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IOP Ireland outlines potential for physics apprenticeships to Oireachtas committee

18 October 2023

The joint Enterprise, Trade and Employment Committee invited the IOP to talk about young people, studying and job-based pathways, and its broader work.

Fiona Longmuir and Dr Michael Kyle from IOP Ireland appeared at the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment in the Oireachtas for a discussion on skills and the apprenticeship landscape in Ireland (a recording is available on the Committee webpage, under ‘recent videos’).

Learning and Skills Manager Fiona began by welcoming the news of the Irish government’s funding commitment to allow the Irish application for associate membership to CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, to proceed, and the opportunities it offers to Ireland’s researchers, academics and students alike.

In her opening statement, Fiona went on to outline the importance of physics to the Irish economy: there are 190,000 employed in physics-based industries full time contributing 9% of national gross domestic product and 9% of total Irish employment.

She made the points that for apprenticeships to work, young people need to be connected to local businesses and that tackling the shortage of apprenticeship educators and specialist physics teachers in schools is vital to support young people on this journey. She stressed the importance of whole-school equity plans and how they can attract people to physics from underrepresented groups.

Fiona went on to talk about the IOP’s Limit Less campaign, which focuses on whole-school equity and also targets the ‘influencers’ of young people – families, teachers, wider society – challenging biases and stereotypes that put people off studying, or careers in, physics.

Responding to Louise O’Reilly TD, Fiona outlined how the IOP can play a vital role in supporting people and organisations to shape the apprenticeship landscape in Ireland.

Policy Manager Dr Michael Kyle got the chance to acknowledge the key recommendations that education committees have made to introduce STEM subjects earlier in school pupils’ lives, and spoke about the IOP’s aspiration to have a specialist physics teacher in every secondary school in Ireland, and also about the IOP’s practical support for the training of more physics teachers.

Dr Michael Kyle and Fiona Longmuir speaking with Irish politicians in a meeting room of the Oireachtas

There was also a chance to relay to the Committee the availability of upcoming Blueprint roundtable forums as a means to convene people together who are working in key and up and coming areas such as quantum and to also impress upon Committee members the overall extensive but often unacknowledged nature of physics in Ireland, along with the need to make that connection as early as possible in people’s lives so as to be able to appreciate and participate in it to a greater extent.

Broad-ranging discussions followed, taking in how physics is perceived, and taught, and how the IOP focuses on the whole physics ‘ecosystem’ bringing physics into people’s lives at all levels, emphasising the wonder as well as the usefulness of the subject and helping education, R&D and industry to recognise and utilise the physics base of their work in a strong and integrated way.

The discussion concluded with the representatives from the IOP describing at a more detailed level how the apprenticeship landscape in Ireland could be improved with more connections between schools and businesses, the provision of better career guidance, by shining a light on areas of success in physics apprenticeship areas such as cybersecurity and green energy, and by being prepared for the development of new courses in areas corresponding to new advances (for example in semiconductors and quantum physics).