As Ireland’s tech sector experiences layoffs, the country’s pharma and medical technology industry is seizing the opportunity to attract talent from companies such as Google and Meta. This move is part of a broader push to accelerate its own plans for digitisation. Gareth Fleming, managing director at the employment agency Brightwater Recruitment, explained that for life science firms, “the tech downturn is definitely an opportunity.” He added that a quarter of laid-off candidates who registered with Brightwater in the last three months are interviewing with life science outfits for new roles.
The life sciences sector, which includes chemicals and medical devices companies, currently employs about 16% of all workers under the remit of state agency companies in Ireland. Hiring in this sector has increased by 19% since the onset of the pandemic, according to the Department of Enterprise. Ireland became attractive to these companies in the late 20th century, after the government rolled out incentives to attract foreign investment. Multinationals such as Pfizer, Takeda, Sanofi, and Johnson & Johnson have significant operations in Ireland, and 14 of the world’s top 15 medical technology companies have Irish outposts. Collectively, medtech and biopharma companies within Ireland’s Industrial Development Agency (IDA) network employ more than 70,000 people, and pharma products are responsible for 39% of Ireland’s total exports.
Rory Mullen, head of biopharma and food at IDA Ireland, the country’s foreign direct investment agency, said that Ireland “has evolved into a global hub for biopharmaceutical manufacture.” Investment in this sector has been growing, with roughly €1bn to €2bn pumped into the biopharma sector annually, according to Matt Moran, director of BioPharmaChem Ireland. Eli Lilly, Dexcom, and AstraZeneca Plc have all announced plans to build multi-million-dollar manufacturing facilities in the country this year. On Friday, Boston Scientific Corp announced investment plans for its site in Clonmel, Co Tipperary, creating more than 400 jobs. AstraZeneca executive vice president Pam Cheng said in an interview with Bloomberg TV in April that Ireland is “an ideal place to operate.”
Foreign investment has surged in recent years and is expected to reach €24bn this year. However, this inflow could endanger public finances if it were to diminish, with government estimates suggesting that as much as half of the corporate tax Ireland could collect in 2023 may come from potentially unsustainable windfall receipts.
As Ireland enjoys almost full employment, biopharma firms have struggled in the past to attract talent, particularly on the tech side. MSD, known as Merck & Co. in the US, has 3,000 employees in Ireland and is looking beyond people with traditional life sciences backgrounds as it seeks to digitize its manufacturing division, transformation lead Brian Killen said. Recruiting from big tech firms is an “active discussion,” he added. The shift in talent to the life sciences could become even more pronounced in the coming months when tenures in Big Tech firms are set to end following widespread layoffs.