Future of manufacturing in Ireland – All digital

Knowledge Economy. One of the most abused terms by the Government in the past few years, spouted out in press releases and speeches in a form of buzzword bingo. From the cribsheet of a jaded civil servant to the mouth of a politician without any brain work.

Traditional physical manufacturing in Ireland is a dying if not a dead industry. Grunt work done in Ireland is expensive. When trees are cut down, shipped to another country and then sent back here as building supplies, you know something is amiss. Physical labour alone to make something can be done anywhere and mostly now it’s done in India, China and some African countries. That this was going to happen was obvious for at least a decade yet people are surprised and shocked.

Yet, it’s all going to happen again with tech jobs in this country because so much of it is grunt work. High-tech according to the Government and their spindoctors is localisation, sales and tech support. That’s far from knowledge work there. And when the grants dry up, those jobs too are off elsewhere. It’s just another Shannon stopover. Yet we’ll all be shocked when this happens, why? Many of the software manufacturers in this country now outsource work to India and China that once was done here. We should actually welcome that. Any vacuum created should be filled with real knowledge economy jobs. We’re not drones yet all these jobs are drone work. We’re relying on borrowed time.

Suzzallo Library, one of the great libraries of the world - studying here embues you with a feeling of scholarly history, Seattle, Washington, USA
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I think Ireland, despite the shit broadband and the lies about it being good, can overcome that and be a core part of all things digital. Ireland should take in digital raw materials, work them, add value by reworking the digital bits and produce something that can be used elsewhere. A new form of manufacturing and processing that merges various bits but very importantly uses the greymatter in our heads to improve these things. We could make a lot from Government data too. Some are suggesting that Ireland becomes the project manager for outsourcing. With our GMT foothold and our culture of being good diplomats, we can be a bridge between the Western world and the world where outsourcing takes place.

Certainly this is one future but with our talented kids we pump out from colleges and a history of creativity, Ireland could own the space in digital where value is added. Britain is getting it. I wonder will we see it or will we just pump out more and more java developers who invariably end up training up some lad in China on how to replace them?

14 Responses to “Future of manufacturing in Ireland – All digital”

  1. Gareth says:

    The government are all over this – first you reintroduce third level fees, next you increase class sizes in schools, finally you prop up the construction industry. Sorted

  2. TUG says:

    “our culture of being good diplomats”

    Eh? Run that one by me again…

  3. @TUG: How do you think we’ve been able of fake the appearance of being a proper first-world country for so long? We’re great at politicking and schmoozing, just not so good at the follow-through.

  4. toast says:

    I once had a brief chat at a christmas party with the Head of IT and Electronic Europe of one of the big 4 consultancies. I asked him “can you explain to me what a knowledge economy means” – he said “no”. Ok, it was 2004 and it was a buzzword but it is still a buzzword in 2009.

  5. John says:

    Interesting post, but can everyone in the growing dole queue work in the knowledge economy, and do they all have the right skills to do so? Or are they, by no fault of their own, more suited to drone work?

    We’re not all drones, but neither is the whole work force skilled and intelligent enough to be knowledge workers. Perhaps largely due to our Dickensian education system more than anything else.

    If we’re to have more creative and talented kids, the education system needs a sharp, short, radical shakeup that starts to encourage and reward creativity and imagination, fosters entrepreneurial, critical and analytical thinking, and is based more on coursework or project assessment, rather than memory and rote learning.

  6. Peter Tanham says:

    @John, looking at the stats of the amount of executives being let go, and the fact that this is a “middle class” recession, I’d say the answer is probably yes, that a large chunk of the dole queues

    What gives me hope about this outlook is the size of our country. For every leader there needs to be more than one follower/tribe member/employee. Normally this might limit the size of any potential “knowledge industy” in a country, but the fact that we’re a tiny, open economy should work to our advantage here.

  7. TCM says:

    Very interesting post.

    Would it be too much to ask that we create new industries based on IP and knowledge that create jobs across ALL sectors? One market I’ve been researching is the Electric Vehicle market where the Irish Government has seemingly already done a deal with US Firm ‘A Better Place’ to put in the infrastructure!!

    Another bloody Shannon Stop-Over and an over-eagerness to appear ‘with it’ within the West. “Get over it already”.

    Furthermore, we’re helping sign the deal for big-tax business and Government opportunity (as opposed to true social opportunity) by jumping on the US bandwagon and agreeing that we need road-side EV charge sites. There are other options that would benefit the World, commerce, the environment et al (albeit harder for the Government to skim the top off). All they need is another ‘growth country’ to jump on and we’re in full support.

    Have the Government looked internally? Obviously not. Have they looked at India? Doubtful. God bless being ‘neutral’ eh.

  8. […] by some fundamentals such as poor broadband access (see examples of these frustrations here from Damien Mulley, Adrian Weckler and Evert […]

  9. I attended a US-Ireland business summit in 2003 in Washington. In attendance were a bunch of Irish (North and South) technologists, academics and politicians, with counterparts from the US side. Mary Harney was the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment at the time. We were discussing Information Technology and Biotechnology. I run a bioinformatics research group, so I sort-of span the two.

    Mary Harney (I don’t and have never voted PD, btw) was clearly the only politician from this side of the pond to know anything whatsoever about any kind of technology. A leading Sinn Fein politician asked me “What exactly is biotechnology?”. Why did he come to the meeting if he didn’t know this? Maybe he was trying to learn, so that is something at least.

    So, yeah, while this blog post is about information tech, it is even more true that our politicians know almost nothing about BioTech. I try to educate them, but there is a real gap in their knowledge. Let’s face it, not a single person in Leinster House campaigned on a high-tech ticket and the Irish people don’t vote on the basis of a person knowing anything about high tech.

    It needs to change.

  10. TCM says:

    Agreed James.

    It’s shocking. One of the main concerns we should have is that the electorate have unfounded comitment to specific parties with a personal connection or history as opposed to contemporary issues.

    The only way we’re going to step up is as a community – we simply can’t wait for Government – there will just be more ‘Shannon Stop Overs’ and other short-sighted opportunities. If only the wider public would reflect on the past 20 years and realise that we are positioning ourselves as an attractive short-term solution. NOTHING else. We need to command our own industries and start bloody exporting (IP at least)!

    There are moves being made. We need to come together as a collective. New collectives and opportunities such as hubdublin.com and collab.ie are starting to gain pace.

    Bottom line – I’m at the back teeth with pitching to Government partners to add real value. They don’t know what they are talking about. Only by getting EXPERTS on board in a collective fashion with keen views on how Ireland will evolve will we make progress.

    Waiting for the Government (whichever party) to change will just cause the same negative affect – time and again.

    In Ireland we are too concerned with Government involvement. We need to consider they are just one part of what makes a society. If they are a shambles, leave them out of the equation. We can allow them in to support and take advantage of them later in the game. Let’s change the tide!

  11. TCM says:

    Sorry! While I’m on my soap box. One of the most recent ‘doormat’ examples is (again) the involvement of ‘Better Place’ regards the roadside charging facilities for Electric Vehicles. What’s that about! We haven’t answered the questions yet and where is the competitiveness? Where are the Irish pitches.

    In this new industry (soon to be worth billions Worldwide) we are already positioning ourselves as a ‘testing ground’ doormat. When the US firms have exhausted our resources/opps they’ll move on out while leaving an infrastructure that THEY profit from.

    If we are an IDEAL TESTING GROUND, let’s get on it ourselves and we’ll export the IP/Solution/Case Study and IRELAND CAN CONTINUE to profit from a knowledge-based authorative position.

    Short sighted and selling our shores for a quick trick and personal (PERSONAL TO THE INDIVIDUALS SIGNING THE CONTRACT!) gain alone. Shocking.

  12. On Vincent Browne’s program the other night, he opined that there were no longer any opportunities in high-tech now, like there were in the 1980s and 1990s and he asked the panel “Where do we go now?” and the result was things like “Tourism”.

    There is a genuine pessimism it seems, in some quarters, that we really cannot do cutting edge anything. I think it is because of things like what you said about the roadside charging facilities. The instinct is still to go abroad to get these things done. The instinct is to get Intel/DELL into Ireland and spend billions on this, while spending only tens of millions on domestic technology development.

    I just don’t think it is understood at the level where the decisions are made – i.e. government. I would slightly disagree with you about leaving government out. They still have deep pockets to provide lead funding on this kind of thing.

    Last point: One of the consequences of not really buying into or understanding the technology thing is the lack of serious efforts to improve mathematics and science teaching/understanding in primary and secondary schools.

  13. TCM says:

    Agreed James,

    Excuse my comment ‘leave Govt out’. What I mean is that we need to initiate plans and collaborative behaviour to show some kind of substance – and invite them in. What I suppose I really mean is that everyone should understand they are just one part – not the sum of. We see them getting 90% of it all wrong, yet put absolute faith in so-called ‘expert departments’ to carry industries. Commerce, pure and simple will be the changing of the tide – state backed or not.

    I also agree that requirement of better education with practical involvement should be high on the agenda.

    Great discussion James. Thanks for the views.

  14. […] is great, let’s do that without point scoring or headline grabbing. We need to move from dying manufacturing to an economy where we process and create digital […]