incorporate the network of Enterprise Ireland Technology Gateways, which are based in institutes of technology around the country. The first call for proposals to identify the first 25 research fellows has already gone out and the second is expected in 2020.

“We are trying to attract the best research talent around the world to come to Ireland,” says Micol Martinelli, Career-FIT programme manager with Enterprise Ireland. “It also helps companies to de-risk R&D, particularly in blue-skies areas. It gives companies opportunities to explore ideas which would be too risky otherwise.”

It is also a career development programme for the research fellows. “It is a very good way to progress a career in research,” she says. “For some of them, it is the first time they have been exposed to an industry setting. It is a great opportunity to see it from the other side and see how research applies to markets and the real world outside of academia.”

The researchers get paid a salary, a mobility allowance to relocate to Ireland and a generous training budget. Fellows are guided by an experienced academic mentor as well as a company mentor, who is concerned not just for their scientific progress but also their training and development in line with agreed career goals. They also benefit from participation in a structured development training programme that targets enhancement of personal effectiveness as well as competencies relating to innovation management.

‘Training opportunity’

“It’s a 360-degree training opportunity,” Martinelli explains. “The researchers can use that training allowance to develop their management or other business skills in order to complement their technical capabilities.”

Applicants have to submit a proposal which includes details of the research project they intend to work on for the three-year duration of the fellowship.

“The fellows are employed by the higher-education institutes as their academic sponsors,” she adds. “It is a tripartite relationship between the research fellow, the partner company, and the higher-education institution under the umbrella of the Technology Centre. Their work in the Technology Centre gives them the opportunity to learn from their peers. The programme has been active for two years and the researchers come from over 30 countries, the majority from outside Europe, from a variety of countries including Colombia, Brazil, Pakistan, and Australia. The diversity is great as is the gender balance – 40 per cent of the fellows are female.”

Another welcome aspect has been the approach taken by the researchers. “Many of them come here to work on research projects outside of their areas of direct expertise,” Martinelli notes. “They are not just tapping into their pre-existing skills and are taking the opportunity to explore interesting new areas. In one case, a specialist in metallurgy is exploring the use of encapsulation techniques for cheese production. In another, the researcher had expertise in healthcare sensors but is applying that to agriculture to find ways to pinpoint the best time to harvest grass for silage making. This is very exciting. It’s what innovation is really all about, different ways to look at an issue or problem.”

Other projects address areas as diverse as the use of data analytics to improve the efficiency of wind farms, the development of a privacy-first CCTV system designed specifically for the post-General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) world, the creation of a suite of motion sensing games to support functional screening of gross-motor skills’ development in children to enable early detection of problems, and the development of sustainable processes for the manufacture of novel dairy protein ingredients for premium applications like medical, clinical and infant nutrition products.

Martinelli believes the programme should be especially interesting for SMEs who may not have the resources to carry out R&D projects. “It’s great for SMEs. They get someone to come and carry out research work for them at no cost. This opens up great possibilities. That is particularly interesting from an SME perspective, as is the fact that there are no reporting requirements so there is no administrative or cost burden placed on the company.”