Chartered Engineer Niall Lawless has worked in Asia, Europe, and the USA, and he sat down with Engineers Ireland's community engagement executive Mícheál Gallagher to discuss career development, and the importance of young engineers becoming professionally qualified.

Lawless says the most important aspect of being a Chartered Engineer is that you have demonstrated to your peers that you are capable of exercising independent professional judgment, and that for most senior positions this will be one of your prospective employers’ immutable requirements.

Niall Lawless

Seek out different types of experience

To fulfil the criteria required to become a Chartered Engineer you have to seek out different types of experience. After leaving Manchester University with a building technology degree and a postgraduate degree in building services, Lawless spent six months ‘on the tools’ working for an industrial plumber.

His first professional job was working as a designer of building engineering services for high-rise offices in the City of London – in an era where there were no PCs and no design software.

After that, he moved to working for an employer responsible for the initial conceptual design of complex pharmaceutical facilities, but with overall responsibility for design, cost and the time for project completion.

Lawless left his role working internationally to get hands-on site experience working as a contractor, and in making that transition he took a salary drop of about 25%. From that time, he said that he learnt that it was part of a professional engineer's role to spend money efficiently, and as fast as possible.

Lawless says that everybody’s career path will be different, but that varied role experiences give you confidence to manage people. To gain their respect, you should never ask other people to do things that you are unwilling to do yourself. So, if for example, your project requires people to be on-station on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day or, from time to time, to work nights, you should be on-station with them.

Lawless says that one of the things that helped him a lot in early career development was getting involved with learned society volunteering. For example, when he was in his mid-20s, he was chair of an Institution of Mechanical Engineers Committee (‘IMechE’) and organising two management skills conferences for young engineers.

He became a Chartered Engineer when he was 30, and because of the experience he had accumulated was a fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers when he was 34, and a fellow of the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers when he was 35.

In 2015, while he was working in Hong Kong SAR, Lawless had the opportunity to guide IMechE Young Engineers on their quest to become Chartered Engineers. He said that most of the advice that he gave in Hong Kong SAR in 2015, is transferable to an Irish audience, especially those seeking an Irish career.

Key tips:

  1. Demonstrate that you can and have exercised independent professional judgment.
  2. Make decisions and be accountable for the consequences.
  3. Take responsibility for your own career – have a plan, review progress several times a year. Use the plan to get your employer to commit to sharing in your professional development.
  4. Develop a portfolio of management skills. Seek out responsibility not just for providing technology solutions, but also for budget and people management. Behave in an ethical manner. Become an effective oral and written communicator, confident in report writing and in your presentation skills. Learn how to listen. Learn how to market and sell. Develop cultural awareness.
  5. Few companies are in the business of engineering, most are in the business of making profits. Be aware of profit centres; understand corporate objectives, how those are achieved, and what your unique contribution can be. Understand the value of intellectual property, copyright, patents, etc.
  6. Choose a subject and make it your own. When people need an expert view, you should be the 'go to' young engineer. Consistent with modesty, make your expertise visible.
  7. Build expertise in other technical subjects as well as mechanical engineering. Sometimes the best space to work is in the innovation required in the interface or overlap between different technologies.
  8. Commit to lifelong learning – CPD is but a part of that – keep records of learning and training, both within the workplace and outside it.
  9. Understand the Institution of Mechanical Engineers' competence and commitment standards for Chartered Engineers. If you were taking an important exam, you would not turn up having only covered 60% of the curriculum.
  10. Search for a mentor who can guide you and support you, and also give you strength. If you are lucky you will find one. Your mentor does not have to be an engineer.
  11. Find ways to spend time professionally and socially with business leaders and senior engineers.
  12. China (including Hong Kong SAR) uses every technology on the planet, there is a wealth of opportunity – resist bleating about a lack of prospects.
  13. Take a global perspective – be prepared to travel for career development – especially when you are young.
  14. A lot of engineering is about solving problems. This gives you transportable skills that are valuable.
  15. Strive for balance between your professional and private lives. Seek an employer who is more interested in you getting the job done, than you being at your workplace for an excessive number of hours. Creativity and exhaustion are not good bedfellows.

Being a Chartered Engineer is a wonderful achievement!

Author: Niall Lawless is a chartered arbitrator and engineer, adjudicator, and mediator. He is a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Building, the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers, the Chartered Institution of Mechanical Engineers, the Chartered Institute for IT (British Computer Society), and the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators. He has been a Chartered Institute for IT professional membership assessor recommending candidates for member and fellow Grade; and he sits on the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators' Presidential Panel of Arbitrators interviewing members applying for chartered arbitrator status. You can connect with Niall Lawless at: