Chief engineer Noel Clancy says "it is impossible to envisage any career progression without substantial engagement in CPD". It has helped him to keep abreast of topical issues in his area of expertise while providing him with the opportunity to explore other sectors: "the more you engage the more you will learn, exposing you to new areas of engineering that may lead to a change in 'the way we do things' or even in career direction; it also broadens your engineering network, which will stand to you for the rest of your career whatever direction you take".
Clancy graduated with a bachelor of engineering degree (civil) from University College Cork in 1983. "Construction activity was low in Ireland at the time, but I did work here for a couple of years post-graduation before moving to the UK in mid-1987," he says.
"I worked for a civil engineering contractor in Southampton before returning to Ireland in late 1991. I then worked with PJ Hegarty & Sons for several years on both civil engineering and building projects before taking up a contract director position at Bowen Construction in 2007.
"I was responsible for a few large construction projects including the €90m Opera Lane Development in Cork. I subsequently worked as a construction manager with Jacobs Engineering on a large semi-conductor site before taking up my current role as chief engineer in the Marine Engineering Division (MED) of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) in 2013.
"MED has more than 100 staff located in 11 locations around the country. Its main function is the operation, maintenance and development of six fishery harbours owned by DAFM and the management of aquaculture licensing function.
Noel Clancy, chief engineer, Marine Engineering Division, Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine
Why pursue the title of FIEI?
I was recently awarded the title of Fellow with Engineers Ireland (FIEI) and I’m immensely proud of that. I suppose I pursued the title for several reasons but primarily because:
- A number of colleagues in the marine engineering division had already been awarded the title and they encouraged me to do likewise;
- As part of our work, we are engaged with many civil engineering consultants, contractors, other ports authorities and educational Institutions. Many engineering colleagues at senior levels valued the title and this was also an encouragement;
- MED is a CPD accredited employer for many years. I’ve been part of the CPD committee for the past nine years and I can see how the division and the engineering staff have developed through CPD over that time. I also wanted to give a little back in the autumn of my career and I felt the fellowship would assist me in that.
I think the workplace and, in particular, the engineering area is in a constant state of change and it’s a case of embracing it or be left behind. Change builds resilience and drives innovation – both of which are important for MED.
Of the 100 plus staff in this division, 30 are engineering/technical and of those 10 have joined in the past couple of years. This introduced new ideas and ways of doing things that is both a challenge and refreshing.
A lot of change in recent years relates to compliance and transparency in capital expenditure. The introduction of the new public spending code in late 2019 set out the guidelines for managing public investment projects in Ireland. We set up a bespoke system to manage the requirements of the code, which was trialled in 2021 and fully implemented this year.
Other changes we have introduced focus around technology and especially GIS based technology. We have completed a GIS survey of the six fishery harbours, and all details from leasing arrangements, property valuations, harbour structures and underground services are stored in one place.
We have introduced GIS enabled drone technology for foreshore inspection related to aquaculture. We are also midway through an IT project, which will deliver a public facing portal to manage aquaculture licensing.
Leading a team
The civil service has a well-developed performance management and development system (PMDS) introduced a number of years ago. It ties into divisional business plans which, in turn, are informed by the department’s statement of strategy. This ensures that the high-level message of the department’s strategic objectives is translated into clear actions and goals for teams and individuals at all levels.
The PMDS system also incorporates a training assessment whereby individuals review their training requirements with managers to plan appropriate training and develop additional competences. We have also developed a skills matrix for all the roles in the division. This sets out all the skills and competences required to act in the role.
As part of our recent CPD re-accreditation, we continue to develop the gap analysis as part of this, so that we can efficiently work with our training unit and organise appropriate training.
To properly lead a team, I think you must have the correct structure in place but, also, you need to be connected to staff at all levels. You must empower people, delegate and then trust them to deliver.
As we are a geographically spread-out unit, I need to travel to sites regularly and this has been difficult for the last while due to Covid. Good communication is key but conversations at local level are just as important, and I always learn more from them.
All my life I’ve been involved in construction activities, however, my current role involves working almost exclusively in the marine sector. I have always had an interest in this area and while it brings many challenges (weather, wind, waves, tides and unforeseen ground conditions under water) it is also very rewarding. There were two contrasting but interesting challenges that I have faced.
Cape Clear Island storm gates
While marine construction is challenging, marine construction on an island is more difficult again. The department owns the north harbour on Cape Clear Island, and the head and section of the pier were damaged and required relacing.
In addition, the inner harbour suffered turbulence during storms and sheltering vessels were exposed to damage. A scope of work was agreed, which included storm gates which could be closed to provide additional shelter during storms.
The structure to support the storm gates involved constructing substantial reinforced concrete walls under water. It would have been difficult to deliver the quality required in situ, therefore it was decided to precast the support structure.
A U-shaped structure was cast in a graving-dock in Cork harbour. On completion, the open ends of the U were then sealed and the 1,000-tonne structure was floated. It was towed from Cork harbour to Cape Clear Island, positioned and allowed to drop into its final position on an ebbing tide. The site works were completed, gates hung and commissioned, and the gate is now operational since 2016.
Currently I’m on an oversight board charged with delivering an IT project that will provide a public facing portal for the management of aquaculture and fore-shore licences. This is certainly outside my comfort zone and involves dealing with business analysts, IT specialist, coders, UATs etc.
I find that my project management experience in construction is helpful but not directly transferable to the IT world. It also appears far more difficult to accurately budget for IT projects relative to construction projects. The project is progressing, however, and a launch of Phase I is due in the next couple of months.
Pier extension, Castletownbere
How CPD enables career progression
Continuing professional development or CPD has broadened considerably since the early days of my career. Nowadays CPD includes work-based learning, professional body activity, self-directed learning, mentoring and coaching activity, courses, seminars and further education.
It is impossible to envisage any career progression without substantial engagement in CPD. The broadening of CPD probably means that there is now less focus on formal training, and I would estimate this now only accounts for 10-15% of CPD time.
As mentioned earlier, MED has been a CPD accredited employer for some time and with each re-accreditation audit we have progressed on our CPD journey.
Pier construction, Howth
All staff are encouraged to participate in CPD and the CPD committee has representatives from all levels including non-engineers (harbour masters). The committee meets regularly and organises regular technical talks on topics of interest.
CPD has had many benefits for me: it keeps you abreast of topical issues in your area of expertise but also provides you with the opportunity to explore others. The more you engage the more you will learn, exposing you to new areas of engineering that may lead to a change in ‘the way we do things’ or even in career direction. It also broadens your engineering network, which will stand to you for the rest of your career whatever direction you take.
How CPD can help influence policy
I work in what is primarily an operational unit in the civil service, which is more focused on policy and strategy. The department has more than 3,500 staff and, while there are also veterinary and inspectorate staff, the majority are administrative staff.
The overarching strategic document for us in the statement of strategy issued every three to four years. The engineering division, like all others, feeds into this document and it subsequently guides all our business planning.
The CPD that myself and other senior colleagues have engaged in over the past number of years has helped us with Strategic Management; Planning/Environmental; Procurement; Project Management; Asset Management; Climate Action and Adaption and so on. All these aspects of work have been dealt with in various CPD events.
We now have a strategic plan for capital projects in all our harbours, with a pipeline of projects for the next five years. We have a strong project management system in place aligned to the public spending code.
We also have a cost tracking and reporting system based on the SAP platform, which delivers monthly performance reports. All theses initiatives are assisting us in performing better and were driven by knowledge gained from previous CPD events.
How CPD helps you to grow your network and access experts
CPD has clearly helped expand my engineering network. A typical example of this would be our annual divisional meetings. We have had a variety of experts through the years form civil engineering/marine consultants, procurement specialists, environmental consultants, ship lift manufacturers at our meetings.
We also encourage staff who have completed projects of interest to present to their colleagues. We always involve site visits to a commercial port like the Port of Cork and Dublin, and also construction sites associated with same.
Pier construction, Killybegs
We have included visits to educational facilities like the National Maritime College and Beaufort Centre. I find the meeting an invaluable tool to get practical CPD credits for all divisional staff and can honestly say that each event would have added another contact to my professional network that I would have had to access subsequently.
As I work in a large government department primarily focused on agriculture, I see my role in promoting engineering as very much focused on presenting our role to the management board of the department – what we can do and what more we can.
I have mentored a number of staff through CEng applications. I am also involved with Engineers Ireland for a number of years; I assess CEng applications and sit on interview boards.