On this episode, we hear from an engineer at the top of his game. Ciaran McGovern, gives us an inside look at how Tobin’s long-established civil and structural engineering practice delivers for clients. 

You’ll hear about some of the firm’s most cutting-edge projects – including the world’s largest sports air dome – and what’s ahead for the engineering sector in terms of Ireland’s climate action plan. The conversation also touches on the long-term impacts of Covid19 both on workplace culture and regional demands on transportation patterns, the power grid and internet connectivity. 

Ciaran also reflects on how Engineers Ireland’s professional development programmes have kept him engaged and why being unafraid to speak up and ask questions is so important to career advancement – and enjoyment!

Topics we discussed include:

  • The Sport Ireland Campus in Dublin: A facility whose design and infrastructure supports everything from beginning gymnastics to elite rugby.
  • The NUI Galway Connacht GAA Sports Air Dome: The world’s largest such facility, housing a full-size field, track and stands, also convertible within 72 hours to a fully functional conference arena unique on the island of Ireland.
  • How aspirational mentors can inspire through their example, guidance and support.
  • Why retention of talented staff is paramount and how there is a workplace emphasis on providing opportunities for growth and professional enrichment.
  • Tobin’s DECOM (Direction, Competence, Opportunity, Motivation) framework provides a structured approach to securing the right mix of technical and interpersonal/ communications to best serve client needs.
  • The ways Covid19 precipitated changes that were long in coming for Ireland’s traditional, centralized hub-and-spoke economy. 
  • Long-term adoption of remote work, demand for ever-better broadband, commute patterns and infrastructure to support electric cars. 
  • About Tobin’s direct involvement with Ireland’s Climate Action Plan, substantial improvements to power grid infrastructure and civic engagement.
  • Finding ways to keep projects on track, maintain collaboration and provide necessary feedback to people “putting their heads down” remotely.
  • Why Ciaran is especially appreciative of how professional development services have invited him to challenge himself to continue growing and acquiring new skills.

Guest details

Ciaran has over 25 years of experience in building and civil engineering project delivery within the Irish consultancy sector and was appointed as Managing Director in 2020. He has previously held the position of Operations Director and that of Commercial Director within TOBIN. 

Ciaran continues to advise a broad range of Clients on procurement and risk strategies in the management of works contracts for both traditional (employer) and design build (DB) forms. He works closely with internal and Client multidisciplinary teams to deliver projects in the sports capital, transportation, environment, civil engineering, building and infrastructure sectors.

Contact details


Irelands Climate Action Plan 2021

Video highlights about the story of Tobin’s NUI Galway Connacht

More information

Looking for ways to explore or advance a career in the field of engineering? Visit Engineers Ireland to learn more about the many programs and resources on offer. https://www.engineersireland.ie/

Transciption text

For your convenience, here is a 90% accurate automated transcript of the podcast.

Dusty Rhodes  0:02 

Right now on amplified the engineers general podcast, we're about to meet the managing director of Tobin Consulting Engineers, Ciaran McGovern,

Ciaran McGovern  0:11 

we were talking earlier on the fashion sports campus of a very, very large building. But Dublin in cannot, they would never have been able to get themselves to a position of providing a fixed structure. We looked at the capsule envelope that the client had in that particular situation and is a phrase we had to make our brains hurt a little bit in terms of covering that pitch and providing a controlled environment and a training area that people could use irrespective of the weather in Israel.

Dusty Rhodes  1:01 

Hello, my name is Dusty Rhodes and you're welcome to the engineers Ireland podcast where we speak with our community of creative professionals across the country, about how engineers are delivering sustainable solutions for society both now and in the future. Today, we're finding out more about the man at the top of one of our long standing Civil and Structural engineering practices with a 70 year pedigree. It's Tobin Consulting Engineers, a sharp intellect endlessly curious, and always with an eye on the future. It's a pleasure to welcome managing director Ciaran McGovern. How you doing Ciaran?

Ciaran McGovern  1:34 

Hi, dusty, good to talk to you today.

Dusty Rhodes  1:36 

Indeed, Listen, tell me a lot of people kind of forget when you're at the top of an organization that somehow you had to get a break into the business. Do you remember that far back?

Unknown Speaker  1:47 

I think it was probably a neighbor of mine originally was a civil engineer, retired gentleman from the UK who came to live beside us when I was in my formative years, I think back, you know, in secondary school and got to hear loads about what civil engineering was all about. And, you know, I think probably developed from there. And I think I was lucky in a lot of ways just to in that I had a good idea of what I wanted to do going into my leaving search. I think a lot of people these days have huge choice that creates its own dynamic that as well does not

Dusty Rhodes  2:16 

make it makes it very easy way you win, you know, but what I'm trying to find out is, how did you know what was it about engineering that he went on? That's what I want to do?

Ciaran McGovern  2:27 

Well, I think I had a father as well, who always had an interest in the building industry, and probably gave me a nudge in that direction, too. But I think you have to be comfortable with the science side of it and matte side of it. And you know, you need to find those things, easy to deal with read odd, you know, now, if you were to ask me to spend a lot of time in languages and French and, and German, I'm very weak and all those things, you know, so you got to find your own your own slot, in terms of where you're, where you're comfortable, and I suppose comes up, but easier, then doesn't.

Dusty Rhodes  2:58 

So while we were all sitting there at the back of the class, and drawing out the name of whoever was the band of the day, and their logo, what were you drawing in your copy,

Ciaran McGovern  3:06 

I'm not too sure was a drawing at all, maybe other than it might have been sketching up something that was going on in the back of my mind or on the what's the next design or the next building or whatever it might be to go ahead and say notions of being an architect at one stage was probably had to get back into my box and just realize I was best at what I was planning to do and engineering.

Dusty Rhodes  3:26 

So it's always been there for you. And you, you ended up in Tobin and now you're the Managing Director, how did you get from there to where you are now?

Ciaran McGovern  3:33 

Yeah, I suppose. You know, I come in as a project engineer made about six years out in industry before he joined Tobin's at all, in both public and private sector in the local authorities. So I had somewhat of a blended approach before I've gotten here consulting engineering at all. And it's just a question of, I suppose, applying yourself every day, to the problems that are there in front of you. And I've got a few lucky breaks along the way, in terms of the the areas I was interested in, particularly on waste management and the circular economy, which were huge, you know, for a long period of time in Ireland, I suppose learning is been a big part for me as well, in terms of, you know, professional development that have gone through, spent less time on technical development, but also did an MBA back sort of what is it five years ago now at this stage six years ago. So you know, that really helped me make the decision as to whether to take the step into the DMD role.

Dusty Rhodes  4:17 

So when you are kind of coming up through the company, and you want to impress, and the various projects that you're working on was the one in particular that you look back at now. And you go, yeah, that was particularly good and particularly proud of that. What was it? Well, I

Ciaran McGovern  4:31 

think one of the ones we're most proud of the today would be, I suppose, the National Sports campus there in Dublin, you know, the National indoor arena, a lot of the infrastructural development that was done there because that has been set up to be right from the casual child's going to gymnastics from for the first time right through to the elite rugby are there on the campus, you know, it's right across society. There's there's an opportunity there to use those as well. That's one of the things about engineering, you know, you actually get to take something which is a germ are an idea in someone's head right through to seeing people using the facilities and enjoying them on a day to day basis. Yeah.

Dusty Rhodes  5:06 

You also mentioned having a mentor in what ways did a your mentor help you specifically?

Ciaran McGovern  5:12 

Well, I can think back to even back in 2014, I think I did some training with ucg, as it was at the time on managerial development, and it was only a one year course, remember, we overlapped with some MBA students, and it was probably enough for me at the time to say, I'm not ready to do that. But at the same time, it gave me an appetite for the managerial side as much as the technical side. That's what spurred me on to the MBA then in 2016. So sometimes you just need not just from a good mentor,

Dusty Rhodes  5:43 

I think you've just said it there. Because finding mentors is one thing finding a good one is where do you look for mentors?

Ciaran McGovern  5:51 

Yeah, well, I think I know, in our in our own business, we would recognize the value of that and try to build it in into the way we do our own day to day, I suppose performance management of our own staff. So we don't always use the phrase mentor per se. It's more around who's your manager? And are they the right fit for you? Are they giving you the right advice, so they help you develop your career? It's more in that space, rather than the former mentor title. I suppose we're dancing on the head of a pin in terms of words, but it's just that that's that's the approach we take in our business anyway.

Dusty Rhodes  6:24 

So from what I understand, then part of being in a management role with Tobin is that you also need to mentor the staff that you have, as well as just making sure that they're getting things done on time. Yeah, well,

Ciaran McGovern  6:36 

at our core, we're a learning organization just to hit it, where, essentially, we're there to provide advice to our clients as to how to problem solve and deal with the issues of the day, how to get from the germ, or the idea in somebody's mind, you take it from there all the way through the various stages of a project. So we need to have our own staff and headspace whereby they see themselves as problem solvers, they're innovative, and they're aware of what technically is going on out there in the market, and how they apply these solutions to the to the problems that are presented those as so it's a continuing professional development, that learning organization culture, is one that has to be there, right through a career to allow it to blossom. Certainly that's that's the approach we take with our business,

Dusty Rhodes  7:22 

antiquated approach to take as well. Do you think it's something common in engineering firms across the country or unusual,

Ciaran McGovern  7:27 

I think we certainly have had a culture within our business of taking that approach, because we've seen the value of you know, when you get good people, you hold on to them tightly, and you don't allow them to go anywhere else. And the only way you're going to do that is to give them a rich career path as they progress through the organization. Do we see evidence? Well, of course, you know, consulting engineering generally would be would be in that space, because it's not a very big industry, you know, so it's, it can't be too transactional in nature, and just say, We're breaking into a job and you're going again, and six months, and that comes back to bite you eventually because the the pool of talent out there isn't isn't that big.

Dusty Rhodes  8:02 

So these are the kinds of considerations because we all think about personal development and and, and training and, and further education, because we want to go up, you are up, you're at the top, when you're looking back down at the people who are coming behind you. I did what kind of things are you thinking about when you're thinking about personal development,

Ciaran McGovern  8:21 

one of the things we've really focused on in the last while and in my role as MD is to make sure the business is is looking closely at what is particular leadership development in particular. And that can be development in the tech space or in the managerial space. So we've invested a lot of time and effort in that we use a model called decom, direction, competence, opportunity, motivation. So that just provides a framework within which you know, you take a structured approach to this. And here's the engineer coming out to me now, again, because everything has to be a series of channels through which you go or ones and zeros that have to be met. Some of the easy parts of that are the technical development, you know, what is the business need, in terms of the skills that are out there in the marketplace these days? Are the solutions that the clients need to have solved. But I think that the more difficult one might be, what are the interpersonal skills and communication skills and professional development requirements have an individual member of staff because engineers by their by their nature will see I don't know how many, you know, but typically are not good at putting ourselves out there and talking to people we're more than I think we're happier to be in the in the back office, crunching the numbers and, you know, making it happen quietly. So I'm

Dusty Rhodes  9:33 

just kind of wondering from your point of view, what would you consider the most important trends in engineering at the moment?

Ciaran McGovern  9:40 

Ireland just generally is a traditional, I suppose, what would you call it a whole hub and spoke system in terms of transport planning out there? Dublin have to center the hub and all the spokes emanating out from that, and I think we've had successive development plans that have looked at the need for balanced regional development, and I think that's really starting to come to the fore. particularly as we emerge from COVID. And we can see that as a nation, we don't all have to be sitting in an office these days, we can work remotely. So I think, to learn the lessons of COVID is really a trend or something that we probably all need to, to grasp. Things like the National Broadband scheme nationally, that's been rolled out at the moment, I know, there's been some that are very strong advocates for it, and maybe some, maybe don't quite see the benefit of it. But if we can get to a point where, you know, people can work locally, live locally, be part of the community, you know, rather than spending hours in a car commuting every day, you know that that is going to also feed the dynamic of promoting electric vehicles, you got to get rid of range anxiety, then you're not going to be so worried about having to commute for two hours a day. So these these things build on each other. So that balance regional development is certainly one that I think there's huge mileage for for the country to get his head around. What does the country

Dusty Rhodes  10:55 

need to do in order to do that regional development, because everything is very Dublin focused, and we've seen Dark plus, now they're extending it to the west of the city, they're talking about extending the trauma to the airport and anti sores. I'm beyond where do rural areas get a lock in? How should they be treated?

Ciaran McGovern  11:13 

Well, if you just if you think about the way we can work today, that we couldn't work four or five or 10 years ago, you and I are both virtual today, whereas 10 years ago, we might have actually had to sit down in a studio together to, to actually have this discussion. So why do we need to have all those people in, in, in cities per se, we really don't, you know, we can do an awful lot of the work we do more geographically balanced, a lot of what Ireland is doing these days is, is in the professional services sector. You know, if you take the company we have today as a professional services organization, we don't make widgets we sell people's time really is what we do. So our product doesn't need to be based in the center of Dublin or North Dublin or South Dublin even though we have geographical presence is there for our own staff, if you're always going to be thinking of investment planning around the next very large scale project around Dublin because that's where the centers of population are, your best return on investment is always going to be those because you already have the people there. So it's just about thinking of it more laterally around how to let people get on with what they need to do and reach regionally you know, they don't always need a huge amount of financial incentives they just need to give him the tools to get on with it and broadband is certainly one that'll that'll add that

Dusty Rhodes  12:35 

and what kind of other tools then that it needs to be given to live there like I'm what I'm thinking is if you had a large plot of land 100 kilometers away from a major city be that you know, kind of Dublin Galway, Limerick, cork wherever it's, it's in the middle of nowhere, shall we say, Okay, what would you do with that space in order to attract people to go

Ciaran McGovern  12:56 

there? Think about the maybe the successes that aren't just have over the last couple of decades and attracting foreign direct investment is really one that's we've had a lot of success on? What do they what do they need, they need people and they need probably greenfields, as you've just described yourself as well. What they also need, they need a planning system that will let work cannot get planned and get projects get planned. And we do have a running system at the moment which it needs further thought I'd say I think it's important that we get the right balance between given locals voice but having certainty and outcomes for very large scale investments, particularly on a regional basis is supplemented with quite got to there yet. Some of these big green fields could be to do with, I suppose climate action, it is just it could be wind farms. So we do have a lot of objections out there to win Francis as a man perhaps rightly so if they're if they're not in the right place. But we need to get that that balance regionally in terms of the grid, and where power is gonna come into it. And what it's going to be used for.

Dusty Rhodes  14:00 

Sustainability is a huge thing at the moment, but it's kind of funny in that you say, alright, let's let's build a wind farm. And then of course, it'll be but no, we don't want one there. What kind of sustainable solutions have impressed you?

Ciaran McGovern  14:13 

Well, it was we're quite heavily involved in all parts of the Climate Action Plan itself. And sustainability is at the core of that. And you know, what, what are we trying to do there, we're trying to get to a point of emission reductions and netzero over an extended period of time. So I think investment in our grid infrastructure in terms of power distribution is something that needs a lot of attention and continue will continuously evolve potential over the coming years, getting people involved locally, and in those solutions, such as, you know, electric cars and and the wind farms. We've mentioned their solar power generation PV panels for photovoltaic, Patek. So, you know, there's, there are a lot of opportunities out there in that whole climate action space, which, at its core has sustainability. How do We leave the planet in a better place for our children than we're where we are today ourselves. So it's about, I suppose executing, and all those things that are there at the moment. Similarly with with our building infrastructure and our housing stock, and making sure that all of that is sustainably built, and is efficient, and is in the right location for people as well, where they want to live and work.

Dusty Rhodes  15:24 

Because you're in there as a big part of that planning that's going on at the moment for that climate, you must have to keep yourself very up to date with what sustainable solutions are available. How do you keep yourself up to date?

Ciaran McGovern  15:38 

Well, I suppose there's a push and pull there. One side is the sort of academic thinking on it and being aware of academically what's the thinking is in terms of the best way to actually deliver solutions, we keep very close to suppliers are always advocating for new technologies to be utilized. Having a good understanding of that, and really then just trying to problem solve, how do you apply some of those solutions into the problems that clients might be actually having out there. So if you take something like the projects we had in GE, a center of excellence up in in Benihana sup in incorrupt, GA, where you have, I suppose, a tried and trusted solution of an era dorm, which hadn't been used in Ireland, it's just an example of how you can apply something that might be very conventional somewhere else to something that's very innovative in an Irish context.

Dusty Rhodes  16:31 

So tell me more about the air dome describe it to me,

Ciaran McGovern  16:33 

we were talking to Iran about a project such as the National Sports campus, where you have a very, very large building, which in its traditional sense, is a fixed structure. Because over a very, very large area, of course, it's there for very long periods of time. And it that's one approach to actually how do you cover a space and have a controlled environment and your Hazelden airflow and all of that through the building itself. But in cannot, the I suppose, when you look at the capsule that was available for development, that particular project, they would never have been able to get themselves to a position of providing a fixed structure.

Dusty Rhodes  17:11 

So essentially, the money wasn't there to do what you wanted to do. So you need to come up with a plan. So tell me about the dome, then, which was the solution?

Ciaran McGovern  17:18 

Yeah, well, this was you have options. And you look at the different options. And the different to have one might have a certain capital costs, and it has a certain running cost. And option B has a different capital costs or different running costs, as well, as you tease all those things out. We looked at the capital envelope that, you know, that the client had in that particular situation, and I suppose we all have to make our use a phrase, we had to make our brains hurt a little bit in terms of what what can we do for the solution that was needed in terms of covering that, that pitch and providing a controlled environment and a training area that that people could use every day of the year, irrespective of the weather and East male? So that was question that I'm looking at some seminar, I suppose projects internationally, where you have an inflatable air dome there, which is it's not a rigid structure, you know, air is artificially introduced into the structure and it has to be kept pumped all of the time and certain air pressure, as you walk around inside just you don't notice that the air is it doesn't feel any different to what you would normally see outside. But as kept in places all the time. That's when you try to take it all together, as well. What do we need to do here to actually cover this facility, keep it right temperature, keep it lit. Here's a solution that we can apply to that particular problem that we had there. So there's

Dusty Rhodes  18:31 

a video floating around online of that particular project. And I'll include a link to that in the in the shownotes. On your player right now, if you want to have a look at it. As we've said, The world is changing very fast and has changed very fast in the in the last couple of years. What's the biggest challenge that you are facing right now?

Ciaran McGovern  18:49 

Well, I think Ireland Inc is probably still grappling with hybrid working in particular, and getting used to how we deliver our work in I suppose a digitized environment rather than, you know, a legacy paper environment. We've all learned that we don't need to be hopping in the car to go to those meetings that we felt we had to go to or hop on planes for international travel that we used to do routinely and regularly five to 10 years ago. Some people do work well in an environment where we're human. We some people need the social contract for some like to be left to their own devices just to get on with with, you know, the work that they have to do. And it's getting that mix right in terms of recognizing how do you bring out the best in people and motivate them and you know what, there's not a one size fits all. So I think, you know, we have a hybrid working policy and within Tobin that is working quite well for us. Tell me more about it. Yeah, well, typically, we would ask staff to be available in the office two days a week when they're in a hybrid working environment, trying to recognize that mentoring and coming back to sort of passing on that knowledge to the you know, your teams is better in a face to face environment where you can imbibe information to each other without even realizing it. You know, it's the it's the watercooler discussions. It's the walking down the hallway discussion, it's a discussion over a cup of tea that very often imparts that the pearls of wisdom that you don't realize that you're imparting to somebody, we generally like to have, I suppose people who just who have just graduated to spend a bit more time in the US generally, we'd like people in that bracket to to be in the office full time. And I think that generally seems to work quite well for us, in that the average graduate who's in a rented accommodation, maybe with three other professionals who have just graduated to, you know, they just don't have the space to be able to remote work. And it works quite well, it happened. It was made to work during COVID, for everybody was, in the longer term. We'd like to see people, you know, within that bracket in the office so that they can learn and develop and grow as individuals. And then I suppose people like myself, who were, who have established relationships with their management team, and you know, we're comfortable in the virtual setting, you know, we can have less, we can have touch points that are less frequent. It's just something we're all learning at the moment. And it'll, it'll evolve in time, and we push and pull on it.

Dusty Rhodes  21:10 

So are you are you a hybrid worker? How many days? Are you in the office?

Ciaran McGovern  21:14 

I typically in the office about three, three days a week? Yeah, typically, those three days aren't always in the office, sometimes they're out on site with clients, and whatever it might be. So it flexes every week, you know?

Dusty Rhodes  21:25 

And do you find you get more done when you're working on your home days?

Ciaran McGovern  21:29 

I think if you have tests complete, you know, certainly when you're remote, you can just put the head down and get on with them. And that's fine. But it's not always that simple. You can, you know, you could do a package your work, finds that you need a touch point for somebody, if you just can't quite get a hold of them, or, you know, you go off and spend a number of hours working on a particular direction or make an assumption, and then find really, that wasn't the direction should have gone. And come back then to I won't call it wasted work, but certainly work that had to be aborted, potentially. So. So there's there's pros and cons, but it is what it's a very good for, like I said, getting transactional getting packages of work done, put the head down, get it done, you don't have you're not getting disturbed. But some people don't work well in that environment, either. Just so some people like the social contract lead to have to get up and walk around and chat to people in the office have a cup of tea and their work much better. And that's best. So there's not a one size fits all. So we have

Dusty Rhodes  22:28 

been talking about mentors. Can I ask you to stick your mentor hat on now? What is the most important lesson that you learned in your career that you'd like to kind of hand off to people as a as an example?

Ciaran McGovern  22:42 

I think it's don't be afraid to ask questions. And you might say, Well, surely everybody knows that. But not everyone else does know that. So don't be afraid to ask questions. Be curious about your work, and the learning environment, tease through options. Don't be afraid to be an individual and make suggestions. So you know, there's, there are a few points there. But as its basic premise, don't be afraid to ask questions, what are the simplest one I could ever give you.

Dusty Rhodes  23:09 

And finally, engineers, Ireland is kind of an unusual organization in that it's not a collective of companies. It's a collective of people working within an industry. So I'm just wondering, what is one of the most useful things that you have gotten out of being an engineer as Ireland,

Ciaran McGovern  23:26 

I was pushed a number of years ago to get involved in the regional committee structure of engineers, Ireland, you know, which is very much in the continuing development, professional development space. And that's really helped me to develop personally, as an individual through the, you know, working with the committee structures, you might say, Well, what have they done for me? Well, they've pushed me into a certain area, maybe that I wasn't comfortable in being at the time. And sometimes you learn more in the spaces where you're not comfortable than you do, where you are actually completely comfortable. So it's just back to the mentoring side of it again, and pushing people where they don't want to go, which is part of it, too, is not only

Dusty Rhodes  24:03 

here on McGovern, Managing Director at Tobin Consulting Engineers has been an absolute pleasure talking with you, and thank you for making the time for us today. Thanks, Dustin. If you'd like to find out more about what we spoke about on the podcast today, you'll find notes and link details in the show notes or descriptionari of the podcast in your podcast player right now. And of course, you'll find more information and advance episodes on our website at engineers ireland.ie. Our podcast today was produced by dustpod.io for engineers, Ireland and if you'd like more, do click the Follow button on your podcast player so you get access to all of our past and future shows automatically. Until next time for myself to zero. Thank you so much for listening