This year, our advocacy focused on housing, planning, climate action, skills shortages, the future of engineering education and Brexit, writes Richard Manton.

Engineers Ireland strives to be the progressive, forward-thinking authority and relevant voice on a range of priority issues linked with engineering in Ireland.

Our research, policy and public affairs work is dedicated to developing evidence-based solutions for the benefit of Irish society, influencing public policy and building the profile of the engineering profession.

This year, our advocacy focused on housing, planning, climate action, skills shortages, the future of engineering education and Brexit.

We engaged with members and industry partners to develop positions in these areas and brought our recommendations to ministers, politicians, advisers and the media.

Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies

In January and February, Engineers Ireland hosted workshops in Dublin and Galway to develop submissions to the Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies, which will shape regional and local planning for years to come.

The strategies set out regional policies and co-ordinate initiatives that support the implementation of national planning policy, particularly the National Planning Framework.

The workshops featured presentations by Regional Assembly staff followed by Engineers Ireland member discussions and debate. Our submissions (available here) emphasised the importance of effective regional development, climate action, infrastructure and housing.

Tracking engineering salaries and benefits

Our salary survey report was circulated exclusively to Engineers Ireland members in February.

It is based on an annual member survey, receiving almost 2,000 responses, and detailed analysis of salaries and benefits according to discipline, seniority and much more.

The report shows that junior engineers received a five per cent pay boost in the past year, worth about €2,000. Also, a Chartered Engineer with six to 10 years’ experience receives a median salary of €50,000.

Members have told us that the salary survey report is a valuable tool in their salary negotiations and career planning.

Skills shortages bite

‘Engineering 2019: A barometer of the profession in Ireland’ is our second annual report on engineering employment, perspectives and education.

It is based on an employer survey, member survey and public poll (conducted by Behaviour & Attitudes). The major themes of this year’s report were continued employment growth and high public confidence in the profession, but also serious skills shortages.

Engineering 2019 was launched during Engineers Week in March at our offices on Clyde Road by Minister for Education & Skills Joe McHugh TD and was later presented to President Michael D Higgins.

Our advocacy on skills shortages over the last three years bore fruit with the addition of civil engineers and mechanical and electrical engineers with BIM capabilities to the ‘Critical Skills List’.

This opens up employment permits for these engineers from outside Europe and, while engineering employers still have some concerns about employment permit processes, this reform has eased some of the impacts of skills shortages.

The evidence base we provided was acknowledged by the Minister for Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys TD, on Twitter.

Engineers’ priorities for local elections 2019

Given the importance of engineers to the functions of city and county councils, we produced a brochure of Engineers’ Priorities for Local Elections 2019 in May.

We highlighted engineering evidence and five key actions for candidates and voters to consider:
• Provide safe and sustainable homes and other buildings
• Plan for the future, implement the objectives of Project Ireland 2040
• Take urgent action to achieve the sustainable development goals and reduce greenhouse gases
• Provide sustainable and connected travel facilities and services
• Get ready for the future of work, life and learning

The brochure was circulated to 1,440 election candidates, sitting councillors, TDs and senators. We asked our members to use their voices to raise these priorities.

Then president Peter Quinn visited our local authority members (pictured in Cork city) over the past year and wrote an op-ed article on the election for the Engineers Journal: ‘Councillors’ choices over the next five years will be felt for a generation’.

Engineering actions on housing, climate and infrastructure

In June, we launched The State of Ireland 2019: A review of housing and infrastructure. Our expert advisory group allocated housing a ‘D’ grade – stating that the capacity, condition and connectivity of Ireland’s housing is of serious concern and requires immediate action.

The report presents 100 actions to future-proof Ireland’s built environment, bringing together actions on housing, climate action and infrastructure.

The State of Ireland 2019 was based on the deliberations of an expert advisory group of engineers and related housing professionals, including CEOs of state bodies and local authorities, consulting engineers, home builders, academics and other Engineers Ireland members.

Our recommendations included: a co-ordinated approach to land and infrastructure, a roadmap for retrofitting, revitalising our rural towns and villages, and promoting new technology and attractive careers in construction.

The report was launched by Fr Peter McVerry at an event which also featured an address from Marguerite Sayers, president of Engineers Ireland, and contributions from John Moran (chairperson, Land Development Agency), Frank Curran (chief executive, Wicklow County Council) and Eugene Lynch (chief executive, McAvoy Group).

The report received widespread media coverage, including RTÉ Six One News, Morning Ireland, Newstalk's Hard Shoulder, Today FM's Last Word, The Irish Times, Irish Examiner and Irish Independent.

Engineers Ireland held follow-up meetings with ministers, politicians, policy advisers and state agencies to campaign for the implementation of our recommendations.

Oireachtas Housing Committee

Later in the year, we appeared at the Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government on the pre-legislative scrutiny of the general scheme of the Land Development Agency Bill 2019.

Engineers Ireland’s director general, Caroline Spillane, and past president, Dr Kieran Feighan welcomed the general scheme of the bill which establishes the Land Development Agency (LDA) on a primary legislative basis.

However, they emphasised that “the LDA must have a strong legislative mandate, should be well governed and adequately resourced in terms of funding and expertise to grasp these opportunities for environmental, social and economic transformation”.

Five recommendations

• Clarity on institutional relationships
• A co-ordinated approach to infrastructure development
• Compulsory purchase order powers
• An explicit focus on developing sustainable communities and quality homes
• Resources and professional competence

You can read Engineers Ireland’s opening statement to the committee, read coverage in The Irish Times and you can watch the playback of the proceedings.

Construction and Brexit

Engineers Ireland is represented on the Construction Sector Group by director general Caroline Spillane, providing a voice for the engineering profession at the highest levels of government.

The group is tackling major issues for the construction sector, including the delivery of Project Ireland 2040, capacity in the sector and productivity.

We are advocating for the establishment of a construction innovation centre of excellence and we are engaging with the Office of Government Procurement on the reform of public procurement, including the Capital Works Management Framework.

Over the past year, one of the biggest challenges for the construction sector, and the country as a whole, has been Brexit.

A particular concern has been the impact of a potential ‘no deal’ Brexit on the Construction Products Regulation, where UK ‘notified bodies’ would lose their legal status to perform assessments of products leading to the ‘CE’ marking.

We have been working with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government which has produced a leaflet on the Construction Products Regulation - available here.

We published a ‘Getting Brexit Ready’ page on our website to signpost information and services available to help members to manage Brexit risk.

This includes our agreement with the UK Engineering Council to maintain the recognition of qualifications thereby enabling the mobility of engineers post-Brexit. Other guidance is provided on trading with the UK and applying for an EORI number.

Additional €800m

In October, we welcomed the €800 million increase in capital expenditure to €8.1 billion in Budget 2020, a recommendation within our own 'Pre-Budget Submission' to Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform.

We argued that it is essential that this increase take place regardless of the outcome of Brexit. In fact, in the event of a ‘no-deal Brexit’ capital investment will help to stimulate the economy.

Our top five recommendations for Budget 2020

• Implement Project Ireland 2040 investment commitments, bringing capital expenditure to €8.1 billion
• Achieve value-for-money in capital spending through reform of infrastructure policy, planning and delivery
• Take urgent climate action by progressing critical enablers for renewable energy, electric vehicle adoption and retrofitting
• Build safe and sustainable homes, retrofit the existing housing stock and support productivity and innovation in construction
• Prepare now for the future of work, life and learning by investing in education, reskilling and R&D

These priorities will shape our campaigning in the run-up to a general election, which is expected in the next six months.

Partnering with the World Bank

Engineers Ireland partnered with the World Bank for the highly influential Doing Business 2020 project, which benchmarks business regulations in 190 economies worldwide to identify good practices and eliminate obstacles to doing business.

For two of the 10 indicators, ‘Dealing with Construction Permits’ and ‘Getting Electricity’, we identified engineering contributors on the operations, regulations and costs for building and obtaining electricity for a defined case study warehouse.

In November, the results were published in the Doing Business 2020 report, which supports the reforms of local, national and international policymakers.

This partnership complemented our other high-profile contributions to the European Commission’s Country Report Ireland 2019 (published in February) on infrastructure and to the International Energy Agency’s Ireland 2019 Review (published in April) on energy policy.

The future of engineering education

We held the ‘Engineering Education: Future skills, standards and mobility’ conference on October 30, to examine the future of engineering education in Ireland and internationally.

Engineers Ireland welcomed delegates from seven universities, seven institutes of technology and 19 engineering organisations to Clyde Road.

An impressive array of speakers addressed the impact of global challenges on engineering skills, including the UN Sustainable Development Goals, digitalisation and the future of work.

Conference attendees heard from presidents of four European engineering organisations: Sveriges Ingenjörer (Swedish Association of Graduate Engineers), European Society for Engineering Education, European Federation of Consulting Engineering Associations and European Network for Accreditation of Engineering Education.

The conference also showcased EU-funded research projects on engineering education and engaged attendees on the future of Engineers Ireland’s accreditation process. A recording of the conference is available on Engineers TV and a special issue of the Engineers Journal followed in December.

Climate action as urgent focus for 2020

Marguerite Sayers delivered her presidential address on 'Climate Change – Engineering to Fix It – or Live with it', highlighting the interplay between climate change, global infrastructure and the role of engineers.

She also wrote an op-ed for the Irish Independent, 'It has taken the young to shake our apathy on global warming': "The climate-change crisis is a call-to-action for engineers in Ireland and across the world to use their ingenuity and problem-solving abilities to tackle the greatest challenge ever faced by modern humanity.

"I am appealing for colleagues in all facets of engineering to apply their innovation skills to climate change as an urgent focus for 2020.”

Throughout 2020, climate action will be an urgent focus for Engineers Ireland research, policy and public affairs.

Author: Richard Manton, deputy registrar and policy officer, Engineers Ireland.