Gregory Allard is a civil engineer with Clandillon Civil Consulting (CCC). He graduated with a first class honours BE in Civil Engineering from the University of Limerick in 2020. He has been involved with Thomond YES since 2019 where he has acted as chairperson for the past two years and leads the EI Engineering Your Future Programme at CCC.

Gregory Allard

He is motivated to ensure that young people learn about engineering as a career from a young age, as he almost missed this career path from a lack of exposure and understanding of an engineering career at school.

Allard loves problem solving: either at work, volunteering as chairperson of the Thomond YES, or through challenging sports like hiking, mountain biking or rock climbing in his free time.

When did you first become interested in engineering?  

I have always been interested in engineering, even before I knew what it was. Some of my fondest memories are spending days at the beach with my siblings, initially building sandcastles but later exploring creating tunnels and arches in the sand.

I have more memories of playing with bikes in my back garden, creating jumps out of sand, rocks, block and timber, anything that we could get our hands on. I learnt to repair the brakes, replace tubes, etc on these same bikes.

These moments of experimentation show my curiosity and problem-solving skills from a young age – key traits of an engineer.

One day I stumbled upon a series of YouTube channels – Vsauce, Minute Physics, SmarterEveryday, Interesting Engineering – and I learnt how you could apply maths to real-world problems to develop repeatable solutions.

These ideas were explained visually in simple terms. These visual explanations allowed me to imagine forces/effects acting on myself, ie, tension in my arm to carry a shopping bag, or momentum when you turn a corner quickly in a car.

Who were the mentors who helped you on your way? 

There have been countless people who have helped me in both big and small ways.

The enthusiasm and encouragement of family, teachers, lecturers, coaches/mentors, employers, peers and friends have allowed me to pursue my passion. The 'small' positive interactions you have each day with those around you can balloon into success that you may never imagine.

My mother is my greatest hero and supporter. I was raised in a creative, loving environment where I was able to explore my curiosity. I spent (and spend) lots of time outside, exploring and playing, and I have to thank my mother for giving me this freedom and support. When I wasn’t playing outside, Mam used to set me painting, colouring or crafting – anything to keep me from annoying her with questions.

Moving through school, Caherea NS and St Flannans College, and on to university – the University of Limerick – there were plenty (too many to name) of enthusiastic teachers and lecturers that cemented good practices and interesting ideas in my head, all which have allowed me to mature into the person and engineer that I am today.

I had the pleasure of working with Keating Construction through which I was able to learn good practices from experienced engineers and managers and who helped to confirm that civil engineering was for me.

I also have great mentors around me at Clandillon Civil Consulting: Senan, Ailis, Paul, Sean, Pietro, and Heather provide challenge, responsibility and support for me; they all have a lot of knowledge and skills and provide strong reference points for what the 'full package' engineer could be.

What are your favourite engineering feats? 

Site-based solutions… I really like rollercoasters. The fact that we can confidently throw people around loops, banked corners, over crests and more in a safe manner is unbelievable. Motorsports excite me further.

Tayto Park rollercoaster

The idea that we can take away the rails and place the karts/cars side by side and provide the same level of safety and control is mind blowing. You can argue that those drivers are highly trained, but we also develop public roads with a lower level of training and again, our understanding of engineering allows us to travel with a reduced level of risk.

There is so much innovation and purposeful design undertaken each day that you don’t think about. Any design that removes the need for thought is good design, ie flat panels placed on the push side of a door to signal the door is push, entering an elevator and pressing 'G' for ground floor, or how TikTok makes you scroll from video to video to keep you engaged (great engineering, is this ethical?).

What is/are the most important trend/s in engineering right now? 

Knowledge Management – This is not a new idea, but the importance of capturing and sharing information is becoming more important. As technology and research improves, so too does the complexity and the level of expertise required in projects. It is important to capture key decisions to avoid 'reinventing the wheel'.

BIM – The ability to compile, visualise and clash-check a large number of components quickly for the design team, client or site team reduces waste, rework and lost time on site.

BIM

Soft skills – The recognition that soft skills are equally as important as technical skills. Communicating ideas, managing tasks and time, and making decisions are some examples of soft skills that are now actively mentored in engineering.

Multidisciplinary design – Design teams are now more closely integrated internally and externally. The digital revolution brought on by 'recent events' has greatly improved teamwork, communication and idea sharing. The ability to screen-share during discussions also allows better communication of ideas, problems and solutions.

How do we continue to attract inward investment with regard to data centres while ‘avoiding blackouts or using up too much electricity’?   

Ahhh. I was really hoping John Smyth from the Cork YES had a really clever answer to this in his Q&A that I could borrow for this response… I read an article on RTE recently where heat from the Amazon data centre will be used to warm local homes. Something that Heather and Cian, who I work with, have spoken about is carbon credits. These are the total carbon output a business can generate in a period of time. The business is encouraged to offset its carbon footprint each year by investing in renewable energy, reforestation, and so on

What are your favourite book/s? And what are you currently reading? 

I enjoy podcasts more than reading as I spend a lot of time travelling. I typically listen to the F1 – Beyond the Grid and follow some mountain bike podcasts also.

I have recently read some books, with my favourite being Adrian Newey’s How to build a car, which follows his story from mischievous teen to becoming one of the most famous aerodynamicists in the engineering world.

What is the one piece of advice you would give to somebody starting out in the profession?   

I strongly believe that young engineers and graduates should make time to try new hobbies in their early career and try to join local clubs. As enjoyable as your work life might be, if you are 'living for the weekend' you will burn yourself out.

Make your Monday to Friday about more than working and sleeping, your happiness will be reflected in your work!

Are there any other measures that we need to take in order to help improve the gender balance within the profession?    

I think that everybody is keenly aware of the gender imbalance and are working hard to rewire tradition. Gary Brennan, another west Clare man, has recently written an article for the Irish Examiner – “…living in a female-dominated sports world…” that is well worth a read.  

There are lots of women in every discipline of engineering now. We need to continue to show and thank them for their work. We have a strong team of women who play heroic roles in Thomond YES, and I understand this is reflected by the Dublin and Cork societies also! I was also involved in the Engineers Ireland EYF programme where we hosted TY students at Clandillon, and 60% of our attendees were women.

Looking back over your career, is there any project, or particular time in your life, that stands out?    

A challenging period of my career is developing a work/life balance. From fifth year of secondary school, I had the goal of completing university and graduating as a civil engineer. To achieve it, I had to work part-time at the weekends in school and university, and also study and complete assignments and projects.

I would study at random times of the day, as students do, to facilitate working, family and sport. I, and I am sure many of you reading, often worked myself into burnout, took three days-plus to sleep and recover and restarted the cycle. I was so focused on my goal that I was able to undertake this cycle. I would tell myself, 'This is what you need to do'; 'you’re doing well'; ;just get to *date*', etc.

I write this as a memo to you, the reader. Ask yourself, if you stopped doing X, how would you feel? If the answer is relief, ask yourself if the world would end? What would be the consequence of you taking a break from that task, club, etc. Please don’t start quitting your jobs, I am looking more at extra-curricular activities!

Recently I had an issue with overlap between different commitments. I initially joined a team to fill my evenings while other sports were paused. I was training/playing matches three times a week with one team with a significant investment. 

We were successful, won matches and competitions etc and were promoted to the next championship level. At the same time, my primary sport of mountain biking resumed.

There was a six-week overlap and I told myself to stick out commitment No 1 as this was a short time period. However, I did not have enough time or energy to commit to both sports. I compromised where I could and ploughed on, but my quality in both sports was lower than my personal standards. I had to make a decision to leave commitment No 1.

This was a real insight into my capacity and how I operate. I was significantly happier the following weeks and the quality of my mountain biking improved measurably. My MTB Enduro race time improved from 125% of the winning time to 115% over a three-week period as I had more energy and recovery time.

Is there any engineer you wish was better known?  

Thomas Colby of Ordnance Survey Ireland led the principal triangulation of Ireland from 1824 to 1832. Although the initial intent of the triangulation was to assist in taxing, this process paved the way for accurate mapping for Ireland, and later the UK. Irelands OS maps form the basis of any civil engineering project undertaken today.

Colonel Thomas Colby, 1784 - 1852

What is a typical day for you?    

There is no such thing as a typical day or week in my career. I have some habits that I try to stick to. Arrive to the office on time, socialise with my co-workers as I wait for the PC to boot up then open my work list for the day/week.

I try to close out 'quick wins' first to give myself a feeling of accomplishment and motivate me through the harder, slow-burning tasks. I have a wide variety of responsibilities from guiding graduates/students in the company to working on large civil engineering problems, ranging from 225mm diameter drainage pipes to a 90m long RC Retaining Wall to designing 3000m3 drainage attenuation ponds.

I use design software, tools and standards and my judgment to rationalise and simplify complex engineering questions and to propose and justify solutions. It is a rewarding career.

What are your favourite films/TV dramas?    

I really enjoy heist movies that involve planning, a large build-up and action – think Italian Job, Oceans 11, Tower Heist and Escape Plan – I promise I’m not googling engineering stereotypes!

What is the best piece of advice that you have ever been given?    

The best life lesson I was given came from my mam and my first job. I was taught to work hard and to be content starting on the bottom rung. My first job was working in a kitchen as a porter. This is not the most pleasant job, but it was a brilliant learning opportunity. I learnt to work under pressure, prioritise, communicate with the kitchen team, waiting staff, etc. These are core skills that I have been able to build upon as I pursued the career I have now.

My advice to you is that you need to be in it to win it. Again, using the kitchen porter role as an example, it was the skills that I learnt here that allowed me to move to working in a bar and the connections that I made here which led to my first engineering role. Starting something new is scary. However, if you don’t start you can never learn, and if you never learn how can you aim for better. Try, fail, ask questions, assess, improve, try again.

What do you do to relax? 

I like to get involved in sports in my free time. I enjoy team sports like GAA football and hurling but recently I have been challenging myself by attempting rock climbing and mountain biking.

Gregory Allard mountain biking

I really enjoy the flexibility of individual sports and that I spend time in the forests and the mountains where I have time to think and reflect without outside influences (social media).