John Power CEng FIEI was inaugurated as the 130th president of Engineers Ireland on June 2, 2022. He is an engineering graduate (1975) from University College Dublin, later completing a Master’s degree in Industrial Engineering (MIE) and an MBA.
Following graduation, he began working as a technical adviser with General Electric in the USA and South America. In 1978 Power joined ESB, where during a 30-year career, he enjoyed a number of diverse roles in engineering management, marketing and corporate change before becoming HR manager in ESB Networks, executive director in ESBI, and finally, head of ESB Corporate Affairs.
A former director general of Engineers Ireland (2007-2015), he greatly enhanced the profile of the profession by highlighting the contribution of engineering to the quality of all our lives. He also promoted the title of Chartered Engineer and was instrumental in the inclusion of the CEng title in the revised building regulations.
John Power: Engineers Ireland president, 2022-2023.
Other initiatives included raising the reputation of Irish engineering qualifications internationally and the requirement for a master's degree or equivalent, to secure the title of Chartered Engineer.
The first television advertisement, promoting the profession, was produced during his time as DG. During this period, Power also chaired the International Centre for Graduate Education in Micro and Nano Engineering (ICGEE) and chaired the Rail Safety Advisory Council for seven years.
He received the Association of Consulting Engineers of Ireland President’s Award in 2013. A past president of the UCD Engineering Graduates Association, he became a Fellow of Engineers Ireland in 1985.
UCD Smurfit Business School.
Now practising as an executive coach, he deploys his broad career experience supporting others. He graduated with his executive coaching qualification from the UCD Smurfit Business School in 2016. He is now an accredited senior executive coach with the European Mentoring and Coaching Council.
He serves as a trustee of the Arup Charitable Trust and is a member of the Engineers Ireland Benevolent Fund committee.
1) Who is your engineer hero, or the nearest you have to one?
All disciplines of engineering have many heroes and everything that’s good in the world wouldn’t be the same without them. I would specifically mention biomedical engineers and the whole area of medtech, which has made so many advances and benefitted so many people.
They have to stand out, though there are heroes in every field of the profession. I would also like to mention the engineers who built our lighthouses – work that has largely gone unappreciated except by those directly affected.
George Halpin and William Douglass.
The work of George Halpin and William Douglass, to name but two, is the stuff of legends.
The most famous and iconic lighthouse work was overseen by William Douglass – the Fastnet Lighthouse.
When one considers just how inclement the seas around the rock can be (remember 21 people died in the 1979 Fastnet race) it’s simple to imagine just how difficult and unsafe the construction work was and add to that the construction style and the equipment available (or not) at the time, makes the achievement all the more staggering.
The fact that is stands proudly off our south coast and still delivers a hugely valuable service today is a perfect example of the lasting impact of the contribution of our engineering colleagues from yesteryear – 120 years of continuous Atlantic seas and storms have failed to blemish this inspired piece of engineering.
2) What are your favourite engineering feats in Ireland?
A huge engineering feat of the 2000s was the Dublin Port Tunnel, which went to tender in 2000 and opened in December 2006. It demonstrated that very large infrastructure projects can be delivered on time when we put our minds to it.
Dublin Port Tunnel.
Another huge feat of engineering was rural electrification – it transformed the country.
3) Engineers have a tendency to hide themselves under a bushel, and should be, would you agree, more robust communicators?
I stated during my presidential acceptance speech: "Engineers are at the centre of the solutions needed to ensure a decent future for the next generation and their children after them.
"We should be proud to assume this leadership role and never be afraid to let everybody else, particularly the decision makers at all levels, know that it is in engineers and engineering where the real value lies and not with other professions that equate contribution to the monetary rates they charge.
"This promotion of the real difference made by engineers and engineering has always been a challenge for our profession, which I suggest is the most giving of all professions.
"We also owe it to those engineers who have delivered so much in the past, here at home in Ireland and elsewhere, to stand up and be counted as the profession that delivers the right solutions and adds real value.”
4) Should this country take another look at the use of nuclear power?
We’ve a very big challenge here, there’s no doubt, but there are possible solutions that need to be examined. I think it is time to reawaken the discussion on nuclear energy in an informed, mature and balanced manner.
We, as engineers, need to be innovative in relation to the provision of energy while keeping climate change, and its effects, to the forefront of our minds. The extensive use of fossil fuels has created an enormous challenge for all of us in addressing the damage caused to the planet with the use of fossil fuels. Surely 'nuclear' deserves a fair hearing at least.
Ireland needs to be pragmatic in relation to our decarbonisation goals, and this should include re-examining legislative restrictions that preclude the generation of nuclear energy in this country under the Electricity Regulation Act.
Small modular nuclear reactor.
Innovative approaches like the use of small modular nuclear reactors need to be given real consideration if we are serious about mitigating the prospect of inevitable energy shortages in the years ahead if we stick to the present populist approach.
5) Are there any other measures that we need to take in order to help improve the gender balance within the profession?
First, it’s important to acknowledge that great progress has been made in this area. There is no doubt that the one thing we must do is to continue our focus on STEM education – inspiring curiosity, exploration, creativity and problem-solving in children from an early age.
'In March of 2023 during Engineers Week, more than 160,000 children will register directly with our STEPS programme.'
We’re very proud of our Engineers Ireland STEPS Programme, a year-round strategic outreach programme that promotes interest and awareness in engineering as a future career to school students through a portfolio of projects such as the Engineering Your Future Programme, the STEPS Young Engineers Award and of course, STEPS Engineers Week.
In March of 2023 during Engineers Week, more than 160,000 children will register directly with our STEPS programme. We’re delighted to see that more and more young people foster their creativity and innovation through engineering and see it for the exciting, rewarding and diverse career it is, with work that is both satisfying and far-reaching.
Hopefully, as a country, we are beginning to realise that the vast majority of jobs in the foreseeable future will have a significant technological element and that our politicians will make funding decisions for education with that in mind.
6) How can we further raise the profile of the profession?
We need to encourage our expert members (and there are very many) to publicly voice their opinions in the critical challenges we all face including, sustainability, infrastructure, transport, water, waste management, renewables, nuclear power, biomedical advances, artificial intelligence and, of course, climate change – to name but a few!
And, also I might add, by considering running for political office themselves – that really would be at the centre of change for the country as a whole.
Additionally, since engineers no longer work in isolation, the profile of engineers is being raised automatically; as nowadays we need to collaborate and communicate as never before and recognise that solutions are no longer one dimensional but require inputs from a variety of professionals working together in order to be truly effective.
We can’t solve everything but engineers must do more than our fair share because engineers know more about problem solving than most others – hence the greater pressure on us. We haven’t shirked this responsibility in the past and I am sure we will rise to the occasion again, now that it has never been more needed.
7) When did you first become interested in engineering?
I was interested from an early age and, thankfully, have had a most enjoyable career.
8) Who were the mentors who helped you on your way?
I always found it useful or helpful to listen to those older and wiser than I and glean from them what I could – that's how I picked up valuable insights and knowledge. I have also enjoyed the support of a number of coaches and mentors throughout my career.
9) Have you travelled widely work-wise and, if so, is there any country or experience that stands out?
I’ve been very fortunate to have seen a lot of the world – we really should never forget just how lucky we are in this country; my travels in sub-Saharan Africa showed me that people who have absolutely nothing are yet so dignified.
A Maasai village in sub-Saharan Africa.
And looking at the people of the former Soviet republics – where citizens don’t enjoy the freedoms that we take for granted – also highlights how blessed we are to live in this country and to have the privileges that we enjoy here.
10) What are your favourite book/s?
I’ve probably read every single book about the Blasket islands. We can all learn from those people who lived in such difficult circumstances but who made such a huge contribution – particularly to literature – in this country.
Great Blasket Island, Co Kerry.
11) What is the one piece of advice you would give to somebody starting out in the profession?
I would advise younger members, especially, to get involved; don’t stand on the sidelines. Never be afraid to ask questions regardless of how silly you think they may be – you're probably reflecting what others are thinking. And, most importantly of all, have fun.
12) What is the best piece of advice that you have ever been given?
We are given one mouth and two ears for a very good reason, and I would certainly promote active listening! Never be afraid to listen to those people who have more experience and never be afraid to move outside your own comfort zone – it’s where most learning is gained.
13) Looking back over your career, is there any project, or particular time in your life, that stands out?
A particular time I would mention was being part of a very small corporate change project team within ESB – I learnt an awful lot during that time.
ESB headquarters, Dublin.
14) If you hadn’t become an engineer, what might you have become?
Well, the many other disciplines of engineering that have emerged since I qualified 48 years ago in 1975 have only strengthened my belief that, if I had my time over again, I would definitely choose engineering as a career – my dilemma would be which discipline to go for – such is the challenge, excitement, opportunity, contribution and enjoyment afforded those who pursue any of the engineering disciplines, let alone the privilege of making a real difference for good.