Pryderi ap Rhisiart is the Managing Director of Menai Science Park (M-SParc), the first of its kind in north Wales. As a leading figure in North Wales’ innovation economy, Pryderi discusses the vast potential of Wales’s STEM sector and why developing a highly skilled, all-age workforce remains key to its future success.
With Wales’ position as a growing player in the world of STEM, M-SParc has been developing its approach for attracting the best young minds in innovation while diversifying the skill sets of people of all ages in the local area, to help capitalise on the vast range of innovation projects taking place within the science park.
Pryderi reflects on his own introduction to the industry, explaining:
“My interest in STEM began at a young age. Despite coming from an agricultural background, my dad was keen for us to go into the world of science, technology innovation, and this had a huge influence on me.
“I remember getting an internet connection for the first time in the 90s. I was fascinated by the exploration of the unknown, and it was really exciting to think about what else could be possible. Ever since then, I’ve been interested in the relationship between emerging technologies and economic development, which is something that has been a key driving force throughout my whole career.”
Discussing his continued love for the industry, he said:
“To keep up with the evolving STEM sector, you’ve always got to keep developing your own skills and building a strong network. The industry is always changing, so you can never stay still. That’s what has kept it so interesting for me over the years. The minute you lose that enthusiasm, you are miles behind, so you’ve got to keep looking ahead.”
According to Pryderi, developing North Wales’s economy is at the heart of M-SParc. Speaking about his mission to create economic growth and diversification within North Wales, he says:
“The origins of M-SParc lay with my predecessor, Ieuan Wyn Jones, who recognised the STEM potential within North Wales. There was a combination of brilliant local talent, a strong group of local companies, supportive universities and access to government funding that could be consolidated to create a central hub of innovation. M-Sparc has acted as the catalyst and brought these key players together.
“Our goal was to help diversify the North Wales economy from traditional sectors, such as tourism, agriculture and public services that have always been large in this area.”
Discussing the highly paid opportunities that M-SParc offers local people, Pryderi explains:
“In the science park itself, employees tend to earn around £5,000 above the Welsh national average. We can keep people in their local areas and strengthen the social fabric of our communities here in North Wales by maintaining a diverse industry that pays well.
“The breadth of ground-breaking work that takes place in the park every day is incredible. In total, we are currently supporting around 80 companies– ranging from nuclear scientists testing new materials to help cool reactors, to a company developing bespoke drones to another company building a school in the metaverse. It’s so diverse.”
Looking ahead to the future ambitions of M-SParc, he says:
“In the immediate future, the biggest focus for M-SParc is preparing for our second phase now that the building is full. We’ll continue to focus on the quality of service and support for our current tenants, but with a view on how we can expand the park to create even more jobs and opportunities. Net Zero by 2030 is also a massive goal for us. We want to be the first Net Zero science park in the UK, so the race is on, and we will try to get there before 2030 if we can.
“There are some fantastic, world-leading STEM projects here in Wales, from start-ups to larger-scale organisations. There is a massive opportunity to keep growing in order to keep up with other nations. We have all the infrastructure in place, and the main way to keep building on this momentum is with increased scale and finding the best talent.”
Pryderi emphasises the potential of Wales’s innovation sector on a global scale and the two main obstacles that need to be overcome. He explains:
“The first of these is finance. We need to secure more research and development funding for commercial endeavours, alongside private investments.
“The other main barrier is securing the best talent and then developing the skills of our STEM workforce. There is a skills gap that we need to address, with M-SParc employers currently having to recruit skilled workers from across the globe instead of utilising the potential talent we could have here on our doorstep.”
From ReAct+ to Jobs Growth Wales+, the Welsh Government offers a range of programmes through Business Wales to help employers bolster the skills of current employees and inject new talent into their teams.
Discussing some of the most effective ways to address the skills gap in this sector, Pryderi claims:
“This array of Welsh Government employer support will prove to be an effective way for Welsh STEM businesses to equip themselves with the talent they need to thrive in the future. The work done by other projects like the Regional Skills Partnership (RSP) in North Wales and the government's awareness of the skills requirements for businesses are both crucial.
“But as an industry, we also need to go a step further and engage with primary and secondary schools to make sure that young people are aware of the wide variety of career pathways that are available to them through STEM.
“It’s vital that we allocate enough time and resources to raising awareness amongst young people to pave the way for them to go into STEM apprenticeships, internships and university options.”
Speaking about the importance of having both young people and an all-aged workforce, Pryderi said:
“We need a diverse mix of talent in this field. Young people bring energy and a new way of looking at things, which is key to future ground-breaking work at M-SParc.
“But we also want to encourage people of all ages who might be looking for a new career to get involved with this emerging field and join us on this journey. To help equip them with the new skills they need, our skills company here offers a programme where we pay their wages for six months and place them in industry afterwards.
“Technology is changing every day, so regardless of age, what we need are people who can work in a team and communicate well. Whatever their previous experience, if they have these personality traits, we can then teach the specifics to help them excel in whichever area they go into. Being a well-rounded person, with an interest in the world and an understanding of how things work, is the main thing our employers within M-SParc are looking for.”
As part of Welsh Government’s Young Person’s Guarantee, Business Wales Recruit and Train offers a wide range of support to help employers create opportunities for young people and adults to enter the workplace, including Apprenticeships and Jobs Growth Wales+.
Visit https://businesswales.gov.wales/skillsgateway/ to find out more.