Water Infrastructure is a hugely important sector here in Ireland, and it has many challenges on the horizon, including everything from climate change to infrastructure demand.
Today, we're finding out more about the future of that water infrastructure and where engineers will play a crucial role in ensuring its success.
Our expert today is at the centre of the industry and has experience working on massive projects in Ireland, the UK and Asia. He is CEO of Uisce Éireann and a fellow of Engineers Ireland, Niall Gleeson.
Listen below or on your podcast player!
Things we spoke about:
1:22 Working on infrastructure projects abroad
04:29 Moving from on the ground engineering to management
06:41 Water supply challenges in Ireland
09:49 Maintaining drinking water safety
11:30 Sourcing more water supplies for rural and urban areas
14:02 How wastewater is managed
15:18 Future-proofing in Uisce Éireann
18:05 Climate change considerations in water management
20:52 Engineering roles in the water sector
23:52 Driving innovation while managing the day to day
28:57 Uisce Éireann’s role in future infrastructure
30:56 What lessons helped Niall move up the ladder
Niall Gleeson is Chief Executive Officer of Uisce Éireann, the national utility responsible for providing public water and wastewater services throughout Ireland. Niall leads the organisation in the delivery of safe, clean and environmentally compliant water services to households and businesses across Ireland. He has been instrumental in driving Uisce Éireann’s safety, sustainability and employee engagement strategies and in 2021 led the organisation in securing the provision of an historic €1.1 billion in capital investment funding, which is vital to developing Ireland’s critical water services infrastructure, protecting public health and supporting social and economic development.
Prior to joining Uisce Éireann, Niall was Managing Director for Veolia Ireland and Alstom Ireland and held a number of senior leadership roles with world-leading infrastructure companies including General Electric and Shanahan Engineering. He has significant experience in the finance, construction, commissioning and maintenance of transport and utility assets, and has led major infrastructure projects across Ireland, the UK and Asia. Raised in Dublin, he holds a degree in engineering from the Dublin Institute of Technology.
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/
Engineers Journal AMPLIFIED is produced by DustPod.io for Engineers Ireland.
The problem-solving is one of the big things, engineers are in demand not just for engineering trades, but banking or all that kind of stuff. It’s the ability to look at a problem and work out a logical process to get a resolution, starting at the start and working your way methodically through problems is a real key, and it’s a trait that most engineers have. - Niall Gleeson
A lot of us are very solution focused, especially engineers, so we're trying to solve people's problems for them. Quite often, you just have to listen. They talk themselves through the problem and they almost solve it for you while they're sitting in front of you. So it's not always reacting. I think that's probably what I would teach my younger self, listen more. - Niall Gleeson
We have an awful lot of stuff that goes into toilets that shouldn't go into toilets like wet wipes.. They say they're biodegradable, but they're not. We pull about 60 tons of what we call rags out of the inlets of Ringsend every month. - Niall Gleeson
Over the next 25 years our plan is to improve drinking water, get a very reliable source, provide more where there's growth and make sure that the likes of Dublin can continue to grow, and other urban areas. All of the projections are that the population is going to keep growing. - Niall Gleeson
We have to do our day to day job and we have to deliver water every day, so innovation can be tricky. But our sustainability program is driving a lot of innovation, we're looking at solar panels on the roofs of buildings and things like biodiversity. - Niall Gleeson
We're crying out for engineers at the moment. We have a huge recruitment programme going on. As part of our transformation to, the Uisce Eireann transformation program. One of the challenges we have is with our own teams and with the local authorities, there's a lot of gray hair. I have it myself, but there's a lot of people who are approaching retirement. So we need a new batch of people coming through. - Niall Gleeson
#water #engineers #wastewater #drinkingwater #rivers #climatechange
For your convenience, we include an automated AI transcription
Dusty Rhodes 00:00
Right now on AMPLIFIED, we're about to learn about supplying something as basic as water to a rapidly growing population.
Niall Gleeson 00:07
We're crying out for engineers at the moment. So we have a huge recruitment program going on. There's a lot of people who are approaching retirement. So we need a new batch of people coming through to learn from the existing people, but also take over, you know, the operations and the construction of those sites. So yeah, we need graduates we need young engineers who have what a few years experience and an even more senior engineer so across the board we're looking for, for engineers, there's a lot of hiring going on in our industry.
Dusty Rhodes 00:32
Hello there, my name is Dusty Rhodes and you're welcome to AMPLIFIED, the Engineers Journal podcast. Water Infrastructure is a hugely important sector here in Ireland, and it has many challenges on the horizon, including everything from climate change to infrastructure demand. Today, we're finding out more about the future of that water infrastructure and where engineers will play a crucial role in ensuring its success. To tell us more is a man at the center of the industry. His engineering degree from DIT brought him huge experience on massive projects in Ireland, the UK and Asia. He's also held many senior leadership roles with world leading infrastructure companies. And we're proud to say that he is a fellow of Engineers Ireland. I'm delighted to welcome the CEO of Uisce Eireann, Niall Gleeson, hello Niall.
Hey, Dusty, Thanks for Thanks for having me on.
Dusty Rhodes 01:22
Listen, I want to chat about the problems that we're facing in Ireland with water and where Uisce Eireann sits in that mix. And of course, the role that engineers have in solving the problems we face. But first, tell us a little bit about your your own career, you've worked on some fairly, very substantial infrastructure projects abroad, what would you say are the highlights?
Niall Gleeson 01:41
Yeah, I started my the real start of my career was when I joined General Electric who, every year back in the sort of 80s and 90s, they hired about 15 to 20 Irish engineers, when we were cheap and plentiful, you know. And we traveled all over the world installing power plants, and equipment for General Electric, so a fantastic job in coming out of 80s. Ireland, it was, you know, huge opportunity and got to see Alaska, I got to see Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, China, so and Poland, so worked in all those countries. And it was a fascinating job. So I don't know, is there one particular one, I suppose one that I brings to mind is actually back in the UK, we had a major projects and the equipment failed. I mean, these were large 100 ton rotors spinning at 3000 rpm, and they started to lose bolts. And that whole program of you know, it was an innovation that's led the innovation innovation on the that equipment meant that they were under severe pressure and severe stress and the design didn't work. But the whole program around, you know, retrofitting those and fixing it was fascinating. We were at one stage flying rotors across the Atlantic on Antonov aircraft to get them repaired quick enough. So yeah, a good sense of scale, I suppose. As well, back in those days, it was no email, no mobile phones. So you became pretty resilient and became pretty good at adapting and dealing with ambiguity and you know, having to make decisions yourself in the middle of China when you couldn't get an answer. And you couldn't just download the solution off the internet or get pick something off email. So it made a lot more resilient and a lot more thinking for yourself, you know, give me
Dusty Rhodes 03:19
an example of that being in the middle of nowhere and needing something massive and having to have it here tomorrow.
Niall Gleeson 03:24
I do remember in I was on the call off the coast of Venezuela on a project and it was one of the early new technology. But we were still dialing up at 1200 baud rate. I don't know if I remember doing that. And you heard the little Binkley noises No like a stuff. So I downloaded a patch for the software, which took about eight hours to download on a phone line. And the phone bill was around $800 I think you know what I mean? So but we it's eight as a couple of weeks waiting for a CD to arrive from from the States with it. So one of the first patches downloaded, I would I would like to claim, you know,
Dusty Rhodes 03:58
I'm not gonna try to do you think they're your engineer training, uh, you know, kind of helped you with all of this.
Niall Gleeson 04:03
I think certainly the, you know, the problem solving is, you know, you really, that's one of the big things that engineers I mean, they're in demand, not just for engineering trades, but banking or lack of staff has the ability to look at a problem and work out a logical process to get a resolution. I think that's really important starting at the start and, and working your way methodically to problems is a real key for a trait that most engineers have, you know,
Dusty Rhodes 04:29
let me ask you about going from, you know, working as an engineer and then going into management because I have huge experience of that what at what point did that a lot of the projects you've spoken about was that as management or were you working as an engineer?
Niall Gleeson 04:41
Yeah, I suppose that large project I talked about with the with the rotor sailing, I was a commissioning engineer at that one. So not many people working for me and it was the tail end of the job and they wanted someone to take over the lead just to finish off the sort of final few months of the job. Some of the machines had been working fine up to that point. So I took over the lead expecting this, would you just be a nice easy job and run down the project and then disappear. And then the crisis hit. And I was finding myself in the hot seat with, you know, companies VPS ringing me up saying what's going on? And what's happening? And what are you guys doing over there and so stressful. The other thing I found is my peers are always entirely cooperative, you know, because I think it's one of the things when you step into management, and you've been working alongside people for a while, there's sometimes a little bit of pushback, you know, people don't really naturally and that was something that I hadn't dealt with before. But you know, working with try and get your peers to, to work with you and to say, Okay, I've moved into the more senior position. And now I'm at now I'm telling you what to do. You don't like it, but we got to keep with this is what we got to do. And that was something that it was a steep learning curve in that sense.
Dusty Rhodes 05:50
If you were to go back in time and talk to yourself at that younger age, what what advice would you give yourself now.
Niall Gleeson 05:57
And I think it's, you know, along the lines of, a lot of it is about listening to people. And a lot of you know, listening to the problem, quite often people come in to you, they have a problem. And really, they just want to talk through it, a lot of us are very solution focused, especially engineers, so we're trying to solve people's problems for them. Quite often, you just have to listen. And they talk themselves selves through the problem. And they they almost solve it for you while they're sitting in front of you, you know, so it's, it's not always reacting. I think that's probably what I what I would teach, teach my younger self and listen more, and, you know, let people talk things through.
Dusty Rhodes 06:30
It's like men are from Mars, and women are from Venus, except it's engineers are from Mars. Yeah. Whereas, like, if you have a problem, I'll tell you how to fix it.
Niall Gleeson 06:38
Dusty Rhodes 06:41
So you fear listen more, and that helps you progress up the line. Okay, cool. Listen, let's talk about water in Ireland, because one of the things we hear about with water in Ireland is that we need to protect our water supply. Is it in danger?
Niall Gleeson 06:57
You look at it even took me another last few days, we've seen flooding and cork and that so there's an abundance of water in the country, but But it comes at different times, we the way we use us and the way we source it, and the way we protect those sources, that's not in a great place. I mean, we do we use a lot of surface water, a lot of river water, lake water in Ireland, for our for our drinking water supplies, and between how we treat, you know, runoff, how pesticides, land spreading, and also our own treatment plants for on the west side, we are contributing to those resources not been in great condition. If you look at the EPA River Basin report, you know, water quality has been deteriorating. So I mean, inish air, we're working very hard to improve those wastewater treatment plants. We also want to work with landowners and farmers in that to try and look at what's happening upstream, how do we treat those? How do we prevent those pesticides and nutrients, too much nutrient going into the into the sources, and it's a big collaboration space, it's not something, as I say to people, it's not something that is Garin can fix with concrete and pumps, you know, it's, we can do a certain amount, but we need the entire communities to buy into protecting those water sources. And I think water because we have so much of it, it's not respected in our in the way, if you go to drier countries, you know, water is really treated differently.
Dusty Rhodes 08:18
So it's a case of we have the quantity, but it's the quality that you're worried about, and lots of other things that are affecting water that would you say that we use water from the land, as you say, from from rivers, so we don't necessarily get a lot of our water from wells, is that what you mean?
Niall Gleeson 08:34
It would be quite mixed. I mean, we've got 700 water treatment plants around the country, everything from ballymore uses, which supplies most of Dublin to, you know, a small well, that will supply 500 people, you know, out in rural areas. So they're quite different to so some are wells, but the vast majority of our our water is from surface water. So we do need to treat or you know, to work closely on treating all that kind of stuff. The other thing is with climate change, we are seeing you know, you're seeing deluge us, but you're also seeing much drier weather as well. So it's how do we protect those sources? How do we kind of store storing water is difficult, we have reservoirs in Dublin that, you know, people say, you know, why don't you make those bigger, but we have, you know, the vast reservoirs in stillorgan, that they will give us about 24 hour storage for the for the city, you know, so building, you know, weeks of storage is very expensive and not really practical. That's why we're looking at if you take var tree or you take Bula fuca those were enormous valleys that were flooded back in, back in, you know, when you could get when you could do that kind of stuff. But you know, it's not really practical nowadays to look at flooding valleys, it's just ecologically not the sensible thing to do. You know. So that's a challenge as well for us is protecting the sources all year round, leaving aside
Dusty Rhodes 09:49
rivers that flow through cities because you know, they just looked dirty, but I'm thinking of rivers that we see in the in the countryside. Is it safe to drink water directly from those rivers
Niall Gleeson 10:00
It's rarely safe to drink water directly from from any rivers. I mean, that's why, you know, it is expensive water treatment, we we take the water out, we filter it, it does vary, not complicated, but it's a laborious filtration process, then we would also chlorinate, and quite often we add UV at the end to really kill off all the microbes, you know. So that's why, you know, people would say, Why do you, you know, why do we have shortages, but it is processing that water and making sure it's safe to drink is quite complicated. And an expensive we, you know, a lot of chemicals involved a lot of dosing, and a lot of energy in those UV systems.
Dusty Rhodes 10:35
I'm asking a lot of silly questions, because I know very little about water. But what's the difference between water then that you've processed, and it's coming out of a tap and water that I buy in a bottle in the shop?
Niall Gleeson 10:45
Yeah, now not much difference. Actually, I would, I would recommend nobody drink bottled water. I mean, really, the tap water all around the country we the EPA test is it's all we regularly tested ourselves, and it's very safe to drink. And if it isn't safe to drink, we'll put on boil water notices, and you'll see some of those coming and going in areas that to me that gives you the confidence or it should give the public the confidence that we know what's happening with the system. So if we're saying the water is safe to drink, and there's no restrictions on it, then I would say you should never go out buy bottled water. Some people vied for taste. But to be honest, I think, you know, if you really don't like some people can taste the chlorine, just by a little filter. And you can get that taken out, you know, in a home filter. But it's always very safe and good to drink. So why waste your money on bottled water?
Dusty Rhodes 11:30
Yeah, and it's more environmentally friendly, because you're not using a plastic bottles all the time. Like, you know, it's fantastic. So we have the water system within Ireland, we've got lots of it with needs to be cleaned. One of the other problems, I think that we have in Ireland is that we have a huge urban rural divide. So you're getting water, I would imagine often in rural areas, and then you've got to transport it to to the city areas. How does that work?
Niall Gleeson 11:54
Yeah, well, I suppose if you again, if you take you know, the supplies for Dublin come from Wicklow and Caldera, you know, and so they and they are piped into the into the city. If you take the artery example, you know, before of archery was built, I think around 1860 of archery plant was built. And I'd recommend anyone to go out and have a look, I think you can visit uncertain times a year, but it's really interesting. The Victorian engineering was superb. And you know, prior to that people have been drinking, taking the water from the canals and it was filthy and caused a lot of disease and all that kind of stuff. So this, this basically is a is a filtration system that just runs through sand beds. We've just recently we've upgraded that plant and we've put in a brand new plant, but that ran from the 1860s up to sometime last year when it was when we decommissioned it and provided a substantial amount about 20% of the water for Dublin. So we do rely on rural areas providing our water and one of the one of the big asks we're going to be asking in the near future is to take water from the Shannon and Shannon is to me a giant, slow moving body of water, it's a giant reservoir for the country. And we will be asking, asking the you know the people have on the channel to allow us take water from the pool of food, if not from cooler folk or from partying and bring it up to Dublin we'll be treating it and partying and then piping it up to Dublin that is the plan and we're working our way through our various permissions on that. And there is definitely the city the urban dwellers are stealing the water from from the rural areas and will drain the champion and all that kind of stuff like we will take maximum about one or 2% of the flow in the channel. And then if you've seen the Shannon flowing recently, it's a tremendous river there's plenty of capacity. But the other thing to that project will take water all the way up to the Midlands. So we will be distributing into a rural areas and making big difference. And what we'll also do allow us to do is divert water that's currently being pumped into the city and Dublin will be able to divert some of those and pump those further sides of Archer might start to pump further south into Wicklow and then some of the sources up in north Dublin will pump north so it's a project for the Midlands and the east and it's definitely one that we hope the rural areas rural community around the Shannon where we're taking the offtake will will buy into you know
Dusty Rhodes 14:02
a lot of what we're talking about is getting clean water to people what about wastewater what qualifies as wastewater and how's it managed?
Niall Gleeson 14:10
Yeah, well, you know, anything when you flush your toilets, that's that's obviously wastewater and going into the into the a very complex system of drains. And also then you've got industrial wastes. So a lot of processing plants, a lot of pharmaceutical plants all would feed into our, into our networks, and then they would feed into our treatment plants. So you take the rings in plant, which is the biggest plant we have in the country, it deals with about 40% of the waste water in the country, that's dealing with enormous mix of you know, chemicals of whatever you put down the toilet in your house, and that's a real challenge too, because we have an awful lot of stuff that goes into toilets that shouldn't go into toilets like wet wipes, and and all that kind of stuff. They say they're biodegradable, they're not we pull about 60 tons of what we call rags out of the inlets of things end every month. It's a huge amount of MIT waste, solid waste material that's been put into the system unnecessarily, because really, you just throw it in the bin, and it would make life an awful lot easier and certainly reduce our costs and the taxpayers are paying our costs. So in the end, you're you'd be winning, you know, let's talk
Dusty Rhodes 15:18
about air. And specifically now, you know, we know there was a baptism of fire with Irish water, what changed when it became went from Irish water to escape Aaron?
Niall Gleeson 15:27
So if Garin was part of the or via group, so it was ourselves and gas networks, Ireland were joined together under this or via banner. So now, the issue air and Banner is the new entity is the new national authority. It's completely standalone, national authority utility for the country for provision of water. So that's the important thing. The other thing is, we've signed the framework agreements so that the water services staff and the local authorities will come across, under under the ich Garin banner. So, right now, we have about 30 of the 31 local authorities, the water services teams are under the management of each Garin staff. So it's like a merger of the old Irish water and the Local Authority staff coming together up together under a new banner, the SPR and banner, which is the national utility, but but we will have all these local operators and local people who have the local experience the local knowledge, and we'll be bringing the national sort of bringing in the European standards to the national drinking water tests, the wastewater tests and, you know, working together to, to make sure that the service that the communities get is second to none,
Dusty Rhodes 16:33
I was gonna ask you about that, again, these are things that you're planning, what are the goals for each get Aaron over the next 10 years.
Niall Gleeson 16:39
So we have, we still have, we still have, you know, certainly have some plans, some sorry, some towns and villages that are put are producing raw sewage into sea or the river. The aim is to get rid of those in the next couple of years, most of those have plans in place. And we will be getting, we'll have 95% of those reduced, but I think by the end of 2025. So that's the end of raw sewage going into either the sea or lakes, that's, that's a huge goal. The other one we have we do issue boil water notices on occasion. And there's some long term boil water notice that are very frustrating for people. And we are our aim is to get rid of all of those, we still may have some temporary boil water notices if there's an interruption in the plant or breakdown or extreme weather events. But ideally, we would take the vast majority of people off boil water notices, we have a project called the National Water Resources plan, which is basically has gone around and studied every single resource in the country. And that has been a huge exercise. And we've looked at sort of the resilience of those sources, what's going to what climate change is going to do to them. And the impacts, you know, what's the that area going to develop? Is it going to grow. And that's been a huge study, it's been open for consultation, people are fed into it. And that's our plan for what we're going to do with drinking water over the next 25 years. So that is to improve drinking water, get a very reliable source, provide more where there's growth and make sure that the you know the likes of Dublin can continue to grow, and other urban areas contingent on all of the projections or the population is going to keep growing. And
Dusty Rhodes 18:05
you mentioned climate change. And you know, we are seeing it very real as you know, kind of the weather that we've had this year, we've had glorious June, and then the opposite. And we've had floods kind of going into the winter and stuff like that is climate change, like something that you take very seriously.
Niall Gleeson 18:24
Yeah, we take it very seriously one from a sustainability point of view. So we're trying to make art, we are one of the biggest consumer of consumers of energy in the public sector. I mean, I think we're second the HSE only has because we we use huge amount of pumps and processes to actually process the drinking water and the wastewater. So we have a huge energy bill. And so we're trying to reduce that we're trying to take our energy from more renewable sources. But also we're seeing the impacts of climate change on our plants. So those very heavy rains on the drinking water plants, what you get is a lot of turbidity in the water, which is a lot of solids are mixed up in the water, a lot of if you imagine heavy rain going into River, it churns up everything that's in the in the in the riverbed and in the lake, in the lakes. So it makes our plants work an awful lot harder. So they, they some of them are can can struggle when we get those heavy rain events. But probably the biggest factor is the on the wastewater side. What we have in the original designs, and most of Europe has the same thing as we've got combined storm water and wastewater drains. So the in the vast majority of houses in your state and Dublin, the water that comes off your roof goes into the wastewater system. And the water that goes in off the road goes into the wastewater system as well. So when you get heavy, heavy rains, the wastewater system gets overloaded. And we have what are called storm water overflows. So rather than the water coming up to manholes, which is what would happen if we didn't have these. You have these overflows that allow the sewage, very dilute sewage to go out into rivers or rivers or directly into the sea through these overflow pipes. And that's one of the challenges that we're having where we're getting these more heavy deluge. And you can see it where people are talking about bathing water quality, and all that kind of thing. And sorry, people are becoming much more conscious because we're swimming all year round, actually swim all year round myself. So I'm in Dublin Bay. So I'm very conscious of the issue but as climate change, and as we get those more heavy event and rainfall events that is becoming a more acute problem, but to separate the two systems is a multi billion euro problem project. And I don't think we're, we're a long way for doing that. So what we've got to do is try and work with people upstream to sort of reduce those deluges reduce the, you know, maybe put in those stormwater butts in your house so that you can collect a certain amount of water before it starts overflow, instead of putting in tarmac or carbon lock, put in gravel, those kind of, we're working with the local authorities to see if we can allow more of that water to soak into the ground. Because as soon as it hits hard surfaces, it's straight into the drains and straight into the stormwater and that leads to the to the overflows.
Dusty Rhodes 20:52
And the when you're talking about big massive projects like that you need professional problem solvers that are engineers, what role do engineers play in the operation of each Garin?
Niall Gleeson 21:02
Yeah, look, we're very engineering heavy organization does enough, you know, between operations, you've got our construction site and our construction delivery side, they would be a lot of engineering design an upstream of that, you'd have an asset management team that we'd be looking at, where do we need to invest? What kind of equipment do we need to put in, then you have delivery, and then you have operations, all full with engineers, a lot of scientists in there as well let environment environmental people. So really, we have an awful lot of engineers, it's a great place for engineers to to work, I mean, from here, it's a fantastic area to work, you're delivering water for 4 million people a day, and you're taking their wastewater away. It's quite a fulfilling job. You know, it's it's a great place to work. But it's also very innovative, a lot of exciting stuff going on. So for engineers, I think we took 50 graduates in this year, not all engineers, probably about 20 engineers, but it is a good place to, to get experience and to grow and learn
Dusty Rhodes 21:54
what kind of skills make an engineer stand out in this particular sector.
Niall Gleeson 21:58
I do think I think problem solving skills, but I think you also need to be able to work with the community, we're very much you know, a people facing business, you know, when you're out there solving problems, or if there's leaks, or people are having discolored water, it's good for you to have a bit of a poor bit of the of the ability to talk to customers, and to explain in layman's terms, what are the issues because people don't really understand why, you know, why we're having a burst of Why's the water gun and when your water goes your head, it's it's a big deal. You know, it's there's a lot of stuff you can't do, you can't do now, most houses are supposed to have a you know, you have your water tank in the attic, and you're supposed to have that 24 hour storage. But regulation of plumbing isn't always great. And so sometimes when when the water runs out in the mains, people have problems immediately with, you know, showers and sinks that are fed from the main. So again, explaining those kinds of situations to people is, is useful. So a bit of rapport, I think, as well as being a good engineer.
Dusty Rhodes 22:49
If an engineer is listening to this today, and they're kind of thinking I want to get in on some really big projects. And this sounds like you know, very enticing, what kind of training should they have had up to this point? Or maybe what kind of continuous career development should they be looking at to be part of this Garin?
Niall Gleeson 23:07
Yeah, I look, I don't think there's a will. We have a lot of civil engineers, but we take mechanical, electrical, it's the engineering, discipline, the way you think, is the most important thing. I think, ability to change and be flexible, I think that's going to be really important going forward, you know that you are not soft innovation. As I've said to my own people, innovation is difficult, because the easiest thing for us to do is build the equipment we built last week, because we know it works. And we've delivered that. So trying to innovate trying to change. So it's tricky. So we want people coming in who are you know, entrepreneurial, and will think differently. And if we ask them to to work differently, and they'll, they'll, and change the way they're doing stuff. That's what we want, you know.
Dusty Rhodes 23:52
But I had something very similar when I went into RT first because I was entrepreneurial, or in the words of my manager, I was a troublemaker. And you always have this with a very large organization and people who've been there for decades and done things in certain ways. You're saying you want people to come in and shake that up a little, but it's kind of hard to do. So what's the reality of joining a really large organization and actually being able to have new ideas that you have being implemented?
Niall Gleeson 24:25
Yeah, look, a lot of it is because we have to do our day to day job and we have to deliver that water every day. Let's innovation can be tricky, but we are driving. Like our sustainability program is driving a lot of innovation. We're looking at, you know, solar panels on the roofs of buildings and that kind of stuff. We're also looking at, you know, things like biodiversity, so we want to put in more, you can put in what they call a constructed wetland, which is where you actually create because we are wetland that the wastewater flows through so there's no concrete, there's no pumps, there's no filters. It just literally goes through reedbeds very slowly and they're amazing for wildlife If they're amazing for plant life, and they suit populations of around 1000, to 2000, so small villages that can something, they're not really scalable beyond that, but when you get those the right factors, they're great. And for engineers, that's a real change in mindset, because we love pipes and pumps and concrete, you know what I mean? So, and tell them that you're putting in a bunch of plants there, and you got to pick the right plants. That's an anathema to some engineers, but it is, it is the way we need to start thinking of a mix of solutions, you know. So innovation is something that we were working very hard on. To me, it's looking at pilot projects and getting those to work and demonstrating them and then moving on. So I think you can, it is, you know, you can become institutionalized. But right now he's scared, this is quite dynamic, we've got a really good, we've got really good teams of people who are working to change things. And we've got such a, such a demand ahead, and so much work to do that we have to be innovative. Like, one of the things I'd love to see is, how do we fix pipe from the inside, because we've, we kind of keep digging holes at the rate we're doing. We've 64,000 kilometers of drinking water pipe around the country. So how can we possibly maintain that, by continuously digging up and ripping up pipes, we need to do somehow somehow work from the inside and, you know, through tunneling, or through whatever it is, and I don't know the solution. But somebody has to come up with that for me. And that's stuff we'd like to work on, you know. So you're
Dusty Rhodes 26:24
looking for people who are coming up with new ideas, and there is a fostering of new ideas within the organization, outside of the organization, you mentioned before to bring Irish drinking water up to EU standards. Are you getting innovation from in the EU and elsewhere in the world as to the quality of water and how we can do things better?
Niall Gleeson 26:42
Yeah, there's, I mean, there's lots of stuff going on. And we do we do, try and get me to talk to suppliers and see who's who's innovating and what's working. So yeah, all around Europe and around the world, there are there are people with with clever ideas, there's a lot of clever stuff around, there's an awful problem with leakage in the in the drinking water networks word about 36%. Nationally, as far as the leakage rates, which means a third of our water is going to waste, you know, which is a huge problem. But in Europe, the standard you know, the norm would be around 20%, which is still very high. So has water becomes more and more precious and the cost to make it becomes more and more expensive, looking at leakage and looking at clever ways to fix leakages because a real industry and the some really good stuff going on there like things like acoustic loggers where you put you literally listen to the pipes and see where the leaks are. And that kind of stuff, you know. So it's there's a lot of clever stuff, a lot of smart metering smart networks, they call them where you kind of you know exactly what's happening. We're a little bit away from that. But we're working towards getting those smart networks moving. So a lot of clever technology there as well. It's not just all, you know, digging holes in the ground.
Dusty Rhodes 27:49
No, it does. It sounds like there's a lot of innovation going on. There's a lot of change going on internally, and a lot of modernization which is going on and big problems which needs to be solved, which is fantastic. Do you think as you say you're very engineering heavy. Do you think you're going to be taking on more engineers in the immediate future?
Niall Gleeson 28:06
Definitely. Yeah. I mean, we're crying out for engineers at the moment. So we have a huge recruitment loan program going on. As part of our transformation to you know, the the scare and transformation program, we call it. One of the challenges we have is with our own teams and with the local authorities. A lot of there's a lot of gray hair. I mean, I have it myself, but there's a lot of people who are approaching retirement. So we knew we need a new batch of people coming through to to learn from the existing people, but also take over, you know, the operations and the construction of those sites. So yeah, we're definitely we need we need graduates, we need young engineers who with a few years experience and an even more senior engineer, so across the board we're looking for, for engineers and scientists and accountants and a lot of there's a lot of hiring going on in our industry. And the other area we're looking at is apprenticeships and technicians and those kinds of skills that we want to bring in more out as value.
Dusty Rhodes 28:57
Let me pull out a look at the bigger bigger picture because it can Aaron is just one of the as you say, you know, we've got power. We've got water, we've got the road networks and everything. Where does ishka Aaron's role sit in the building infrastructure to support the national economy?
Niall Gleeson 29:15
Yeah, look, I our friends in Northern Ireland water say there's no no cranes without drains. So we have an abundance of water, like I said at the start. So we should be able to attract industry that needs water. A lot of a lot of industries are very water heavy, but we need to make sure that the infrastructure is there to support that. So I think going forward that is going to be an area you know, as we maybe our tax benefits may not be as strong our national resource of water will will be a big selling point for the country. So definitely I think that will be a good point. But the reality is like a Dublin city without that water supply from the Shannon, towards the end of the decade or early in the next decade will be saying to people we can't take you can't build any more houses. We can't You can't we have no One more capacity for industry doubling this bowl as far as the you know, that we're taking 14% of the flow of the Liffey is being used by Dublin City, we're taking 40% of the river itself to for drinking water and process water. So that is not sustainable. We need it, we need an alternative supply. But, you know, how can you tell people that Dublin is stopped growing, that's just not a practical, that's just not practical. You know, I mean, people talk about, you know, diverting, make, you know, more spatial planning, putting the jobs in other parts of the country, but Dublin is not competing with cork, and Limerick, Dublin is competing with Frankfurt, and Birmingham, and, you know, not not necessarily Paris, but places like that, that that's where the competition that that's where we need to make sure that when we're when we're growing, or when, when we want to attract industry, or people into jobs, that, that we have a place that they can, they can get a house so they can that the industry can come in, and they'll del operate well with the water, you know,
Dusty Rhodes 30:56
finally, Niall to wrap up the podcast today I want to veer off into career progression and development. Because you've done very well starting off from, you know, kind of di t and then going up into into big projects, and then going into management, for people who are listening and that kind of thinking, I want to go more towards the top. What lessons have you learned yourself? That kind of helped you move up the ladder as at work?
Niall Gleeson 31:25
Yeah, look, you move from, I think the move from engineering from being an engineer, where you're kind of designing something or you're installing or fixing something, to moving into management, that's a big change in your in your head, you almost, you have to stop solving people's problems for them. So you know, you might as a more senior engineer, you might immediately say, Okay, I know that guy's problem, and I can tell them the answer. But actually, that's the wrong thing to do. First of all, you don't have the capacity anymore, because you've got lots of other people reporting to you. So you need people to solve problems themselves or to, to work themselves. So it's actually stepping back from the engineering side of things and becoming a team leader or showing the leadership. That's, that's a big transition. And I think that's something that people should learn. And it's hard to do. Because if you're, if you've got a technical speciality, or you, quite often we promote people based on their expertise. And the fact that they were a brilliant engineer, they become a 10 become a manager, that doesn't necessarily translate to being a great manager of people, you know. So it's, it's learning those, that scale of how to manage teams, and how to step back a little bit yourself and not solve the problems, but help the team solve the problems, you know,
Dusty Rhodes 32:36
and when was the first time you realize that?
Niall Gleeson 32:40
Yeah, I mean, I was I was up on a project in Finland, probably in one of my early projects, and there were, you know, there were problems with with the machine. And I was stepping into early with the commissioning engineer tried to solve the problem for him. And rather than, and at the same time, there was other problems having, you know, other other issues happening that I missed, because I was kind of doing the other thing I was going around, actually redoing wiring and things of that, you know what I mean? Because I, you know, I felt that was more capacity, but it wasn't really the management things that I should have been doing, I should have been looking at issues that were happening and issues around cost, and all that kind of stuff that I had probably missed as well. So from the commissioning point of view, everything went great. But from a budget point of view, we, we didn't do quite as well. So that was somewhere that was a an area where I kind of learned the lesson. Now it wasn't, wasn't huge losses, or huge money, but it was kind of you know, don't get into the detail in it.
Dusty Rhodes 33:34
It is a huge change in mindset where you're using your experience and your skill. And you're obviously you could be a very talented engineer, to not solve other people's problems. But to help use all that experience you have to help them figure out whatever the problem is, or to point them in the right direction. It's, it's, it's quite a thing, but it's worked very successfully for you. So congratulations on on all of your success. Also. Thank you Niall, for a fascinating interview today. I mean, it really has been eye opening as to the whole operation of Uisce Eireann and the amount of things you have to do and the scale of it and the amount of engineers you have in there as well working with it. Thank you so much for joining us on the podcast and just sharing a little bit of time telling us everything.
Niall Gleeson 34:17
Great, thanks, Dusty. It's been a pleasure. Thanks very much.
Dusty Rhodes 34:21
If you'd like to find out more about Niall and some of the topics we talked about today, you'll find notes and link details in the show notes area of your player right now. And of course you'll find more information and exclusive advanced episodes of our podcast at engineersireland.ie. Our podcast today was produced by dustpod.io. If you'd like more episodes, 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, from myself, Dusty Rhodes, thank you for listening.