GMIT Letterfrack works with stakeholders on support roadmap

Letterfrack is mapping the future for the Furniture Design and Wood Technology sectors.

GMIT’s Dermot O’Donovan, Project Manager, Education and Work Integrated Learning (eWIL)

GMIT’s Letterfrack campus has been synonymous with furniture design and wood technology since 1987, working with regionally dispersed, small and micro enterprises in areas such as architectural woodworking, cabinetmaking, panel processing, kitchen manufacturing, bespoke furniture, shop fitting and joinery products. 

In that time, the campus has developed a network of more 100 industry partners in Ireland and abroad. Research carried out by GMIT estimates that more than 1,000 companies are operating in the sector in Ireland. At an Industry Forum at GMIT Letterfrack several years ago, a shared vision was reached by GMIT, Western Regional Skills Forum (WRSF) and industry representatives to develop a roadmap to support and nurture this sector. Soon after, the Irish Wood and Furniture Manufacturing Network (IWFMN) was formally established, prioritising four key strategic pillars: Commercial Development, Design and Innovation, Manufacturing Excellence, Education and Training. The IWFMN has grown from strength to strength, organising two national conferences in Galway and Dublin and facilitating a range of training and peer-to-peer learning experiences for Network members. Since the onset of Covid-19, the IWFMN has been actively supporting its members online. 

GMIT’s Dermot O’Donovan, a member of the IWFMN Steering Committee, says: “When Covid-19 arrived in March this year, it looked like all the work undertaken to date by the IWFMN might be compromised. However, since then the IWFMN has begun hosting a weekly online forum with industry members. The forum is designed to be open and constructive, where companies can learn from each other and share experiences and expertise to help overcome some of the challenges facing the sector. 

“Initially, just a few companies came on board. But gradually the interest grew. Most weeks we bring along an expert in a particular area, followed by a general discussion. A lot of companies are looking at immediate challenges, but also exploring medium-term responses such as developing circular business models. Embracing digital technologies for communications and the marketing of products is particularly important now so that companies can continue to connect with customers and suppliers. Equally, practical things like the implementation of social distancing in the workplace and on sites are regularly discussed. For some of the events we have collaborated with WRSF and have had over 50 companies attending, so we definitely see companies responding to the opportunity to stay connected, share information and learn from each other. It has been really great to be part of it.” 

Paul Leamy, Head of Department for GMIT Letterfrack says: “For GMIT, it helps us stay in touch with the industry and we have just completed a Training Needs Analysis with the WRSF for the sector. Understanding and meeting the work-based learning needs of the sector and meeting those needs in a flexible delivery mode is now more crucial than ever. In this regard, GMIT Letterfrack have initiated a project called Education and Work Integrated Learning (eWIL) which is focused on transitioning undergraduate programmes to become work-based as they move towards year-long work placements. The eWIL project will also explore online life-long learning opportunities for those in full-time employment.” 

The IWFMN has recently been successful in an application for Border Enterprise Development funding managed by Enterprise Ireland which will see it develop the network within the six counties bordering Northern Ireland. GMIT Letterfrack has also been successful with an application to the Enterprise Ireland Regional Technology Cluster Fund and hopes to have a Research and Education Outreach Manager in place soon to work alongside the IWFMN.