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A Memorandum of Understanding has today been signed between Louth Meath Education & Training Board, the Ireland Institute of Pittsburgh, Catalyst Connection and the Portview Trade Centre in Belfast. The signing of this cross border, cross continent MOU represents a significant step in the foundation of crucial strategic educational and training alliances between the island of Ireland and the United States of America, promoting the exchange of knowledge, information, training opportunities, and the effective translation of integrated advanced manufacturing skills across both Ireland and the US - paving the way for greater economic opportunities and development between the two countries, reflective of a modern industrial ecosystem. Photo Chris Bellew / Fennell Photography.

After spending three days in June touring Pittsburgh-area companies and research hubs immersed in 3D printing, robotics, artificial intelligence and other advanced systems, Martin O’Brien was convinced our region is the place to learn how these technologies can spur economic development and manufacturing growth in Ireland. 

O’Brien is chief executive of the Louth & Meath Education and Training Board in Dundalk, Ireland, which recently struck a partnership with Catalyst Connection, a Pittsburgh nonprofit that assists small manufacturing firms with training and growth strategies. 

The partnership will focus on “career exploration, apprenticeships and upskilling advanced manufacturing workers,” says Petra Mitchell, president & CEO of Catalyst Connection, which is based at Hazelwood Green, a mixed-use development along the Monongahela River that was formerly a steel manufacturing site.

The Ireland Institute of Pittsburgh is managing the partnership; another partner is the Portview Trade Centre in Belfast, Northern Ireland. 

Among the places O’Brien visited in the Pittsburgh region were Penn State’s new Digital Foundry in New Kensington, the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Institute at Hazelwood Green’s Mill 19, and Neighborhood 91, a center for 3D printing and additive manufacturing at the Pittsburgh Airport Innovation Campus.

“What coming to Pittsburgh did for me was confirm I was on the right track,” O’Brien says.

The Digital Foundry, for instance, “was very compatible and has a huge synergy with what we’re trying to do,” he notes. 

In partnership with Penn State New Kensington, the Digital Foundry offers certification programs. Photo courtesy of the Digital Foundry.

Developed by Penn State’s New Kensington campus and located in that town’s central business corridor, the Digital Foundry provides education and training in innovative technologies to students ranging from elementary school through college. It also offers programs for manufacturing workers who want to earn certificates and broaden their tech skills.

In Ireland, O’Brien also oversees the Advanced Manufacturing Training Centre of Excellence, a 55,000-square-foot training facility in Dundalk’s Xerox Technology Park. Students there train in tech industries including robotics, augmented and virtual reality, and 3D printing — all skills currently in demand among manufacturing companies in Ireland, O’Brien says. 

Ireland’s unemployment rate is just below 5%, and as in the U.S., many companies are having challenges recruiting and filling jobs. The pandemic has slowed opportunities for apprenticeships and internships, O’Brien says. “There’s a deficit in our talent pipeline.”

By gaining expertise from resources in Pittsburgh and perhaps placing young Irish workers in training programs here, “We want to increase the technological IQ of the Irish workforce,” he says.

Businesses O’Brien visited in Pittsburgh included MSA Safety in Cranberry, which produces protective equipment for workers in hazardous industries including construction and fire services. MSA also has operations in Galway, Ireland. 

Other firms on the tour included Epiphany Environmental Solutions on the South Side, which designs wastewater treatment systems, and Forms+Surfaces in Glenshaw, which designs and makes architectural products including elevators, furnishings and lighting used in public spaces worldwide. 

Since its founding in 1989, the Ireland Institute has launched programs to bring young people from British-controlled Northern Ireland and the independent Republic of Ireland to Pittsburgh for training and personal development. The nonprofit also connects Pittsburgh and Irish companies for trade and investment opportunities through the Pittsburgh Irish Business Network. 

Jack Donahue, chair of the Ireland Institute’s board, calls the new partnership between Catalyst Connection and Irish economic development groups “a win for everyone involved.”

With members based in both the north and south of Ireland, the partnership also hopes to forge more cross-border cooperation between those two countries. 

“It’s an opportunity for people to integrate, understand each other, go into business together, and get the island of Ireland working together,” says O’Brien.

Joyce Gannon is a Pittsburgh-based freelance writer.