What misperceptions are young people harbouring about the field of engineering? Do they know about the exciting diversity of opportunities available out in the field?

Damien Owens believes that Ireland would benefit from broader education and apprenticeships to spread the word! “Engineering is a difficult subject to study but one of the best,” he says. “It opens up a whole variety of careers – and not just in engineering.”

A Fellow of Engineers Ireland, Damien also highlights another hidden truth about engineering careers: Very often the most compelling work and greatest achievements never make it into the public consciousness. That’s because it’s very often the disasters averted, the challenges met behind the scenes, that reveal the engineer’s true superpowers.

Learn about the role STEM education has to play in supporting the development of future engineers and find out about exciting opportunities across a huge spectrum of disciplines, from biomedical to industrial, computer science to green technology.

Listen below or on your podcast player!

Topics discussed include

Why engineers are constantly innovating strategic tools in response to the most pressing social, commercial and environmental challenges of our times.

  • How heightened visibility, improved communications and easy online access to tools have cracked open the field of engineering globally.
  • How Engineering Ireland supports international standards and best practices, generating a vital, multinational flow of job opportunities and education at home and abroad.
  • Why it’s critically important that parents and mentors emphasise the variety of career paths (beyond construction) that STEM studies open up for young people across a number of disciplines, from biomedical to environmental to industrial.
  • Redefining the concept of apprenticeship: About the benefits of providing blended “learning while earning” opportunities through professional trainings.
  • Damien assesses the landscape in terms of engineering opportunities, especially in the realm of wind farming and other green technologies.

Guest details

Damien Owens is a Chartered Engineer and Fellow of Engineers Ireland. He has served as Registrar for Engineers Ireland and Chief Risk Officer, helping to create and maintain academic and professional standards for the engineering profession. Key aspects of his role include implementing an active accreditation process for engineering programmes delivered in Ireland to ensure they meet the best international standards. He also represents the interests of engineering professionals at national and international forums and speaks on related topics in national and international media.

Damien has served as President of the European Network for Accreditation of Engineering Education (ENAEE) and Chair of the International Engineering Alliance – both organisations that set standards for engineering education and mobility across the globe. He is also a member of the Accreditation Board of the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers. Previously, as a member of Engineers Ireland, he was chairman of the ICT Division, a member of the Executive Committee and was elected to the Council of Engineers Ireland.

Prior to joining Engineers Ireland, Damien worked in the telecommunications sector, focusing on product development and strategic alliances. He has been active on a number of national and international standards bodies including EU, ITUTS and the National Standards Authority of Ireland ETCI. He also participates in a number of national consultative groups.

Contact details


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/

Transcription text

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

Dusty Rhodes  0:01 

Right now on amplified the engineers journal podcast, we're about to meet one of the pillars of engineers Ireland, Damien Owens

Damien Owens  0:08 

to engineer is, first of all, most a problem solver. And to solve a problem first, you got to understand it. Then you look at well, how do you solve with the resource you have and make sure it's safe, sustainable, all those type of factors.

Dusty Rhodes  0:40 

Hello, there, my name is Dusty Rhodes. 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 to come. Today, we're chatting with a man with a huge responsibility for the type of engineers who will be joining us in the years to come. In Ireland, he has been involved in setting and maintaining academic and professional standards for the engineering profession. In Europe. He is a past president of the European network for accreditation of engineering, education, and globally, he has served as chair of the International Engineering Alliance. He is a man who is literally shaping the future and those engineers who will solve the problems that we've yet to discover. Damian Owens, thank you very much for joining us today. Thank you. So what got you into engineering, a lot of the engineers I've spoken to are working on big infrastructure projects, you're in a different area of engineering, tell me about a

Damien Owens  1:37 

different area, I suppose when I started in engineering, my background is electronics. And I moved into telecommunications, and then looking at larger system and network design, and then through the internet. And that then brought me into engineers, Ireland, about 10 years ago, I was assisting on a an IT development project. And then I became Registrar of engineers, Ireland, which involves looking at the academic standards for engineering education, in our universities, and Institutes of Technology. It's a log of boiling pot. But think engineering is very interesting, a very interesting career and path for anyone,

Dusty Rhodes  2:15 

certainly, and you're very involved in the education and promoting people getting on in the business. And we find out how you can do that. And how you can make your career bigger, better, faster, harder, stronger, I believe is how the song goes. But firstly, tell me just a bit yourself. Because you've been like many people in that area where you've got to solve problems. You've got to be creative and stuff like that. And you went through a huge change when you were working with was said Telecom, Aaron and our whole phone watch thing. It

Damien Owens  2:42 

does come on, I suppose in the 80s had come from what was the civil service background, and I joined shortly after that. And you've put a lot of resources into developing new products and services. And one project I was involved with was, I suppose is now called foam watch, getting that product which was developed in the US and bringing it across to the Irish market. And was very interesting from a number of perspectives. Because we look at US products, they have a different voltage, we have different standards. So we have to convert all of that. And you know, we have to really create solutions to try and get the product ready for the Irish market. And was very, I suppose amusing when when some of our American colleagues came over, they couldn't understand the look at our houses and the tedious Yogi Berra boxes, people have tried to couldn't understand how we would deface our properties with these ugly boxes, many of which were roasting or had lights on them. And this was a total culture shock that they couldn't cope with that. So I spent a wee bit of time in the states and looking at the manufacturing of the product. And I think one of the things I learned to telic, Marion was how reliable things must be, if you're putting them into the public place, safety is paramount. And I was at a manufacturing plant in unity. We had 50 people waiting to start work and install the products. And the batch coming off the production line wasn't good. I always remember being on the phone to my to my boss back in Dublin. And he says, Well, how's it going? Well, there's a few problems. It won't be ready in this week. He says, Well, you're the person on the ground. You know, we've got 50 people here, you have to make the decision to be large enough. I said, Can't largest, it's not good enough. And I think that's one thing that's stopped me all of the years of my career. And I think many engineers, we have the same position that we've got to do things right in the public interest for safety for quality, reliability. And I think a lot of the challenges that we have faced, for example, if you if you go back to that era, there was three challenges we would have had at a time one was the ozone layer. We had acid rain, and then you had always the nuclear war track where we wiped out and three, three hours. We've sold the force to second to I don't know but you know engineers have risen to challenges. If you look at disasters, worldwide disasters, true climate or natural causes, you know, back in the 1920s 450,000 people a year died from natural disasters beat a fluid beat a far earthquakes, wherever, in 2020, that was less than 20,000 people. And that's because of better design of products, infrastructure, warning systems, and aerosol engineering in action. What you don't see it? It's, it's below the radar, so to speak. And notice the work of engineers,

Dusty Rhodes  5:25 

some people listening to you now my kind of thing, you know, kind of when you're talking about acid rain and the changes in in our climate, and everything is like, Oh, my God, how wrong are you? Have you not read the paper today? I think I get your point in that we had a certain set of circumstances at the time, we've solved some of those problems. Now new problems have come up. Do you think that engineering is doing enough to look at the problems that we have with climate change at the moment?

Damien Owens  5:53 

As engineers arose into the challenge, I think we could always do more, you can always do more. For example, you know, we have a great natural resource in terms of the wind off our coast for generating wind power and energy. The challenge is that today, the wind isn't blowing. So we need to build storage, however we do that, and there's been some very rapid advances are really breakthrough advances to be made in storing down energy. And they will probably come in America in the next 10 years. So that will make a big difference to the intermittency of some of the renewables. I think we also have to take care, however, that you know, take a phrase from the health sector, do no harm. So we need to be careful that we don't create tomorrow's work today. If you look at a wind farms and solar panels, they don't last forever, they will be coming into retirement in 1520 years time. There's a lot of technology, recovery, and recycling of those materials can be quite difficult. But that's another challenge.

Dusty Rhodes  6:54 

Why are they going into retirement so quickly? Thinking you've got airplanes that are flying today that have been going for like 50 years, these, you know, kind of wind turbines are a relatively new thing. I know they're in difficult to access locations, especially if you have a wind farm out at sea. Why are we not making more sustainable wind turbines?

Damien Owens  7:14 

Well, they are mechanical, they will wear out. So they're turning they're in the wind. And they mean they're exposed to in harsh environments, as you've said. And equally, you know, if you look at the turbines that were reduced in the early 90s, that capacity is tiny, compared to the ones today. So they'll just be retired.

Dusty Rhodes  7:33 

Now, I'm sure there's quite a lot of people listening to our podcast today, who wouldn't remember the time that you and I might remember? How different Do you think it is getting into engineering today compared to when you would have started out pre computers, pre internet, all that kind of stuff.

Damien Owens  7:50 

I think it's much more accessible today. Certainly, for example, back when I was studying engineering, just getting components, you have to get catalogs and get stuff like post, usually from England. Now you just look in the web, you've got your online catalog stuff arrives the next day and a lot cheaper. So I think it's way more accessible from a hobbyist. I was at a Maker Faire in Marion Square last week, where he had demonstrations from many universities and companies and people, you know, reusing and recycling components, the audience there was from eight to 80. I think it really makes it accessible. And I think took the whole cast and visibility of engineering is much greater than would have been 2030 years ago.

Dusty Rhodes  8:39 

Okay, problems may be easier to solve, because we have computers and the accessibility to all kinds of things. But do you think the problems today are bigger or smaller?

Damien Owens  8:48 

I think it's all relative, whatever time period you're in, I think the problem is the problem, you still got to solve it. If you look back in time, one of the things that's really been apparent in Ireland is the confidence of younger people, compared to 2030 years ago, I think, as a nation, but also individuals have a lot more confidence in their abilities. The Irish have an excellent reputation for hard work abroad. And I suppose with that, as well as that, I suppose technical intelligence, we have a lot of emotional intelligence, and have to deal with people and how to communicate and just take orders as we find them. I think we, as a nation, are quite unique in that regard.

Dusty Rhodes  9:30 

Do you think that Irish people are traveling further because, you know, back in the 80s, when I when I was growing up, and I would have been young man getting into my industry, you went to England, and occasionally somebody would go to America or Canada or whatever. And now people are like, you know, it's almost like they're commuting to Singapore. In fact, I know somebody whose kid commutes to Singapore to work like you know, then they come back once a month or whatever. Do you think that all of these people going into the world like that and getting experience and then coming back to our Ireland is strengthening the overall engineering sector.

Damien Owens  10:04 

It is also worked in reverse, we have, you know, engineers coming from overseas to Ireland, they come here to get experience and bring it back to their country. So, and you can very much a global community, you can work in global projects without ever leaving Ireland. And you've got to be aware of whatever standards you you are working with in the country, be it voltage or construction or whatever. Because of that, you know, I think engineering is probably unique profession, and that we have agreed to set of education standards, and competence standards that are recognized globally, to allow engineers to move around and work in different countries, but also provides a level of assurance that, you know, a qualification from one country is equivalent to one in another country to gives that level of confidence to employers. And that comes ultimately through our education system. We work with universities and introduce technology to ensure that the engineering syllabus reflects what has occurred globally, for example, you look at the future challenges and how engineers can address it, we change our education or standards or criteria to incorporate things like sustainability, teamwork, and inclusion, diversity. So they're all part and parcel of what engineers are learning into college. And they will bring that into the workplace. So we're taking up the resources for these challenges.

Dusty Rhodes  11:24 

Engineering, as I say, it's very much a global business. But it's very much that engineers, Ireland is helping members to work globally and to work abroad, can you give me a specific example of something that somebody who's just joined the organization in the last two, three years, would be able to do in order to further their career, maybe abroad, or maybe to get more international business here,

Damien Owens  11:47 

or like horses, obviously, in the current environment, for engineers for their continued development, we require our engineers to stay current and do continued professional development. For engineers coming into the country, we've put in place business and technical English courses, so that they can become more effective in their careers. On a more tactical level, we run a series of courses for safety systems, and, you know, regulations, safer road construction, and things like that. So we put a lot of answers in keeping the engineers up to date, and current,

Dusty Rhodes  12:22 

and you're also out there in the world. And you're helping to develop those standards across the globe that members here in Ireland are able to avail of, and as I said, in the introduction, you're very involved and have been very involved in many bodies globally, and in Europe, and of course, here in Ireland as well, from your roles on the various engineering bodies abroad, what is the change that you're trying to make?

Damien Owens  12:45 

First of all, is to make sure that engineers are educated to become as effective as possible in their career, but also to increase mobility. Certainly, in the western economies, there is a shortage of engineers, and in other parts of the globe, that are a surplus of engineers. So overall, there are enough of engineers, but so maybe in the wrong places. In Germany, there's a shortage of about 70,000 engineers, and they have put an economic value in that in terms of GDP. So society needs a lot of engineers, all the infrastructure we've built is not just the building over that we have to look out for is maintaining it. And that requires engineers. So there is a shortage of engineers in western economies. So what we're trying to do is, I suppose increase the accessibility to the profession, and also raise standards across the globe, so that developing countries have capacity to educate, you know, their own engineers to provide the infrastructure and increase the economic and welfare levels of their societies.

Dusty Rhodes  13:51 

STEM education is very important as well, to you, I know what initiatives would you like to see addressed when it comes to STEM education,

Damien Owens  13:58 

willing to educate parents in particular, everybody has the rush, you need to do lots of maths and maths is difficult. And we need to get away from that. That sort of thought process. Engineering, yes, it is a difficult subject to study. But it's probably one of the best subjects to study because it opens up a whole variety of careers, not just in engineering. And I think from the stem perspective, we need to get our younger pupils, school goers to engage and understand the difference you can make through engineering. And that you know, when it comes to their choices on the CIO, that engineering is a very, very broad skill. And what we're seeing at the moment some of the developers are saying is the Americans have professional apprenticeships. Now when people think of apprenticeships, they think of, you know, electricians, plumbers plasters, what we mean by engineering apprentices or professional apprenticeships, is that there's a huge component where some of the workplace but the remainder is in an issue techno college or university. So it's a blended learning, you earn while you learn. That is a very attractive option for many compared to school. It's very different than just a pure academic environment. And you know, Dejan profession is a very broad church, we need experts at all levels. So we as you may have a designer engineer designing something, you'll then need order engineers to build. So it's a whole ecosystem. And one, if one component is missing, or out of balance, the system doesn't work effectively. What do you do aspects of the housing crisis, there's a shortage of labor, no ingenuity, meaningless it is, we've looked at other solutions to address those issues. For example, build a house in a factory a modular build, and then just assemble them on site. So that's the ingenuity coming in to solve a particular problem. But we need labor right across the engineering system. And, again, the public perception of engineering is that it's on a building site, Europe, euros, and nothing could be further from the truth. All the designs and all that are done in an office on very advanced design systems. And construction is only one small part of engineering. That's the only thing we have to get across. And again, it's a public perception. So maybe it's the moms and dads, we have to influence what they can influence their children at school. So there's a whole varieties and branches of engineering that didn't exist years ago. You've biomedical engineering, which looks at design of, say stents or hip replacements. They're all designed by engineers. If process engineering, which looks at, for example, in the brewery making your Guinness, or making tablets, or making food production. So it's there's a very broad set of engineering disciplines pair engineering for electricity or wind farms so deeply to broaden the perception of what engineering is.

Dusty Rhodes  16:55 

And what about the blended learning that you were saying where you do kind of, you know, a lot of learning in university, but then you also placed with with a firm? Is there a lot of that that goes on here? Or is it something that happens more abroad,

Damien Owens  17:06 

it's starting here, it happened, it's probably at different levels in different countries, countries has probably been doing for longest would be Germany, where he has nearly two parallel streams in academic stream in universities. And then he had a different set of institutions that were doing more the apprenticeship workplace. But we're starting to see more and more of that blended approach across your particular because I think you get a more rounded engineer coming out because you love the practice. And they will know when they're studying the theory, they will know how to apply it. So we get a much more rounded engineer coming through the process. We're talking

Dusty Rhodes  17:43 

a lot about education, both in university getting into the business in the first place, maybe serving an apprenticeship, do you think there's a stigma attached to that word apprentice, especially with engineering because you expect an electrical apprentice, you expect a plumber's apprentice or whatever, like, you know, but an engineering apprentice that that is to make it sound a bit.

Damien Owens  18:03  

There is a mindset around apprentice, you're coming in, and overalls and it takes time to change those perceptions. And if you think about it, if you look at the legal profession, that's what you had apprentice lawyers, they learned on the job. That's how it was done. And I think there's a lot more government support for these programs now, because you recognize we need to develop that talent pool to keep the economy going to where it is.

Dusty Rhodes  18:26 

Do you think government is doing enough, though?

Damien Owens  18:28 

I do a tip to be fair to do. I think we're very fortunate that we still have quite a young population, and a very well educated population, I think the government has priorities in supporting the education that's been prioritized very well, I suppose one area, perhaps that probably could do it a bit of assistance is funding off toward level, leaving aside the funding of students student fees, I don't want to go into that debate. But certainly, the facilities in our universities probably need to be better funded, so that the students are exposed to, I suppose, the best technology that's available out there, if we need to lead the world, and develop world class products, we've got to expose our engineering students to the best in class materials are being educated. And they can be expensive. And it's very difficult. I think, for the third level sector. You know, in real terms, the they've suffered a huge reduction in their income over the last 10 years, yet, they have an increase in students student numbers. So we're delivering more for less, and something else to give a darknet if you want to stay in worth us, technology and engineering environment. We've got to avoid those facilities.

Dusty Rhodes  19:43 

You've served with engineers Ireland for for quite a while from that vantage point overlooking the industry. What would you say are the biggest opportunities that are facing the engineering landscape right now?

Damien Owens  19:54 

As well as the opportunities for our lives in geographically we're in a great location. For for clean energy, most of the area of Ireland is underwater, we have a ship called occultic Explorer, which has been mapping our seabed now for a number of years. In fact, we're probably wounded about advanced countries mapping their sea resources. And I think we have huge potential in offshore wind development, just as countries export oil, we can export that wind energy, we can become an actual exporter into European grid. And there are plans for a super grid to link to various grids of Europe, for example, Germany is probably an hour ahead of us in time. So as the wind is blowing, here, I went out using the energy we ship it off there. And the same, if they have access, they can ship it back. So you get a super grid that moves the power around and evens out the peaks and troughs of wind around Europe. And that is actually happening does work or going on to power grid at the moment. So we need to, I think, be probably much quicker in making the most of the natural resources we have off our coast to put in, you know, offshore wind farms. And that's just one aspect of

Dusty Rhodes  21:05 

it's an aspect that a lot of people are focusing on. Do you think that Ireland has the potential to become the Saudi Arabia of wind farming?

Damien Owens  21:14 

What do I mean, we can certainly produce a lot more energy than we need? Yeah, absolutely. And if you look, there's a project going on in Morocco, with a Danish company, especially solar. So they're putting in a massive solar firm, and undersea cable up to the UK, it's a very interesting time to be living for managing production perspective.

Dusty Rhodes  21:35 

So do you think the potential is there for Ireland to generate all of our energy from wind? Or am I just being extreme?

Damien Owens  21:44 

We probably could do it to be honest. Yeah. So I think the challenge is, is that the offshore environment on the West Coast, which is where you get a lot of the wind, it's a challenging environment, you know, from from a water perspective, absolutely. But equally, drilling. A kilometer down under the sea for oil is challenging, too. So, you know, we can overcome these these problems. You know, they're the challenges that we need to address other engineers can do.

Dusty Rhodes  22:09 

Yeah. And as soon as you solve one problem, you move into another like, we could put 1000s of wind farms across the West Coast, and then the Gulf Stream will move further south, no wind. You can never win. Can you tell me from our conversation today? What would you consider to be the biggest takeaway that you hope people listening will learn?

Damien Owens  22:31 

If the listener is considering a career in engineering in their studying, I would say go for it, you will not be disappointed. Engineering is a career that can take you to very, very many directions, we move roles and work in very different domains throughout the career. So it's not the same thing day in day out. No, two days are the same. If the audience has audio engineers listening, I'd say continue to solve problems to stay up to date, and your knowledge and you know, advocate for our profession.

Dusty Rhodes  23:03 

And what would you say to somebody who's been working for the same firm for five, 710 years, they're getting a bit bored,

Damien Owens  23:09 

sharpen up the skills, you know, you you know, a lot, or you've probably forgotten more than, you know, sharpen those skills or look at their huge opportunities in engineering? Absolutely. It's a wide open marketplace. There is a shortage of engineers, not not just in Ireland,

Dusty Rhodes  23:27 

I think you've given us some some great pictures there, as I say, shortage of engineers globally. And that just leads to opportunities all over the place.

Damien Owens  23:34 

Yeah. And you know, you're here to solve problems for I suppose to go to society, the work engineers do are usually on big projects, they make an impact,

Dusty Rhodes  23:45 

I find that you get stuck in a rut, and you just need to hear something. And I think a lot of what you said today is just stuff that might stick in people's heads. And then my counting, maybe I'll look into a little bit more. And I think if if they do that we've done our job. What do you think, Damien?

Damien Owens  24:01 

I think so. I think, you know, we, we have to solve the problems that are there. And there are plenty of problems. And when they're solved, there'll be plenty more. I remember somebody saying, you know, something is not rocket science. We've all heard that phrase. It's not rocket science. And a good friend of mine replied, Well, rocket science is very well understood. We all know how without what a rocket should do, how the planets move gravity. We know all it says is the engineering of the rocket is a difficult thing. If you can put your three people on top of a controlled explosion, send them into space, and bring them back or bring them up and away and, and bring them down to earth gently so that you get up walk out. That's the engineering that's the difficult bit and we could solve those problems and have seldom so yeah, I think, you know, we shouldn't be afraid of problems. It's token.

Dusty Rhodes  24:57 

What a fantastic note to end on Damien Owens. From engineers, Ireland, thank you so much for chatting with us on the podcast today. Thank you dusty. If you'd like to find out more about what we spoke about on the podcast, you'll find notes and link details in the show notes or the description area on your podcast player right now. And of course, you'll find more information and advanced episodes on our website at engineers ireland.ie. Our podcast today is produced by dustpod.io for engineers, Ireland, and if you'd like more podcasts, just click the Follow button on your podcast player so you get access to all our past and future shows automatically. Until next time for myself. Cicero's thank you so much for listening, toxic