Limerick has become a hub for STEM jobs – that is jobs in the area of science, technology, engineering and maths. Twenty-five companies who work in STEM areas have come together to create “Limerick for Engineering”.

This initiative is industry-led and is supported by University of Limerick and Limerick IT. The programme focuses on the Limerick, Shannon and west Limerick regions. The primary goal of Limerick for engineering is to increase the quality and quantity of engineering talent (apprentice, technicians and engineers) available in the region.

This is very relevant to the needs of the 25 high-tech engineering technology companies participating in the initiative because, cumulatively, they will, next year, be trying to fill hundreds of jobs and in five years time will be trying to fill thousands.

But, is there a shortage of these skillsets in this region?

Brian O’Mara who is engineering manager with Analog Devices and also involved with Limerick for Engineering says: “You will talk to companies in the region that are still looking to fill their graduate quotas and they’re looking for people with skills in engineering, technology, research and general science.”

“That confidence in terms of what’s in front of us, in terms of high-tech, real, sustainable jobs – I don’t think that confidence was ever as high as it is now.”

Brian spoke to Irish Country Living at the launch of the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition 2018.

He says the Limerick region is really starting to assert itself in terms of the profile it has around opportunities in the STEM area. This is a vastly different situation to years ago when Brian had to go abroad to get experience.

“I worked in Silicon Valley, I’ve worked in Canada and brought that experience back. That opportunity for experience is now available in our region which is a tremendous change. So, when you talk to any of the industry partners in Limerick for Engineering, you sense that trend. We’re no longer seen as a peripheral part of some of the headquartered companies that are abroad. We’re seen as a significant component, a vital cog in the corporate companies that we’re representing.”

So what should people be putting down on their CAO forms to prepare themselves adequately to work in this area?

Brian feels what’s exciting about the high-tech industry is that in five years time: “We’ll be talking about opportunities in areas that we can’t even imagine now so I think it would be a bit premature to say I would recommend focusing on one area versus another area. But I think there is still huge merit in general science degrees, general engineering degrees; I do think that graduates do have the opportunity to get into industry and maybe be supported in further studies towards a masters that start to specialise in a certain area.”


Brian says there are great apprenticeship opportunities available in the STEM sector, particularly in the aerospace industry.

“Students shouldn’t get caught up in the option ‘I just need to do a degree’. The concept of apprenticeships is re-emerging as a real valid option for someone who isn’t overly academic and doesn’t want to spend four years in a lecture theatre to get a degree.

“You can actually work through an apprenticeship programme both in the engineering and the sciences now and really put yourself in a prime position in terms of career options as well.”

Analog Devices is headquartered in Boston but its big European R&D HQ and the manufacturing HQ are in Limerick, where 1,200 people are employed. Between 500 and 600 are employed on the R&D side with the remainder employed on the manufacturing side. A further 100 people are employed in Analog Device’s Cork office.

But what does Analog Devices do?

“We have this vision ahead of what’s possible,” explains Brian.

“The engineering we do translates real-world signals – like speed, like temperature, like pressure into the digital world so a computer can process them. We deal in the medical industry where we work with components that go into pacemakers.

“In automotive we deal with the components that allow your car to drive itself. When someone crosses in front of you, your car will break for you, if you miss it, so it’s translating real-world signals into signals that computers can interpret or that phones can interpret or that your tablet can interpret. Whether that’s temperature or whether it’s speed or whether it’s your heart rate, it’s the real-world signals.”

Brian travels a lot with the role. He works with some of the big automotive companies in Europe so he travels to Germany to meet “with the Audis, the BMWs … we deal directly with some very significant customers on some very significant business opportunities – a lot of the companies in the region, that’s the way we work now”.

However the world is becoming a much smaller place and quite often Brian doesn’t need to travel for work when dealing with colleagues abroad. On a daily basis, he and other engineers on his team will work with engineers in Bangalore, Beijing, Boston and Silicon Valley.

“We work as part of, if you like, multifunction multi-site teams all on the one project. So the concept of having to go to Silicon Valley or having to go to Boston to get experience that you wouldn’t get here in Ireland, that’s becoming less and less a must. In your daily role, you’re interacting and working with these engineering groups anyway.”

Is he getting up at 5 o’clock in the morning however to deal with these phone calls?

“I think time zones are always a challenge,” explains Brian.

He works a lot with teams in both Bangalore and Boston and trying to get a meeting time that suits everyone is always tough.

While Brian does stress the Leaving Cert is “hugely important”, he says “one of the great things, not just for Analogue Devices but for many of the companies in the region, is there are jobs where you might start without a formal qualification”.

Analog Devices has manufacturing team members who are responsible for operating and driving the high-tech equipment and making the silicon chips for example.

“But they also have the opportunity – and we started to recognise this – where they wanted to maybe go back to college and so a lot of those programmes are supported in Analog Devices,” says Brian.

He says Analog Devices is not the only company in the region doing this.

“Adding value to the resource and the talent we already have is seen as something that will absolutely return on the money you invested. I would say to anyone who’s reading this, those opportunities are here and if you feel you haven’t got the qualifications I think it’s up to a lot of us to get involved and then have those discussions with the company you’re working with.”

Limerick was not the place to grow your STEM career when Brian was younger, but things really have turned around: “Before I would have said that [staying in Limerick] might be somewhat constraining to your career aspirations but … it’s profile is seen as really significant now in terms of engineering and STEM-related career opportunities and working in the Limerick region is probably something you want to put on your CV now.” CL