Harnessing the power of the network effect
Skillnet Ireland funds and supports more than 60 learning networks around the country
‘One of great things about networking is that when people come to events to hear about one topic, they end up talking to other people about something else and quite often leave with new business opportunities opening up for them.’ Photograph: iStock
The Irish Medtech Skillnet is a learning network for companies of all sizes in Ireland’s thriving medical technology and engineering sector. Member companies work collaboratively to share best practice and to respond effectively to the specific skills needs of the sector.
This is one of more than 60 such learning networks around the country funded and supported by Skillnet Ireland, the national agency responsible for the promotion of workforce learning in Ireland.
“Each network has a management team which works with members to scan the ecosystem and horizon for new developments and skills needs now and into the future and develop new training programmes to help build capability of employees,” explains Tracey Donnery, executive director with Skillnet Ireland. “The networks also bring companies together and help them compete on the global stage.”
The networks are usually set up as a result of an industry initiative, she adds. “Generally, an industry representative body takes the lead and applies for funding from Skillnet Ireland to establish a network. They appoint a voluntary steering group and this takes the lead in identifying the key skills areas to focus on. Those groups meet between six and 10 times a year and give guidance to the management team who run the network. The networks then contract with the most appropriate training provider or educational institutions.”
Each Skillnet promotes lifelong learning in its sector and identifies the skills and capability needed by the industry to be competitive. Many of the training programmes which have been developed are highly innovative. “The ICT Skillnet developed the first formal training programme in the world for the global business services sector in conjunction with TU Dublin,” says Donnery. “Ireland is recognised leader in that sector and there is now a continuing professional development diploma, postgraduate certificate and diploma, and masters courses available to people working in it.”
Among the courses developed by the Medtech Skillnet are a masters in medical technology regulatory affairs, driving operational excellence through lean leadership, certified quality engineer, certified internal Auditor, technical report writing, and risk management concepts and tools to meet the requirements of ISO 13485:2016.
One longstanding member of the network is Limerick-based Teleflex. “We have been in Ireland for the past 35 years,” says plant manager David McKernan. “We started out doing simple extrusions and moved on to more complex extrusions. We now produce catheter-based solutions for lifesaving devices for the medical device industry. Our focus is on complex and difficult projects which other companies find difficult to do. We make products for other companies to provide to patients.
“Developing and engaging our staff is critically important to solving the problems that our customers are experiencing,” he continues. “We want to be their innovation partner of choice and we need people who are flexible and have the right skills and knowledge and can adapt. That is where Skillnet Ireland comes in.”
The benefits go beyond training. “It allowed us to get formal recognised certification for staff,” says McKernan. “We put staff through a defined curriculum that’s part of a national framework. It meant their training had some form of standing beyond an internal programme and this really helped to engage the workforce to move the company forward.”
The training is aligned to the company’s goals and needs. “Through Skillnet, I got to see best-in-class examples nationally and internationally,” he says. “Working in groups as part of Skillnet we were able to develop a best-practice model and that’s enabled us to set our future direction in a way that’s aligned to what our customers need and to what the organisation wants to get from it. The individual training has meant we are able to align it to our strategy and where we want to go. Our employees get a real sense of ownership of their work area and the formal certification gives them a sense they’ve achieved something during the process. It’s been really inspiring for some of the people in terms of what they got out of the training. In some cases, they thought they just had to put up with something, then they did the course and knew how to change it. It’s been transformative for some individuals.”
McKernan believes the Skillnet has a major role to play in the Irish medtech industry. “The industry has changed over the past 10 years and there is a real ecosystem forming with start-ups and so on. The Skillnet is enabling cross-fertilisation of best practice across the industry and aiding competitiveness. If an Irish site isn’t planning for itself, it will be planned for. Skillnet Ireland is helping Irish sites decide their own strategy and destiny.”
And companies aren’t limited to the courses available through one Skillnet. “The courses are open to anyone,” says Donnery. “Companies can be members of multiple Skillnets and access the most relevant and up-to-date programmes available through them. If one network can’t provide a programme, a company can make connection with another network which has the programme they need. It’s a network of networks. One of great things about networking is that when people come to events to hear about one topic, they end up talking to other people about something else and quite often leave with new business opportunities opening up for them.”