Friday, 27 May 2011

My Inaugural Speech as President of Engineers Ireland


Distinguished Guests, Fellow Members of the Institution, Ladies & Gentlemen, Friends

It is a great honour for me to be elected tonight as your new President.  I want to pay tribute to my predecessor Martin Lowery for his guidance, his wisdom and the sheer dedication that he gave to Engineers Ireland over the past year.  I look forward to working very closely with our excellent Director General John Power and his dedicated staff in Clyde Road throughout the year.

I am very conscious that I take office at a critical time in our economic history.  We have a new Government mandated by the people to effect Change in how we do Business and to bring Recovery to an ailing Economy.  We all know that it is a long way back to the prosperity we once had as a nation and as engineers, we have an important part to play in getting us back on that road.

Martin's presidential theme last year was Job Creation and that must continue to be our primary focus into 2011 and 2012.  Engineers Ireland can and must be a roadmap to identify, to encourage and to facilitate those areas of the economy where growth is possible, to identify barriers to Government and assist in the removal of those barriers to growth and prosperity.  In particular there are huge institutional barriers to the enabling of more efficient and cost effective infrastructure. For example, there are too many statutory consents for major infrastructural projects – we need to roll these into a single consent to be granted by An Bord Pleanála.  I compliment the many members who helped us launch the excellent Report on the State of Ireland’s Infrastructure this evening and hope that we can find the resources, public and private, to fund and expedite that infrastructure which we deem is urgent.

I am very conscious that while many of our engineering sectors are still doing relatively well (pharma, ICT, energy and biomedical in particular) the construction industry remains in crisis and will continue to do so until we stabilise our public finances to enable productive investment in infrastructure to restart again. Meanwhile we welcome the recent Jobs Initiative as a modest start in the right direction. At the same time, it is a significant fact, there are in excess of 1,000 vacant posts in the ICT sector alone that cannot be filled, so we need a great deal more flexibility in training and transferring of skills in our industry.

Engineers as a profession are at the centre of the Change required to stimulate the economy.  We can and will act as that roadmap on a new direction to make our infrastructure, our services and our utilities more efficient and more responsive to the needs of a modern economy.  We will continue to support reform in our education system at all levels to make our graduates more capable of analysing and solving problems including support for the new Project Maths approach and new approaches to  Second Level Science subjects and the new Junior Cycle curriculum reform. This calls for a deeper learning experience not through rote learning but learning through understanding?  This is our Challenge - to produce a new Roadmap towards growth and job creation in all sectors of engineering.

I accept that Challenge on your behalf tonight on behalf of our 24,000 members mostly in Ireland but many in faraway lands around the world where many of our graduates were forced to find a new future.  I know that I speak for some of them tonight when I say that they have brought with them their pride as Irish men and women and their skill as Engineers - but also their dream to return again to a more prosperous Ireland in a couple of years time.  That is the Challenge we now face.  That is the future we must rebuild and we must all play our part -  to bring them home to a country where our talents, skills and innovation will create sufficient new jobs for our current and future graduates.

As Engineers we have to review our thinking, our processes and our projects to start building a new Ireland. It’s no longer enough to be technically skilled as an Engineer as that in itself does not build a new Infrastructure or drive a Smart Economy.  Those technical skills are now taken for granted as a given. We need a more holistic approach towards Value Engineering, Research and Development whether in our projects, our colleges, our innovation centres, our venture enterprises or our business campuses. We need to help build the Transformation Ireland and the Enterprise Ireland that our state development agencies speak of both in terms of foreign direct investment into Ireland and export of our knowledge services out of Ireland.

If Engineers are to lead our national recovery in infrastructure, in innovation and in industry - we have to answer a greater call than that technical skill that we bear. We need sustainability skills, environmental and other sciences, mathematics, economics, languages, architecture, social and political science, biomedicine, ICT and communications if we are truly to be leaders in National Recovery.  That's why we were right in Engineers Ireland to widen our membership into the 'cognate professions' which are already part of every engineering project and endeavour. I welcome many of those cognate professions here tonight. 

We need to create new role models to inspire our young engineers to have that truly integrated talent to meet the challenge of what the great Engineer Brunel called 'changing the great forces in nature for the betterment of mankind'. In Ireland we too have had our Brunels in the visionaries who harnessed the Shannon at Ardnacrusha and brought Vartry water by gravity into Dublin.  More recently we see the challenges of Digital Communication and Biomedical Science making us more aware of the world around us and improving our healthcare.  At this time of national challenge, we need to rekindle that spirit of enterprise and innovation in a new generation of Engineers to whom the torch is now passing. Now is our time to move engineering endeavour to new spheres of influence and Government decision making to drive national development.

Leadership is about making the difficult things happen.  If we are to lead in the economic life of our country we need to do more than Engineer - we need to Influence - We need to Invent - We need to Innovate - We need to Communicate - We need to Inspire - how to make new smarter Transport systems to move people and products, how to truly develop and protect our finite Water resources, how to better manage our recoverable resources in Waste, how we harness our Energy sources, renewable or otherwise, how to better manage our Environment including assisting a low carbon Economy to combat Climate Change and how we Communicate our Message that Engineers make things happen. Its time for Engineers to come out of the evening shadows and face the bright lights of mass media and social media - to comment on National Policies, to promote Project Need in infrastructure and to Show the Way with technological advances.  We need to do so in a way that John and Mary Citizen and our younger generation will appreciate and understand.  We need to go on Facebook, to Tweet and to Blog. From tonight a new President's Blog will chart my stories and experiences on your behalf throughout the coming year and hopefully help to communicate better the work of Engineers Ireland to the wider public audience.

We need to create a new public accountability for our actions as Engineers and as Project Managers for the society that we serve. Above all we need to serve the Public Interest, be honest in our dealings and ethical in our business approach.  The people that we serve expect no less of us. Otherwise we don't deserve their respect - we must earn it from what we do - as much as from what we say!

As Engineers we will be known for what we support - not what we are against! We will be known for the vision of our policies and strategies. We will be known for the health and public safety of our projects that we design.  While we adhere to international and best practice guidelines, our profession - unlike the legal and medical professions - remains unregulated and this is a concern that we hope to address at Government level in the year ahead.  We have seen in recent years the effects of 'soft touch' or indeed little regulation in banking and business life. We want our engineering profession not only meeting the highest international standards but it must be seen to meet them also. We therefore need new legislation to regulate the engineering profession as quickly as possible.

We must be confident in our mission, rational in our thinking and evidence based in what we say.  We speak not only for Engineers, but for the nation, for the nation’s cause is our cause.  Therefore, we must uphold and act in the public interest, whatever the controversy.

I want my message tonight to be one of Hope for those of you listening to me not just here in Clyde Road in Dublin but by podcast greeting members in the Regions, Sectors and Divisions around Ireland and also in Northern Ireland, Great Britain and the Middle East Regions of Engineers Ireland.

Ba mhaith liom freisin teachtaireacht a chur le hinnealtóirí a bhuil an Gaeilge acu agus geallaim díobh nach ndeanfidh mé dearmad oraibh ar feadh na bliaina atá romhainn.  Go háirithe ba mhaith liom bheith pairteach i gcruinniú amháin d' An Roth ar a laghad no nios mó mar ta grá agam don’ gcéad teanga. Beith mé ag súl freisin bheith pairteach ar cruinniú amháin in san bhliain i ngach rannóg éagsúil don Chumann.

In conclusion Members and Friends I want you to come with me on a voyage of Discovery in the year ahead where we will endeavour to fulfil the aims and purpose that we now set.  We will assist but challenge where necessary our National Recovery Plan.  So let us begin. We must all work together to realise our ambitions to achieve the four aims of Engineers Ireland (excellence in design, better regulation, better education for engineers, and maintain our standing on national issues). In that way we will assist in leading this country out of recession and regain at least some of the prosperity we once had.

Go raibh maith agaibh

P J Rudden

26th May 2011

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