Have you wondered what the future is going to look like by say, 2040, ask Sriram Kishore and Thomas Adams, NUI Galway.

Indeed, the government has done so and produced a range of policy documents to guide policy makers, influencers and entrepreneurs to act in ways that will contribute to a better Ireland in 2040.

The objective of this article is to summarise the key trends in these documents, and to investigate the future projects and the skills needed for Ireland’s future engineers.

We will focus on four policy documents: the National Planning Framework (NPF), National Development Plan (NDP), Climate Action Plan and Future Jobs.

Figure 1: The Project Ireland 2040, Climate Action Plan and Future Jobs 2019 government documents.

National Planning Framework and National Development Plan

The Project Ireland 2040 consists of two main documents. First, the National Planning Framework (NPF), which is a policy document that conveys the measures that need to be taken to accommodate an extra one million people in Ireland by 2040.

It hopes to do so by developing Ireland's five major cities: Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford.

Preparation for this population increase will occur, for example, by improving housing and infrastructure in these cities, by enhancing the interconnection between them, and between these cities and rural Ireland.

The National Development Plan (NDP) meanwhile is an aligned strategic document that projects the major directions in which capital funding of €116 billion will be invested between 2018 and 2027.

This fund is divided among the 10 NPF strategic outcomes, which involve a huge number of plans and projects across sectors such as climate, housing, mobility, energy and so on.

Climate Action Plan and Future Jobs

The Climate Action Plan represents a separate set of goals and plans to the NDP and NPF. Another goal of Project Ireland 2040 is to close the gap between Ireland's current emissions and the goal of net zero by 2050; however, a lack of effort being put into decarbonisation is emerging as a trend.

The Climate Action Plan outlines a roadmap to 2030, to put Ireland back on track with emissions in the most efficient way. “We shall only achieve the transition if we make much greater changes in the way we meet our needs for power, heat, travel, land use, and use of resources,” it states.

The fact that targets are being missed this early into the plan would suggest a change in policy may take place in the future.

This would most likely include larger investments in the energy sector and sustainability. Figure 2 highlights the sectors the plan affects and the emission reductions possible “without requiring any exchequer purchase of credits nor the sacrifice of revenue due to the exchequer from credits sold in ETS [emissions trading system]”.

Figure 2 – Climate Action Plan targets.

The Future Jobs document elaborates on the paramount importance of ensuring that innovation and technology are a key part of every profession.

In addition, it details the transition towards creating a low carbon economy, how jobs will change as per its requirements and how lifelong learning will play a significant part in keeping the workforce up to date.

The three pillars of sustainability are: the economy, the environment and society. Educating the engineers of tomorrow in order that they weigh these factors equally within their projects is an urgent priority. And creating solutions that will embrace these three factors equally is driving the need for an update in engineering skills and education.

Government policy trends

As mentioned above, the NPF provides a sense of direction for shaping Ireland’s future and development through 2040 and the more concrete plans and investments are discussed in the NDP, which outlines 10 National Strategic Outcomes.

If we group the development areas that are discussed in these outcomes, we can see that the areas of development largely revolve around infrastructure, energy-efficient technologies and digital communication.

Infrastructure improvement will be involved throughout the Outcomes One to Nine. Within this broad spectrum of infrastructure, the major streams can be segregated into housing development needs, national connectivity development and international connectivity development.

Tackling the housing crisis is to the fore and we will need to build at least 35,000 new homes each year by 2027, to catch up with the deficits of the past decade.

Estimated that 550,000 homes will be required by 2040

By 2040, it has been estimated that 550,000 homes will be required to accommodate an extra one million people.

Approaches like rapid building are employed to construct housing at a very fast pace. In fact, even methods such as 3D printing are being seriously considered in Ireland. Engineers need to be comprehensively trained and comfortable with such technologies if these plans are to be delivered at a serious pace.

Also, the NPF mentions that 40 per cent of the new developments need to be constructed within the existing built-up area of our towns and cities.

The document emphasises the utilisation of much of the unused state-owned lands to develop amenities in urban areas to provide an increased standard of living. Policy also highlights the importance of retrofitting the housing stock as well as climate adaptation.

Intelligent planning will also have a large part to play, as the projects require engineers to identify the best location of developments.

In order to produce sustainable solutions, civil engineers need to be well trained in the areas of mixed land use, mixed housing types, open space management and pedestrian-focused construction.

When it comes to interconnections, the NDP outlines a number of projects. One of the key goals is to decrease the average journey time when travelling from Cork to Limerick, Waterford and Galway.

The average commuting time should not be dissimilar to those from Dublin. At present, average journey times from Cork are up to 30 to 40 per cent slower per km travelled than from Dublin to the other three key cities.

Therefore it will be necessary for engineers to study many of the following areas of expertise: transport design, traffic control planning, vertical planning etc. The government also has plans to construct rail and metro connectivity throughout the capital by completing the Metrolink project.

Figure 4: UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The energy sector is another area of significant investment. The eighth national strategic outcome focuses on transitioning to a low carbon and climate resilient society.

Plans have been set out for renewable energy supplies, new interconnectors for energy security and research into future technologies to be implemented, such as the Smart Grid roadmap.

Targets to eliminate emission-producing cars

With targets to eliminate emission-producing cars by 2040, there will be a large amount of work in developing zero emission vehicles and the infrastructure to support them.

Developing the circular economy will require greater efficiency with raw materials, energy, water, space and food by constantly reusing natural resources wherever possible.

Smartly designed products based on alternative plastic feedstock and recyclable materials will form the basis of smart material cycles, in order to create less waste and reduce resource consumption. This is evident in the plan to use cutaway bogs to facilitate the generation of energy, most notably wind/biomass.

Digital communication is the third important sector, highlighted by National Strategic Outcomes Three and Five.

The National Broadband Plan is an example of where significant investment has taken place. Major work will also be undertaken in the digitalisation of society - for example, the BusConnects Programme aims to bring in a new digital ticketing system that allows cashless transactions

Engineers and lifelong learning

A new generation of engineers will be needed in this country if these plans are to be carried out successfully and sustainably. There is also a need for engineers to continue with lifelong learning and their CPD hours in order that they remain au fait with trends.

At the Engineers Ireland conference on engineering education, William Beausang from the Department of Education and Skills gave a presentation on the strategy and current plans in place for the future of Ireland's education.

A €300 million Human Capital Initiative (HCI) is hoping to encourage lifelong reskilling and upskilling of employees throughout their careers.

The idea of bringing in agile methodologies into the classroom will allow engineers to stay updated even if new technologies arise in the future, such as high-end manufacturing or artificial intelligence.

By constantly educating people with these essential skills, the hope is to create diversified teams in the workplace, with a number of people from different backgrounds producing sustainable solutions.

The HCI consists of three main pillars:

  • Pillar 1: Graduate conversion courses
  • Pillar 2: Additional places on existing courses
  • Pillar 3: Innovation and agility

Pillar 1 will extend the approach currently in place under Springboard, offering incentivised places for graduates to reskill in areas of skill shortages and emerging technologies.

Pillar 2 aims to address key areas of enterprise skills needs by providing additional student places in undergraduate courses associated with these skills.

Pillar 3 has the goal of ensuring innovative methods of teaching begin to be incorporated, and giving institutions the agility necessary to respond to developments in technology that may not yet be evident.


Ultimately, the success or otherwise of the policies boils down to their implementation by government, policy makers and other stakeholders.

Either way, there is a clear demand for engineers now and into the future, especially in the areas listed above. But it is not just about the number of engineers.

There is a demand for 'change' in engineering, at any given academic or industrial level. This might lead to a partial - or even total - rethink of the education/societal systems, if we hope to provide human focused, sustainable solutions.


1.) Government of Ireland (2018). Project Ireland 2040: Building Ireland’s Future. Available at: https://www.gov.ie/en/campaigns/09022006-project-ireland-2040/ [accessed November 13, 2019].
2.) Government of Ireland (2019): Climate Action Plan 2019 To Tackle Climate Breakdown. Available at: https://www.gov.ie/en/campaigns/climateaction/ [accessed November 15, 2019]
3.) Government of Ireland (2019): Future Jobs Ireland – Preparing Now for Tomorrow’s Economy. Available at: https://www.gov.ie/en/campaigns/33b78d-future-jobs-ireland-preparing-now-for-tomorrows-economy/ [accessed November 15, 2019]
4.) Department of Education and Skills: Human Capital Initiative. Information available at https://hea.ie/skills-engagement/human-capital-initiative/ [accessed November 19, 2019]
5.) Government of Ireland (2009). Guidelines for Planning Authorities on Sustainable Residential Development in Urban Areas (Cities, Towns & Villages). Guidelines for Planning Authorities on Sustainable Residential Development in Urban Areas (Cities, Towns & Villages). Dublin.
6.) Government of Ireland (2009). Urban Design Manual A best practice guide. Urban Design Manual A best practice guide. Dublin.

Authors: Sriram Kishore and Thomas Adams, master's degree students at NUI Galway