Engineering plans to attract the best talent

The engineering profession must adopt IT and pharma’s self-promotion to attract the best talent, Cork branch chair of Engineers Ireland Pádraig Leahy tells Pádraig Hoare.

Pádraig Leahy, PLAS Consulting Engineers and Chairman of Engineers Ireland for the Cork region. Pictures: Rob Lamb

There is a lot of good work going on under the radar in the engineering community and chair of the Cork branch of Engineers Ireland, Pádraig Leahy, wants everyone to know it.

The Douglas native, who is owner of PLAS Consulting Engineers in Little Island, has not lost the enthusiasm and drive for the vocation first ignited as a child.

A mechanical engineering graduate of CIT, then known as Cork RTC, Mr Leahy said: “I was an engineer since I was 10 years old, reading all the articles in magazines and encyclopedias, taking it all in. I loved it.”

That enthusiasm today means PLAS provides services to the manufacturing industry, such as setting up factories, increasing production and ensuring reliability and safety of machinery.

It also means chairing Cork’s branch of Engineers Ireland.

“There are 26,000 members nationally, and consistently Cork is around the 10% mark when it comes to membership. The Cork region of Engineers Ireland in terms of activity, whether it be lectures, seminars and site visits and that type of thing, is by a country mile the most active in the country. We’re not just 10% ahead of other regions, but rather 50%,” Mr Leahy said.

“What we are trying to do has a number of facets to it. Certainly, there is a strong engineering population in the region. The Cork region has historically been active and proactive. What we are trying to do is get the message out to existing members first off that there is this network of good resources. There is a significant benefit there and an excellent network they can tap into.

“We want to illuminate the activity so people are seeing the profession and the organisation more, so it is at the front of mind. You go back four years ago and we didn’t have much of a presence in the press at all, for example. It’s not for our own egos or anything like that, but rather to bring that profession to the front of people’s minds,” he added.

It means going into schools, hosting events and seminars, and generally bringing engineering to the masses. .

Mr Leahy said: “There is a reasonable level of interest in engineering generally, but there is a concerning dip in the numbers of civil and building engineering graduates. There were 1,494 civil and building engineering graduates in 2012, but that dropped to 669 in 2017. The lure of IT is a factor, as are the life sciences and medtech sectors in Ireland, which are very strong. The players in that industry have shone the spotlight, because they are extremely conscious of the criticality of resources at the moment.

Pádraig Leahy says he knew he wanted to be an engineer since he was 10 years old and is still as enthusiastic as ever about his profession.

“We must do similar in our industry. We’re not as good as a profession at promoting ourselves, generally speaking. We get it done and move on to the next job. That works in the industry but might not be as conducive to a sustained public campaign.”

Getting more women into the industry is imperative, Mr Leahy said, pointing to his Cork branch predecessor Kate Lehane of Cork County Council, and incoming president of Engineers Ireland, Marguerite Sayers of the ESB Group, as shining examples of excellence within the sector.

“There is for sure a bigger effort to attract more women to the industry. It is a problem that affects us all. Around 12% of practicing engineers in Ireland are women. That is completely out of proportion with the population ratio, so we are well behind the curve.

“Some of our best engineers are women and we are seeing greater involvement in our organisation in recent years.

“It is totally different to when I began attending events back in the late 1990s, when there may be no woman at all in the room for a lecture,” he said. “Engineers Week is where we go out to the schools to give talks, etc — it’s important that we as professionals put ourselves out there too, so the children can see the destinations of where they would be going on their life journey.”

Engineers Ireland foresees uncertainty around Brexit as detrimental, but such as is the profession, has taken measures to solidify the profession. “To be fair to my colleagues in Dublin, and in particular registrar Damien Owens, in December he sealed an agreement with the Engineering Council, an umbrella organisation for all the engineering institutions in the UK. There is now in place a mutual recognition agreement with the Engineering Council. It may not seem to be so important because it is in the UK, but it is particularly important to our colleagues around the North close to the border, which is something that may not necessarily have occurred to people before it was voiced.

“One particular area, chartered engineering, is a statutory title, and Engineers Ireland is that body that the authority in this country to award it. There are similar charter qualifications in the UK, and for certain pieces of work, you need to be a chartered engineer. So if there wasn’t mutual recognition, engineers and also the work would suffer. Whether Brexit happens or not, we are getting ready,” he said.

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