Justine Butler is a Chartered chemical engineer and fellow of Engineers Ireland with more than 18 years’ experience working in the pharmaceutical industry. She studied Chemical and Process Engineering in University College Dublin and completed a diploma in project management at the Dublin Business School.

She is currently the director of engineering for Jacobs Life Sciences Ireland, UK and Nordics Operations. She leads a growing team of 466 professionals. Butler holds responsibility for the engineering design of numerous concurrent projects ranging from TIC (total install cost) of €70m to €2bn.

She started as a process design engineer working on national and international projects in the design and commissioning of fill/finish, biologics, small molecule API (Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient) and tabletting manufacturing facilities.

In recent years, Butler progressed into management roles including process department manager managing 90-plus process engineers and digital solutions manager working with the team to develop the digital transformation roadmap for the Ireland operation.

She is passionate about engineering and architectural design. Butler lectured in biopharmaceutical design for three years with IT Sligo in affiliation with the National Institute for Bioprocessing Research and Training. She is a strong advocate of women in STEM disciplines and makes a conscious effort to promote this through school visitations and career platforms.

1) When did you first become interested in engineering?

I enjoyed maths and science in school. I was not your typical engineer who at a young age had an interest in how cars or machines worked but rather a keen problem solver.

2) Who were the mentors who helped you on your way?

My parents. They have been supportive prior to and during my professional career. They recognised my STEM interest and suggested engineering as a possible career path. During all of the positions that I have held, I have worked with excellent engineers who have provided advice and inspired me. 

3) What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given? 

 Accept that you cannot have all the answers, so put your energy into learning how to find them. This can be knowing where to look or who to ask.

4) What are the most important trends in engineering right now? 

Flexibility, digitisation and sustainability are key areas that almost all projects are focused on. Some of our clients are Contract Manufacturing Organisations (CMOs) who require enhanced flexibility to provide manufacturing options for their clients.

Digital solutions both in project delivery, construction and operations continue to be explored with artificial intelligence being more prominent. Lastly sustainability, in addition to Jacobs’ climate action plan as a global organisation, design and construction have increasing sustainability targets. It is an exciting time as projects will measure cost, schedule, scope and sustainability. 

5) When leading a team, what do you do to ensure they develop new competences and perform to a high level?

As the process department manager, I had a detailed competency matrix that essentially mapped out the career journey of a process engineer and importantly people could see where they were on that journey. This was essential to record and monitor skills for such a large team.

We set a few goals to incrementally move forward. Less goals make them more likely to be achieved and again step-by-step progression makes the journey of 0-20-plus years’ experience more tangible.

My mantra in a leading role is to empower and enable others to do their job as best they can. I approach this by paying particular attention to understanding people’s personalities, areas of strength and areas for development.

I have a progressive mindset and I am always trying to learn from all around me; I believe that a leader with a growth mindset encourages their team to have it too and they will perform at a higher level.

6) Has CPD helped you grow your network and access experts, and what have you done to promote STEM?

Absolutely! When I was heavily involved in the Engineers Ireland committees, I expanded my network and developed my soft skills. I developed my technical knowledge when I was preparing for my lecturing position. Those extracurricular activities provided professional growth that I didn’t envisage when initially getting involved.

In school, career choices can be overwhelming, so I try to share my knowledge and experience in schools, on career platforms or in career magazines. I was privileged to be shortlisted for the Women in STEM Awards in the engineering category and I hope that promoting women in leadership, engineering and in STEM will encourage others ... 'if you can see it, you can be it'.

7) What one measure would you introduce to help improve the profession's gender balance?

I am hopeful that the Gender Pay Gap Information Act that mandates large organisations to publish their Gender Pay Gap Report will introduce change for female and non-binary staff.

Jacobs has a target for a 60:40 male-female split in the company which is a challenge in a male dominated sector. Our gender pay gap report showed improvements in the female cohort at junior level. Like other companies, at management level we lack a significant female presence. We recently updated our job descriptions with gender neutral language as unknowingly certain words would appeal more to male applicants.

Since becoming director of engineering, I introduced section head or deputy manager positions in all engineering departments (30-115 team members).

We experience few female applicants to department manager positions as, generally, women are more cautious, or experience imposter syndrome, for these types of roles.

The section head roles had an increased level of female applicants. In two to three years, the section heads will have the opportunity to apply for the department manager role. I look forward to seeing more females in management positions by recognising that we can feel more comfortable with a two-step promotion and facilitate this accordingly.

8) What is the one piece of advice you would give to somebody starting out as an engineer?

Attitude is an essential skill that can inhibit or boost your career. We learn technical skills in college and not typically soft skills such as being a team player, being proactive, putting your hand up, rolling up your sleeves etc.

The people I have seen demonstrate those work practices tend to be the names that get very positive feedback, their name tends to be put forward for extracurricular opportunities and networking events.

9) What is a typical day for you?

Every day is different regardless of the roles I have had, which is probably why I have stayed in engineering consultancy since graduating. The variety keeps it interesting as the projects, teams, and even countries, vary.

10) What do you do to relax?

In the past five years, I surprisingly have become a prolific reader. I read fiction to relax and non-fiction for professional development. Books I usually recommend to people include the controversially titled Surrounded by Idiots and Surrounded by Bad Bosses by Thomas Erikson or Get to the Point!: Sharpen Your Message and Make Your Words Matter by Joel Schwartzberg.