Tech skills sharpened to thrive at the cutting edge

Kildare and Wicklow ETB has developed an innovative skills programme that gives hands-on experience with technologies including 3D printing and next-generation robotics

Eileen Cullen, training services manager, at Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board KWETB (second from right), with Megan Lambe, Kathleen Ryan and Ferguson Tobins

When Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board (KWETB) wanted to expand its skills development programme the first thing it did was turn to industry to discover what businesses needed from staff. The answer, it transpired, was practical skills using high-tech equipment.

In response to this came Celtec, KWETB’s advanced technology training centre in Celbridge. Eileen Cullen, training services manager, at KWETB said this was an expansion of the training the ETB was already offering and that it had created new opportunities for students to learn vital skills.

Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board (KWETB) Details

Year founded: 2013 (KWETB established under ETB Act)

Number of staff: Over 3,000

Why it is in the news: KWETB has unveiled funded training courses that unlock the skills necessary for the next generation of manufacturing

“We opened an advanced manufacturing centre in Celbridge and what we wanted to do was bring robotics into it.

“The integration of 3D printing and robotics into the Celtec centre means that we can train people on cutting-edge technologies that are coming into the workplace,” she said.

At the Celtec state-of-the-art facility, students gain valuable skills that are relevant across all manner of jobs and industries.

“It’s about digital transformation, giving students hands-on experience and helping them to meet the demands of the modern workforce,” Cullen said.

Students develop skills such as the ability to operate 3D printing technology from design and model through to final production, or how to work with sophisticated human-interaction collaborative robots known as ‘cobots’.

“Knowledge is important, but practical skills are absolutely key in industry. In fact, increasingly we can get knowledge through AI but when it comes to the workplace you have to have practical experience,” she said.

Paul Quinn, lead additive manufacturing applications engineer and trainer at 3D printing specialist Inspire 3D, which works with KWETB to deliver training, said the skills on offer responded directly to labour market demands.

“Most industries are using 3D printing to some degree. Some are pioneering with bespoke medical devices, selling millions, whereas others are using it for things like prototyping or changing the manufacturing process and bringing it back closer to home,” he said.

“Technologies like 3D printing and cobots are widely accepted as being central to the future of manufacturing, so developing skills now is a real boon for both employees and employers.

“I think it needs that push to help people to change their mindset.”

Funded by Solas, KWETB offers its training under the Skills to Advance programme, meaning courses are fully-funded and, thus, free both to employers seeking to develop skills among the workforce and to prospective students.

In addition, Skills to Advance programmes are fully-accredited, meaning they are of immediate value and the training offered by KWETB supports students in maintaining their professional development.

“The 3D printing course we run is a CPD-accredited course certified by Engineers Ireland,” Quinn said.

“It allows them access to facilities to keep themselves up-skilled as part of their requirement to remain a member of Engineers Ireland.”