Please give an overview of your sector?
Physicists want to understand how the world works, in every detail and at the deepest level. This includes everything from elementary particles, to nuclei, atoms, molecules, macromolecules, living cells, solids, liquids, gases, plasmas, living organisms, the brain, complex systems, supercomputers, the atmosphere, planets, stars, galaxies and the universe itself.
In addition to the pursuit of knowledge, physicists study questions facing today’s science and technology and they seek solutions for instrumentation, measurement techniques and innovations in areas as diverse as lasers and optics, medicine, space science, environmental sciences, electricity and magnetism and nuclear science.
What is the size and scope of the sector?
Given the breadth of the subject, physicists can find jobs both within physics itself and far beyond in areas which require good analytical skills. The Institute of Physics estimates that around 160,000 people in Ireland are employed in physics-based industries, though not all of these jobs require a degree in the subject. Many of these jobs are in manufacturing, particularly medical devices, telecommunications and IT equipment.
Around 200 students graduate each year in Ireland with a degree in physics. Typically, graduates find employment in areas such as the manufacture of medical devices, electronics, computing, communications, laser technology, teaching and finance.
Around two-thirds of physics graduates continue with their studies taking MSc and PhD degrees which are required to pursue careers in more specialist areas such as meteorology, medical physics, environmental physicist, nuclear physics, financial analysis, nanotechnology, alternative energy and astronomy.
Postgraduate qualifications often lead into careers in research at the highest level which includes international collaborations or into senior positions in industry, e.g. project manager in manufacturing.
What are the current issues affecting this sector?
The manufacturing environment has seen some recent pressures, particularly in relation to global competition with some multi-national companies looking to move to a lower cost environment.
Ireland has been responding by providing a strong research base in order to create an innovative and entrepreneurial environment where products are continually being improved and new products developed. This is leading to a substantial improvement in the physics research base in Ireland with more openings arising in this area.
What changes are anticipated over the next 5 years
There will be a decrease in traditional manufacturing but an increase in high value jobs which seek to develop innovation. Also likely to be a significant increase in jobs in the renewable energy sectors. In addition, expect to see an increase in small spin-off companies arising from cutting edge research in the third level sector.
Do you have any statistics relevant to the sector?
The Institute of Physics estimates that around 160,000 people in Ireland are employed in physics-based industries, this represents 8.6 of the national workforce.
Salaries in the physics based sector are approximately two thirds higher than the national average.
More statistics relating to the strength of the economy in this area can be found here
Are there any areas in your sector currently experiencing skills shortages?
Many companies have reported difficulties in finding employees with good mathematical and analytical skills. Physics graduates typically have these skills in abundance.