Having a strong, independent, national voice that influences public policy and builds and maintains a strong reputation for the engineering profession is a distinctive feature of Engineers Ireland’s work. Richard Manton presents highlights of 2021, a year of advocacy that focused on national recovery and a green and digital future.

Advocacy central to Engineers Ireland strategy

On January 18, Engineers Ireland unveiled the Statement of Strategic Intent 2021-2023. It was informed by a review of the outgoing Strategic Plan (2017-2020), internal and external research, and an in-depth consultation process.

The statement is based on six core work areas, one of which is ‘advocacy for the profession and its contribution to social, environmental and economic development’. This includes:

  • Shaping and implementing public policy, eg, wellbeing, climate action and biodiversity loss, and infrastructure investment;
  • Taking a whole-of-organisation approach to championing the UN SDGs;
  • Promoting and celebrating engineering excellence in all its forms;
  • Growing and supporting our Regional branches, engineering Divisions and Societies;
  • Inspiring the future generation of engineers through our STEPS programme.

Launching the strategy, the taoiseach, Micheál Martin, said: “The [engineering] profession has played an important part in the pandemic response, and will do again as we launch an ambitious capital investment programme to create jobs and improve quality of life.”

Martin’s full speech is available on Engineers Ireland’s YouTube channel.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin TD joins director general Caroline Spillane, past president Marguerite Sayers and president Maurice Buckley to launch the Statement of Strategic Intent 2021-2023

Resilience of the profession

Engineers and engineering organisations across the various economic sectors have demonstrated great resilience throughout the pandemic. The Engineering 2021: A barometer of the profession in Ireland, published on March 1, was the latest in an annual assessment of employment trends in the sector and featured nearly 2,000 responses to a survey of Engineers Ireland members conducted online between January 12-26, 2021.

The results show that the profession remains robust in terms of remuneration, job opportunities and outlook in the face of the pandemic, Brexit and the general economic strain. 

To gauge the impact of the pandemic on engineering careers, respondents were asked whether they agreed with the statement ‘my career has stalled as a result of the pandemic’. A mere 18% of respondents agreed that their careers had stalled, while 55% disagreed and 27% neither agreed nor disagreed.

A mere 18% of respondents said ‘my career has stalled as a result of the pandemic’

Separately, one in five engineers was placed on a wage subsidy scheme at some point in the past year (falling to 2% in January 2021), suggesting that most engineering organisations did not experience significant declines in revenue during 2020. In fact, two-thirds of engineers increased their salary in the past year and just one in 20 reported receiving a pay cut. 

Engineering directors and managers remained confident about growth in their organisations in 2021, with 79% planning to recruit engineers. Utilities (which include electricity, water, gas and telecommunications) intend to expand their engineering workforce in the year ahead, with 94% of these companies looking to hire engineers.

Junior engineers were more likely to be negatively impacted by the pandemic. About a quarter of junior engineers said that their career had stalled due to the pandemic, and a similar proportion were in receipt of the wage subsidy at some point. Nevertheless, junior engineers remain positive about the engineering profession: more than 80% agreed that engineering is a rewarding career for young people and 74% said that there are plenty of job opportunities.

Dáil marks World Engineering Day

March 4 was World Engineering Day for Sustainable Development, a Unesco international day to highlight the achievements of engineers and improve public understanding of how engineering is central to sustainable development. The contribution of engineers to society was acknowledged on the day in Dáil Éireann by Brian Leddin TD, chair of the oireachtas climate committee, and tánaiste Leo Varadkar.

Leddin said: “As an engineer, I recognise the significant contribution Irish engineers will make to our economy and society as we tackle the challenges of energy and mobility, in particular, and also the contribution they will make to the global effort to mitigate carbon emissions.” 

To which Varadkar responded: “I thank the deputy for giving me the opportunity to acknowledge that today is World Engineering Day. I acknowledge the enormous contribution that engineers make to strengthening our economy and making it a better place, particularly when it comes to housing and infrastructure.”

Brian Leddin TD and tánaiste Leo Varadkar discuss World Engineering Day for Sustainable Development in Dáil Éireann on March 4

To mark the day, Engineers Ireland hosted a panel discussion on the contribution of engineering to climate action at home and abroad. Richard Manton was joined by Maurice Buckley, president of Engineers Ireland, Brian Leddin TD, chair of oireachtas climate committee, Emma Brown, Engineers Without Borders, and William Finnegan, chair of Engineers Ireland West Region. The event formed part of STEPS Engineers Week, our nationwide celebration of engineering in Ireland. 

Brexit Lecture Series

The series explored the impact of Brexit on engineering, business and trade in Ireland and the UK. An excellent line-up from manufacturing, construction, education and consultancy addressed four webinars during March-May 2021. The four lectures were:

  • The new EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) and Inter Trade Ireland Brexit supports;
  • The impact of Brexit and the pandemic on engineering in the northwest;
  • The impact of Brexit on cross-border procurement and supply chain;
  • Post-Brexit construction in Ireland and the UK.

The recordings (available here) of these events are relevant not only to engineers and business leaders on both sides of the Irish Sea, but also to members with an interest in Brexit and the new trade reality.

The lecture series was a collaboration between the Donegal Region, GB Region, North East Region, North West Region and Northern Region as part of Engineers Ireland’s National Recovery Initiative.

Professional indemnity insurance, mica and pyrite

During 2021, an increasing number of members reported difficulties accessing affordable and effective professional indemnity (PI) insurance. This is of particular concern for fire safety design and certification, but it is a problem that impacts on all areas of construction, including houses, apartments, factories and public infrastructure.

For example, without the required insurances, engineers’ BCAR certification will be undermined by the lack of cover which, in turn, will impact the completion of building of housing and commercial developments already delayed by the pandemic.

This area is complex with many different inputs including procurement, fire safety, building regulations etc. The Irish market for PI insurance is experiencing the same influences as other markets from the UK to Australia.

There is no simple solution to the current market, but members can prepare in advance to obtain the best available cover (see here). Engineers Ireland engaged with insurers, statutory agencies, ministers, politicians and construction industry bodies on this topic. 

To bring our concerns to the attention of policymakers, John Power, vice-president, and Michael P Lyons, chairperson of the Fire and Safety Division,  addressed the oireachtas committee on finance, public expenditure and the taoiseach on May 26. Their opening statement is available on the oireachtas website and their appearance was covered on RTÉ Radio 1 Drivetime, The Irish Times and the Irish Examiner.

John Power and Michael Lyons address the oireachtas committee on professional indemnity insurance

Homes damaged by defective blocks containing deleterious materials (such as mica and pyrite) was also a major issue in 2021. Engineers Ireland holds the register of engineers competent to carry out assessments for these deleterious materials in line with IS 465.

Following surveys and engagements with these engineers, Engineers Ireland lodged a comprehensive submission to the Working Group on the Defective Blocks Grant Scheme and brought our concerns to the attention of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage (DHLGH).

These concerns included liability risks and second remediation; pyrrhotite; extension of the redress scheme beyond Donegal and Mayo; and 10 other issues. We continue to engage with the IS 465 registrants and DHLGH on this issue.

Sustainability Grand Tour

The Sustainability Grand Tour was a weekly webinar series, which ran from January to May 2021. The series explored the role of engineers in developing more sustainable cities and communities, in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

With speakers from all over Ireland and internationally presenting case study examples of leading sustainability engineering projects, the webinar series aimed to demonstrate how engineers can integrate sustainability concepts into their projects at all stages from design to end-of-life.

The Sustainability Grand Tour was a collaboration between 10 sectors of Engineers Ireland: West, South East, Cork, Northern, Midlands, GB and North East Regions, the Energy, Environment and Climate Action Division and the Roads and Transportation and Academic Societies.

The 19 webinars brought together thousands of Engineers Ireland members to explore the role of engineers in developing sustainable cities and communities. Webinars covered a diverse range of topics such as transport, construction, housing, energy efficiency, UN SDGs, education, manufacturing, sustainable energy, and biodiversity.

The closing event of the Sustainability Grand Tour took place on May 13 on the topic ‘Engineering sustainability into public policy’. Minister Eamon Ryan, responsible for the environment, climate and communications and transport, joined president Maurice Buckley, Liam Ryan of EirGrid and representatives of Engineers Ireland’s Electrical Division, Energy, Environment & Climate Action Division and West Region.

At the closing event, the minister said: “Engineers will be at the forefront [of climate action], they’ll be at the front line. I’m telling young people now, more than anything else, go into engineering. That’s how you be the hero for tomorrow.”

Minister Eamon Ryan and EirGrid’s Liam Ryan join president Maurice Buckley, Siobhán Kennedy, Bernice Doyle and Órla Burke from Engineers Ireland at the Sustainability Grand Tour closing event

Protecting biodiversity and the role of engineers

The biodiversity crisis is having serious and far-reaching impacts on many aspects of our lives. Humans rely on biodiversity for our health and wellbeing and to support many of our economic activities.

Biodiversity provides us with, for example, clean air, water, food, fuel, medicines, recreation, supports pollination and soil fertility, protects us from extreme weather, and regulates our climate.

In July, Engineers Ireland published ‘Protecting Biodiversity, the role of engineers: Issues paper’. The paper outlines key issues, challenges, 11 case studies and recommendations to enhance the role of engineers in protecting biodiversity.

This work was based on a cross-sectoral Engineers Ireland initiative to action the organisation’s declaration of a climate and biodiversity emergency, to build capacity on biodiversity, to foster collaboration and to raise awareness.

Following a consultation process with organisations focused on biodiversity, ecologists and environmental specialists, and heritage and biodiversity officers, the following key issues were identified: biodiversity as an opportunity, not a constraint; changing what and how we design; and monitoring and accountability – meeting our obligations.

The issues paper concludes with a set of recommendations related to field trips and CPD for engineers on biodiversity, awareness and collaboration, the National Biodiversity Action Plan, and media and recognition. 

The green bridge on the M17/18, one of the case studies in the Protecting Biodiversity issues paper

Shaping and implementing public policy

The past 12 months was a particularly busy year for public policy as the government completed its first full year in office. Landmark publications included the revised National Development Plan 2021-2030, the revised Climate Action Plan 2021, Housing For All and the National Recovery & Resilience Plan.

Engineers Ireland, with considered input from our Sectors and other stakeholders, lodged submissions to each of these policies and plans. For example, the Energy, Environment & Climate Action Division prepared an extensive submission to the Climate Action Plan 2021. All of Engineers Ireland’s submissions can be found on our website.

There were many welcome features of these policy developments, which Engineers Ireland has advocated in recent years, for example:

  • Climate: 51% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, a legally binding commitment to net zero by 2050 and specific investments (eg, energy, transport and water);
  • Infrastructure investment: increased to €165 billion or 5% GNI for the period 2021-2030, aligned to the National Planning Framework;
  • Housing: retrofitting 500,000 homes by 2030, 300,000 new homes by 2030, support for the Land Development Agency and modern methods of construction.

Engineers will be critical to the implementation of these and other policies outlined in last year’s Programme for Government.

Yet our state still faces many environmental, social and economic challenges that require ambitious policy making. Engineers Ireland has also called, for example, for the government to truly embrace further/higher education and lifelong learning and to future-proof our economy by preparing for the future of work. These and other policy priorities are outlined in our submission to Budget 2022.

Learning, leading, living and linking sustainability

Throughout 2021, sustainability and the implementation of the Sustainability Framework was a whole-of-organisation priority for Engineers Ireland. Adopted by Council in July 2020, the Sustainability Framework aligns sustainability actions with our core objectives under the headings: Learn (professional formation and development), Live (operations), Lead (advocacy and regulation) and Link (collaboration).

Our approach to sustainability includes the resilience of our built and natural environment in the face of extreme weather (climate adaptation), the need to reduce emissions related to our buildings, vehicles and infrastructure (climate mitigation), biodiversity protection and enhancement, and achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

To date, significant progress has been made under each of the four pillars:

  • Learn: published new Accreditation Criteria, developed new CPD training courses, hosted a wide range of webinars and events (including the Sustainability Grand Tour), and embedded sustainability in STEPS initiatives;
  • Live: released a new website with sustainability pages (here), undertook an energy audit of 22 Clyde Road, pivoted to online engagements, and adopted a sustainable events policy;
  • Lead: agreed a new organisational strategy, published the State of Ireland report, lodged submissions, profiled sustainable engineering in the media, and held two national conferences;
  • Link: organised interdisciplinary training and events, released the Protecting Biodiversity issues paper, and co-hosted the Building Collaboration for Climate Action conference.

More information on each of these actions is available in the Sustainability Framework Progress Report 2020-2021.

Integrating green and digital solutions

Professor Orla Feely, president of Engineers Ireland 2021/22, delivered her presidential address on the topic of ‘Saints, Scholars and Engineers: How engineering transformed a nation’ at 22 Clyde Road on September 30. In a wide-ranging and insightful speech, Prof Feely addressed the transformation of Irish industry, inclusion and diversity in engineering, digitalisation, sustainability and much more.

Speaking to a hybrid audience, Prof Feely said: "The experience of the past 18 months has thrown up new ways of working that will in many cases persist, supported by digital technologies. A possible weakening of the importance of place presents challenges, opportunities and questions. It is interesting to imagine what a creative response to these questions might yield.”

The full transcript of the address is available here.

Prof Orla Feely, president of Engineers Ireland 2021/22, speaks to David McWilliams at the National Conference on October 13

Engineers Ireland's 2021 National Conference took place online on October 13 on the theme ‘Engineering in a new world: digital and sustainable solutions for society’. The motivational and solutions-focused event showcased best practice deployed by engineers at this time of global challenge.

The conference featured presentations on offshore wind energy, sustainable transport, timber construction, cycle paths, sustainable semiconductor manufacturing, and the digital and green recovery.

In November, the public expenditure and reform minister, Michael McGrath TD, announced €2.5 million for the Build Digital project (to a TU Dublin-led consortium, following a competitive grant call). This project will deliver digital adoption in the construction sector and is a key output of the Construction Innovation and Digital Adoption Group, chaired by Engineers Ireland past president PJ Rudden.

Also in November, the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs published 'Skills for Zero Carbon: The Demand for Renewable Energy, Residential Retrofit and Electric Vehicle Deployment Skills to 2030'. Engineers Ireland was represented on the group by Dr Úna Beagon.

Later this December, Engineers Ireland will publish ‘The State of Ireland 2021’ report on digitalisation and infrastructure. The report will assess where Ireland stands in the digital world today and how we can better prepare for the digital world of tomorrow. It will draw on lessons from the pandemic, the latest digital solutions and perspectives from the National Conference, our Council and other engineering experts.

Getting involved in Engineers Ireland’s advocacy

In conclusion, throughout 2021, Engineers Ireland continued to advocate for the profession and its contribution to social, environmental and economic development, focusing on national recovery and a green and digital future. We adopted an advocacy strategy, established an Advocacy Standing Committee (chaired by past president Maurice Buckley) and we are expanding our team.

We encourage members to get involved in these advocacy efforts through your Regions, Divisions and Societies (which you can join from your Member Dashboard in ‘My Preferences’), including our new and reformed sectors: Agriculture and Food Division, An Roth, Electrical Division, Electronic and Computing Division, Executive and Business Society, Inclusion and Diversity Society, MEETA Asset Management Society, Public Sector Division, and Water and Environmental Society.