Physics-based businesses boost Irish economy

Sean Sherlock, Minister for Research and Innovation, and Kevin McGuigan, Chair, IOP Ireland. And a giant carbon nanotube. Photo: 1IMAGE/Bryan Brophy

Did you know that whilst only 4.5% of Ireland’s workforce is employed in physics-based businesses they are contributing 5.9% to the economy in gross value added? That’s 86,000 people adding €7 billion to the economy. If you include indirect jobs (jobs that rely on the physics ones), a further 119,000 jobs are supported by physics in Ireland.

Those are pretty impressive statistics for a subject that many people think has little impact on the jobs market beyond university research. In a less than rosy economic picture – after Ireland’s financial crash in 2008 and the subsequent burst of the property bubble – these numbers provide some glimmers of recovery.

The statistics above come from a report, commissioned by the Institute of Physics and written by Deloitte, on the impact of physics to the economy.

Hauling yourself out of bed on a cold, wintry Thursday morning to go to a meeting about the importance of physics to the Irish economy might not be everyone’s cup of tea. But that’s what the 60 attendees of a breakfast meeting we held in Dublin to launch the report did. The event brought together academics, industrialists, policymakers and even politicians to highlight the value of physics to Ireland.

The meeting was opened by Dr Kevin McGuigan, Chair of the Institute of Physics in Ireland, who showed how, throughout the financial crash, employment in physics-based businesses remained constant. He discussed the need for a skilled workforce, and pointed out that Physics is only the 19th most popular subject at Leaving Certificate level, and only 25% of those taking it are female. Something needs to change.

Next was Dr Pádraig Ó Murchú from Intel, who publically welcomed the report. He told us that Intel has physics at its core, and operates the biggest cleanrooms in Ireland 24/7 to keep up with manufacturing demands. Intel chips are ubiquitous; they are found in phones, TVs, medical equipment and more. Since 1989 Intel have invested $7.5bn (€5.8bn) in Ireland, and continue to do so, and are an example of a hugely successful physics-based business.

Then Seán Sherlock, Minister of State at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation and Education & Skills with special responsibility for Research & Innovation. He thought it was positive and should be used to raise awareness of the value of physics, both financially and socially. However he did remind us that the Irish Government are currently borrowing €300m a week, so I don’t think we can expect a big increase in science spending too soon. He rounded off by welcoming the opportunity to work with the IOP in the future.

The final speaker was Professor Paul Hardaker, CEO of the Institute of Physics, who summed up the meeting, reminding us of the importance of education: this all starts in schools.

A copy of the report can be found here.

 This post was contributed by Fiona Jamieson, the IOP’s Business and Innovation Policy Officer.


1 Comment

  1. Dileep V. Sathe says:

    I am very happy to see this story. I am also encouraging my students to learn science and economics for many years.

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