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GEMX: A North West based Manufacturing & Engineering New Futures Collaborative Network

A new Manufacturing and Engineering collaborative network has been established in the North West, primarily Derry and Strabane area. NWCAM industrial partner, […]

April 21, 2022

A new Manufacturing and Engineering collaborative network has been established in the North West, primarily Derry and Strabane area. NWCAM industrial partner, Nuprint Technologies is lead partner of this new venture that is supported by Invest Northern Ireland through its Collaborative Growth Programme. The network is made up of engineering and manufacturing businesses who are working collaboratively with local further and higher education institutes and Derry City & Strabane District Council to promote skills and employability in the industry.  

We sat down with Joanne Sweeney, Project Director of GEMX ahead of the official launch on Thursday 28 April at Catalyst, Derry~Londonderry. Joanne said ‘My role as Project Director is to encourage and lead collaborative activities between all members. This is an exciting opportunity and will utilise and build on skills I have developed in my career in education and industry to date. The group is made up of a wide variety of organisations which gives me access to a range of individuals with a wealth of knowledge and experience.   

I have found the industry extremely welcoming and open to the idea of collaboration. I have always enjoyed working with people and understanding how technology can solve problems and this role enables me to use my background in computing and apply this to the field of engineering.’ To learn more about the network and their exciting future plans, read the full interview below.

The new collaborative network sounds really interesting, tell us a little bit about the network, its aim and objectives? 

The network aims to bring together key individuals who will get things done to enhance a very exciting career pathway within the NW region whilst showcasing best practice in industry. 

  • To develop a pipeline of sustainable skills to meet industry needs. 
  • To enhance the image of engineering and manufacturing within the NW.  
  • To encourage collaboration between industry and education, embracing innovation.  

Who are the members of the network? 

A range of SMEs (NuPrint(lead partner), AE Global, Precision Processing Services, Fleming Agri, MiM Engineering, GB Engineering, Hunters Apparel, McColgans, GE Spares, KES Group, Northstone, FAST Technologies, KabinTec, Northwest Medical, Inishowen Engineering) who are supported by Sectoral Agencies (Council, Sentinus, SEC, Catalyst Inc, Manufacturing NI, 4C UR Future, Foyle Learning Community), Education Providers (NWRC, UU) and some larger employers (DuPont, E&I, Lycra Co., Terex, Seagate) and funded by InvestNI. 

There are lots of groups and interest within the Advanced Manufacturing sector, what is different about this network? 

This group is made up specifically of employers and education providers from the NW and so will be driven to meet the very individual needs of the economy within this area.  

What inspired you about engineering to get involved in this role? 

Following employment with an oil company in London and teaching computing at NWRC, I worked for Sentinus, delivering STEM programmes for primary and secondary schools. Discussions with children, at a variety of ages, has made me realise that very few of us actually understand what engineering is about. 

A generic view that I have adopted is that engineers solve problems and I hope this might be the key to the success of this new collaborative network. I also feel very strongly that we need to actively promote all routes within education and accept that we all learn in different ways. An effective workforce must be made up of a variety of people with a range of skills if economic needs are to be met. 

To people reading this article that work or are involved in the Advanced Manufacturing and engineering sector, what can people do to support the network, to achieve its aims and objectives?  

We would welcome support and involvement from anyone who is interested in raising the profile of engineering in the region. This could be anything such as following us on social media; providing ambassadors to work on programmes that we are providing for schools; providing placement opportunities for students or engaging with our innovation centres to promote the use of Industry 4.0 throughout the NW. Ultimately, we aspire to the NW becoming a centre of excellence for engineering and will endeavour to encourage any activities that will enable this. 

What would you say to young people who may be considering engineering as a career choice or study option at school or College?  

This is an extremely interesting and challenging area of employment with a vast range of opportunities. We have employers in our network from areas such as agriculture, chemicals, printing, food, electronics and clothing. Employment entry levels are varied so interested students can progress their education in a flexible way, with vocational routes on the apprenticeship ladder now being available from Level 2 upwards. Education can continue alongside work if that is how a person prefers to progress within their career. 

What are your hopes for the future of advanced manufacturing and engineering in the North West region?  

I would hope that the network becomes self-fulfilling within this area in that it showcases the good practice that is already in place whilst also enabling growth for other employers within the region. We need to harness the abilities of educational establishments and ensure that they are being fully utilised by local industry. Through the elimination of stereotypes, we can develop an engineering pathway to inspire children and young adults and encourage them to pursue careers in an exciting, dynamic environment which is future-proof. 

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