Neale native explains synergies between his role as manager of the Neale senior football team and his role in Irish Water

Managing a football team and striving to find continuous improvements in water and wastewater processes may seem poles apart but they are in fact similar in principle.

Eoin Hughes, Irish Water’s Process Optimisation Specialist and native of the Neale in Co Mayo explains to us why there are synergies between his role as manager of the Neale senior football team and his role in Irish Water.

“There is a definite overlap between my role as a process specialist in Irish Water and that of managing a football team as a volunteer. Ultimately, it’s about continuous improvement whether that relates to the performance of a player or the performance of a water or wastewater treatment process. Adopting a continuous improvement approach, provides a platform for the process optimisation team, or the football team to improve every aspect of its performance, every day at every level, where gradual improvement is most often favoured over immediate perfection.”

What does process optimisation involve?

Process optimisation is not a term you hear discussed every day but the process optimisation specialists in Irish Water, based in the utility’s regional offices the length and breadth of the country, have an important task in ensuring the water and wastewater treatment plants are operating as they should be.

“As a Process Optimisation Specialist the overarching requirement is to ensure water/wastewater treatment plants are operated within quality and operational parameters, ensuring that the quality of drinking water supplied and wastewater effluent produced by Irish Water meets all regulatory standards and that the assets are continually optimised to ensure performance efficiencies are achieved.

“Continually improving the performance of a water or wastewater asset to eliminate process waste and achieve efficiencies is definitely a challenge, particularly when such assets have surpassed their design life, yet continue to operate. Sweating the water and wastewater treatment assets is a challenge, but adopting this approach also encourages us to think outside the box and be more innovative in our approach which is motivating in itself.”

It might sound complicated to some but it’s a role that Eoin relishes.

The day to day role

“Day to day tasks focus on optimising water and wastewater processes where the priority is continual improvement of water quality and compliance for the end user in line with statutory requirements, and secondary to this is delivering efficiencies in the key areas of energy, chemicals and sludge. The role is diverse and requires a cross functional approach to be adopted daily with internal teams and external stakeholders and contractors, regularly assisting on capital upgrades and commissioning, supporting process design reviews, developing chemical dosing algorithms, investigating non-compliance issues on operational sites and supporting the implementation of risk based Drinking Water Safety Plans (DWSP).”

So how did a boy from the Neale develop an interest in water and wastewater treatment?

“Living within a karst dominant area in South Mayo, karstic features such as springs, sinkholes and turloughs regularly occupy the landscape, and captured my interest from an early age, not forgetting the much documented Cong ‘Dry’ Canal on my doorstep. Drainage systems associated with those features was something I always found interesting and definitely a factor in choosing to undertake a career aligned to water engineering.”

But it’s not all work and no play. Outside of work Eoin is father to three children and married to Fiona. Having grown up on a farm he still carries out farming duties regularly. And in case all of that doesn’t keep him busy enough he has a keen interest in GAA. Upon finishing as a player with his local club, Eoin was keen to remain involved in the GAA circle and decided to get involved with his club. He took up the reigns of manager of the Neale intermediate team in 2017 and in 2019 they won the county Intermediate title.  “To make the breakthrough, and achieve senior status for the first time in our club’s history was particularly satisfying, and due reward for the hard work, dedication and commitment by members throughout the club at all levels over the last number of years.” 

But Eoin is a modest lad and what he hasn’t told us is that he also picked up a Mayo News Club Star ‘Manager of the Year’ award for that fantastic achievement. 

How Eoin came to join Irish Water

But back to the day job and Eoin’s path to joining Irish Water three years ago. 

“I graduated from third level in 2008 which coincided with the start of the economic downturn. Upon graduation I was fortunate to obtain work with Coffey Group for eight years, and obtain experience in the water engineering domain without the need to emigrate. During that same period, the water industry market proved extremely competitive, and attaining new contracts was always a challenge in the face of economic uncertainty. Fortunately I was able to maintain a steady flow of work for the intervening years, which supported both my technical and professional development. 

“From a process optimisation perspective, current work challenges most definitely relate to the continuous improvement of our water and wastewater assets so we can deliver compliant, quality water to our customers or discharge compliant effluent to our receiving water bodies, in light of reduced operational budgets, and reduced capital expenditure.”

Eoin completed an honours degree in Environmental Science from the University of Limerick. His research focused on carbon sequestration which is a very topical issue at the present time in the face of unrelenting climate change concerns. Following this he undertook a Master’s Degree in Environmental Engineering from Queens University Belfast; researching water hydrology and hydrogeology. In 2017, he went on to complete a three-year part-time Masters in Business Administration (MBA) from Sheffield Hallam University, UK. 

Words of wisdom for students

Eoin offers some words of wisdom for students considering a career in STEM “Education is a fundamental stepping stone, but once you enter the professional domain, learning intensifies and knowledge is gained every day. It’s important to maintain a work life balance, putting in the hours when problems arise that require your expertise and your team’s expertise to resolve, and enjoy the downtime. Follow a passion outside of your profession, whether that’s sport or other endeavours and continue to upskill on and off the field if time permits. If you continue learning, you will always find a way to achieve your goals. 

“Utilising scientific and engineering principles to overcome some of the biggest global challenges facing us in the 21st century - environmental engineering can be seen as a very rewarding, and satisfying career path. As a sub-discipline of civil, chemical and mechanical engineering, environmental engineering is a wide ranging discipline, offering multiple opportunities in the professional realm.”

As a parting thought Eoin asks students to consider the following “One of life’s challenges from a professional capacity is to embrace Information Technology and the data made available to us, but also not to forget the thousands of stories which exist behind that data, often that is where the solution to our problems lie.”

More information

For more on Engineers Week and the events taking place visit our Engineers Week 2020 page.

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