“Knowledge drives innovation, innovation drives productivity,” — CEO Q&A with Martin O’Brien of LMETB

By Business & Finance
11 October 2022
Pictured: Martin O’Brien, CEO, Louth Meath Education and Training Board

Martin O’Brien is CEO of the Louth Meath Education and Training Board, the largest provider of education and training in Louth and Meath, delivering a range of educational services at primary and post-primary and also in further education and training. 

What are your main priorities and goals in your role?

To establish the Louth and Meath ETB as the number one provider of Further Education and Training (FET) in Ireland.

What are your biggest challenges as CEO?

Recruitment of staff in an environment where private industry can offer higher renumeration.

How do you keep your team/ staff motivated?

By continuously innovating and developing.  By achieving results and giving  team credit.  Under my leadership and in collaboration with my directors and staff, the LMETB is constantly involved in a wide range of innovative FET projects.

What are the challenges facing the industry going forward?

Providing an agile and responsive FET service that delivers the skills requirements of the present and future workforce for industry against the backdrop of pay and recruitment challenges in our sector

What new trends are emerging in your industry?

Cyber, Climate, Energy, Advanced Manufacturing and Industry 5.0. To meet the skills training required to support those trends, in 2021, the LMETB established the All-Ireland Advanced Manufacturing Training Centre of Excellence in Dundalk (AMTCE).

We are also currently exploring other major projects like the development of Cybersecurity , Construction and Green Skills Hubs. All these initiatives are established in close collaboration with national and international partners.

Are there any major changes you would like to see in your sector?

Fully delegated authority to enable the filling of posts. At present we must apply to the Department for approval to advertise a huge range of positions and this causes delays.

As an employer are you finding any skill gaps in the market? 

Shortages of suitably qualified staff for certain roles in Further Education. This is compounded by public sector pay scales that are lower than those in private industry. Candidates apply but often refuse the position because of the salary.

How did your strategy develop in the context of the banking crisis and economic crisis?  

Our FET strategy was curtailed due to an embargo on recruitment.  FEMPI imposed huge take home pay cuts on staff, we had unfilled posts, and this created a scenario where we were asking staff to do more for less pay.  It was a difficult period all round but thankfully, we were able to progress the strategy through working closely with staff, supporting and encouraging them. 

Consequently, we were delighted with the recent announcement that LMETB is the top Education and Training Board in Ireland in respect of the implementation of its FET strategy last year. 

How has Brexit affected you?  

Brexit brought challenges to employers and their workforce and LMETB is addressing these, in co-operation with the EI and SOLAS by, for example , the establishment of the AMTCE in Dundalk.  Our aim is to support businesses on their digitisation journey , maintain and increase their competitiveness in the global market and provide the future skills for their workforce.

How has the COVID-19 crisis affected your business/sector?

The change to online teaching and learning was challenging and costly but overall, it was highly successful because all frontline services were maintained. In fact,  learnings from that period afforded us new opportunities for different working arrangements, participation in teaching and learning and meetings.  We learnt that the continuity of service provision can be and will be different going forward.

How do you define success and what drives you to succeed?

For me, success takes many forms.  It’s the completion of a project and it’s also supporting individuals to reach their potential. It’s the provision of training and upskilling that empowers industry to sustain global shocks, to be more competitive and more efficient. It’s the effective administration and management of our range of services. To me, success is about delivering a plethora of supports, interventions and courses that enables individuals to live a fulfilling life and contribute in a peaceful, positive way to society.  

What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or would give, in business?

Innovate, innovate, innovate.  To quote the well-known US scientist and academic administrator William R. Brody – knowledge drives innovation, innovation drives productivity, productivity drives economic growth.

What have been your highlights in business over the past year?

The foundation and development of the all-Ireland AMTCE (Advanced Manufacturing Training Centre of Excellence) in Dundalk. We established the Centre in 2021 to deliver the hands-on skills-oriented training needed to underpin the transition of Irish enterprise to industry 4.0 based operations, with a focus on manufacturing, pharma, food & drink, construction and engineering sectors.  

What’s next for your organisation?

We have several national initiatives that we are seeking to develop in areas like climate, cyber, electric vehicles, 3D concrete printing and quarrying and mining. 

Where do you want your business/brand to be this time next year?

Maintain our status as the leading Education and Training Board in Ireland in the implementation of our further education strategy. We want to continue building on our mission to be the best provider of present and future skills, supports and inclusive services to people and businesses so that they have the knowledge and skills to compete globally.  LMETB has recently received the greenlight for multi-million capital investment in Drogheda and Navan and we’re looking forward to progressing those projects in 2023.

Read more interviews with leading CEO’s below:

Pat Phelan of Sisu

Ed Rositer of Phoenix

Ben Betts of Learning Pool