Head of the Department of Civil Engineering and Construction at IT Sligo, Trevor McSharry would have as his CPD motto, ‘The only constant is change and CPD and lifelong learning is a key enabler to change for everybody.’
McSharry has more than 25 years’ experience of managing projects and change. Given the only constant in life is change, Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is fundamental for success in our modern world, where technology, sustainability and globalisation are key change drivers.
Having worked in the food, nuclear, pharma and biotech industries as a project manager, McSharry joined IT Sligo in 2008. Since 2011, he has headed up the Department of Civil Engineering and Construction and has led it to become Ireland’s largest provider of part-time online education in civil engineering and construction.
Trevor McSharry, head of Department of Civil Engineering and Construction, IT Sligo
Having graduated in engineering at NUI Galway in 1996, and recently registered as a Fellow of Engineers Ireland, McSharry believes passionately in CPD and lifelong learning.
"After a few years in industry, I completed a master's in business administration (MBA) to complement my engineering education," he says. "More recently I completed a certificate in Low Energy Building and postgraduate certificate in Building Information Modelling (BIM) and Lean as well as becoming a project management professional. Currently I am a doctoral student at Maynooth University, specialising in leadership and change, and I plan to complete my PhD next year.
"With extensive industrial and academic experience, I have developed strong leadership skills and am active in shaping the engineering profession nationally through the development of new programmes. As a result, I applied for fellowship with Engineers Ireland to get formal recognition as a leader within the engineering profession.
"As head of department with more than 45 staff and about 1,000 students, my colleagues and I have developed a large portfolio of educational programmes," says McSharry. "Full-time courses include civil engineering, quantity surveying and construction project management.
"Leveraging off IT Sligo’s track record of success in online learning, we have helped address national skills gaps through the creation of Ireland's largest suite of online programmes in civil engineering and construction. These programmes give the learner great flexibility to balance their personal and professional lives as classes are delivered online, which eliminates time and cost associated with travel.
"Classes are also recorded and some programmes have workshops to consolidate learning and interaction. Many of these new programme initiatives involved formal partnerships with the Department of Transport, Irish Water, Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, Transport Infrastructure Ireland and the Local Authority Services National Training Group. We have found that this collaborative approach between academia and external bodies has been extremely rewarding."
In 2021, the department underwent Engineers Ireland accreditation and was the first in the country to have an online engineering master's degree accredited.
McSharry says the department has formed an industry consortium to develop Ireland’s first suite of civil engineering apprenticeship programmes from higher certificate to master’s level, which is a "very exciting initiative and one which has significant potential in addressing the current skills deficits in civil engineering".
"Undertaking a doctorate in education which specialises in leading change has reinforced the importance of leadership characteristics to me, such as knowledge management of staff through training, teamwork, collaboration and communication. I think training and CPD is a significant enabler of change; conversely, it is a big barrier to change if it is not taken seriously.
"Collaborative teamwork facilitates peer-to-peer learning and, ideally, should include diverse people in order to get different perspectives, which enhances creativity and innovation.
"Unfortunately, the engineering profession is still suffering from a lack of diversity due to the continuing poor uptake of engineering careers by females, so gender balance is a challenge. I think people are at the centre of change and their ability to self-reflect, learn, improve and adapt is becoming more important."
Leading a team
On taking up a leadership position within higher education, McSharry quickly learnt the importance of regular department meetings, programme board meetings and one-to-one meetings in order to set up teams and facilitate effective collaboration, communication, conflict resolution and delegation. "These meetings are also important for identifying knowledge gaps in the department and promoting CPD and upskilling as well as creating a culture of growth and change," he says.
"Our growth has resulted in regular recruitment of highly skilled staff, and this brings fresh thinking and energy to the department. Having interviewed and hired many staff over my career to date, I have found that CPD and lifelong learning is a strong indicator of success.
"I look for staff who are passionate about lifelong learning as it shows their ability to reflect, manage their time and take on new challenges using their own initiative. It also shows that they are focused, hardworking and are open to change and development.
"Our department developed a bespoke induction programme for new staff so that they would be empowered with the right information at the right time, which reduces any anxiety especially during the current challenging times of the pandemic, which has increased remote working and impacted social cohesion."
Career progression through CPD
After a few years working in industry, McSharry became aware of colleagues who had the benefits of having the depth of an engineering undergraduate qualification coupled with the breadth of a business master's degree: "As I saw this combination as an excellent blend of skillsets to cater for engineering and management, I undertook an MBA in Dublin City University, which was extremely rewarding.
"The business master's enabled me to progress and take on more diverse project management roles while also being able to lecture. Since joining the higher educational sector full time, this blend of skills has been invaluable, particularly on my appointment as head of department.
"Lifelong learning is a continuous journey and in order to develop my research and leadership skills further, I am undertaking a doctorate in education with a specific focus on leading change in higher education. Given that research will be a key component of the Atlantic Technological University (through the merging of IT Sligo, Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology and Letterkenny Institute of Technology), this doctorate will equip me with the required skills to facilitate and lead new research initiatives."
CPD has also facilitated the broadening of McSharry's professional network, he says. "Whether it is judging at national building and design awards or being active as a director with Lean Construction Ireland, developing a broad professional network is important to ensure you can contribute to the engineering profession as well as be exposed to new knowledge and best practices.
"In terms of giving advice to others, I think one key enabler to successful lifelong learning is to regularly assess both your soft skills and technical skills so that you can identify areas for development and enable continuing personal and professional growth.
"In addition, being open to change and constantly upskilling will keep you fresh and at the cutting edge of your profession. Take note of what CPD opportunities are available to you so that you can prioritise time to invest in becoming the best version of yourself! This will open doors to new opportunities and enable you to achieve your full potential," says McSharry.