Choose to Challenge in Engineering – the Perspective of Female Engineers on International Women’s Day 2021
The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is Choose to Challenge – challenging gender bias and inequality and choosing to celebrate the achievements of women. We decided to look at that topic from the perspective of some of the women who work for us at SL Controls. Specifically, two women who chose to challenge the gender stereotypes that still exist in too many aspects of engineering.
Saoirse and Blessing are both recent graduates and have been working for us for a while now on various projects. Therefore, they have direct, recent experience of studying engineering as a woman and then starting their careers.
Studying Engineering as a Women
Saoirse Kearse is a Software Quality Engineer at SL Controls. She said: “In the last years in secondary school, I knew what I wanted to do because I’d done maths, applied maths, physics, and chemistry in my Leaving Cert.
“I went on to study electronics and computer engineering at NUIG. There were 60 people in that class, and only four of us were women. That is a big gender imbalance, but I received plenty of support and encouragement.”
Unfortunately, that experience is not universal. Blessing Nwachukwu, a Systems Engineer at SL Controls, obtained her bachelor’s degree in Romania. She is originally from Nigeria and received a scholarship to study at the Romanian university where the focus was marine engineering.
“In secondary school, I enjoyed chemistry, physics, and especially maths,” Blessing said. “I considered going into medicine but then decided that engineering was what I really wanted to do. I then won the scholarship to study electromechanical engineering.
“My experience studying for my bachelor’s degree was challenging, as women were typically moved into studying navigation. That’s not what I wanted to do. I wanted to be an engineer. So, myself and another lady fought to get onto the engineering course.”
Blessing’s experience in Ireland as she studied a master’s in mechatronics at UL was substantially more positive in terms of attitude and support.
However, the gender balance in terms of class makeup was still weighted heavily towards males, something that most in the educational and engineering sectors believe must change as soon as possible.
Working as a Female Engineer
What about the experience after you leave college, getting a job and starting your career? Both Saoirse and Blessing joined SL Controls as graduates. Blessing explained that she has experienced support from day one, despite engineering currently being a male-dominated profession.
She said: “From the first conversation I had with management in SL Controls, they recognised my ambition and aspirations to move into project management. It is an environment where everyone wants you to discover your potential, male or female. I am enjoying my growth and believe this experience is laying a good foundation for my career.”
Saoirse said: “From my experience working with the SL Controls team and out on client sites, it is never an issue that you are a girl. Some of the projects I have been working on have been with international pharmaceutical companies, and I’ve never had the experience of you can’t do this because you are female.”
Choose to Challenge in Engineering
What messages do Saoirse and Blessing have for girls in secondary school and young women considering their future careers?
Saoirse said: “I think if it is something they want to do, they should go for it and try it. There were only four girls in my college class out of 60, but I know that more girls were starting to apply in the years after I started.
“The stereotype of engineering being for men is gone. This is not a male-only industry.“I find a lot of encouragement and support, not because I am female, but because I want to succeed, I always put myself out there for roles, and I want to learn and develop.”
Blessing has a similar message. “For young females, the sky should be your starting point, not your limit,” she said. “You might meet barriers as I did in Romania, but once you make up your mind, you need to stand your ground.
“You don’t need to act like a man. You need to have a passion for engineering. You need to have a purpose. I am thankful I am an engineer. This is my purpose; it is what I know best. You have to find out what that is for you, and you have to pursue it, not allowing anything to stop you along the way. When you do, it is very rewarding.”
SL Controls Announces 50 New Highly-Skilled Jobs
SL Controls today announced the creation of 50 new highly-skilled jobs as we continue to expand and grow. The jobs will bring our total workforce to 140.
The roles will be filled over the next 18 months and include Systems Engineers, Project Managers, Validation Engineers, and Software System Designers.
To see the posts we are currently recruiting for, visit our careers page.
The press release announcing the new jobs is below. You can also watch our video as CEO Keith Moran announces the expansion.
Press Release: SL Controls to create 50 new highly skilled jobs as expansion continues
- Remote and hybrid working options to be offered to all employees
- US and Irish expansion of company continues
SL Controls, the specialist software integration firm, is to create 50 new jobs over the next 18 months. The highly skilled positions are in the engineering field and will bring the total workforce to 140.
The company is also going to offer all staff – both existing and new – the opportunity, when restrictions allow, to work remotely or in the office – or a hybrid of both.
SL Controls has expanded its employee number steadily and, over the last three years, has increased overall headcount by 40.
The new roles announced today will be in Ireland, but the company will also be hiring in the US where SL Controls continues to expand.
It is also looking to add a new Cork presence to its number of locations and a new Director of Corporate Services has been recruited who will head up development in this region.
A percentage of the new hires will be location independent remote roles and others will be offered the option of hybrid working where they can combine working from home with working from an office.
Some of the roles SL Controls will be looking to fill include: Systems Engineers; Validation Engineers, Project Managers and Software System Designers.
Established in 2002, SL Controls is an international provider of equipment system integrated solutions to a range of world-leading brands across a number of industries including Medtech, Pharma, Healthcare and Technology.
An Enterprise Ireland client, SL Controls has offices in Sligo, Dublin, Limerick, Galway and Florida and has customers – mainly multinationals – in Ireland, across mainland Europe and the US.
SL Controls exceeded its growth predictions last year achieving a 33% increase in turnover in 2020 to €8.8m. The company is forecasting double digit turnover increases over the coming years.
The company is forecasting in excess of an 80% increase in turnover to €12m over the period 2019 to 2023. Growth has been funded from existing reserves and banking facilities together with continued increases in turnover.
A number of factors are driving growth including the company’s expansion into the US market and growth in key market sectors, in particular in the Lifesciences and Technology sectors.
Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Leo Varadkar, TD, said:
“This is a fantastic example of an Irish owned and based company competing and winning business internationally in a very competitive market. Over the next 18 months SL Controls will hire 50 highly qualified staff at locations throughout Ireland. I’m particularly impressed by the company’s commitment to flexible working arrangements, which reflects the ambition contained in the Government’s recent Remote Working Strategy. Congratulations to the team involved and the very best of luck with this new ambitious phase of growth.”
Keith Moran, SL Controls CEO and co-founder said:
“The business has had an exceptional few years and continues to experience strong growth as a result of an increase in demand for our services and solutions with key partners both nationally and internationally.
“Clients are seeking our input on their systems design requirements; software integration and validation needs as well as general consultancy services and ongoing systems support. There is a particular focus on assisting them in developing and later implementing their Industry 4.0 strategies.”
Darragh McMorrow, SL Controls Commercial Director said:
“Over the last year, we have found there is an appetite among our staff for remote working or a hybrid of working from home and being in the office or on a client site. We feel very strongly that we should be offering this option to our employees – both existing and new – and allow them more flexibility in their roles, as the work allows. It might suit some people to return to the office full-time while others might find one day a week in the office is perfect for them. We are going to work with our team over the coming months to offer them this flexibility.”
Carol Gibbons, Divisional Manager ICT & International Services, with Enterprise Ireland said:
“This is very positive news for SL Controls. Enterprise Ireland has been proud to support the company on its rapid growth path and this is another significant milestone for this ambitious and dynamic company. SL Controls has a strong customer base in Ireland and is expanding its international footprint in Europe and the US and Enterprise Ireland looks forward to working with the company during this phase of growth.”
Adapting Health & Safety Policies and Procedures for the New Remote Working Environment
A lot of things changed in the workplace when Ireland and other parts of the world entered lockdown conditions towards the end of Q1 2020. For companies required to continue delivering their essential services, remote working became an overnight necessity.
Like other companies, we had existing remote working policies at SL Controls as our team includes:
- Engineers who would regularly work on client sites.
- Engineers and staff who work in SL Controls offices.
- Engineers who work between SL Controls offices and client sites.
Initially at the start of the first lockdown, this situation transformed to 100 percent remote working whilst our clients implemented their own policies and procedures. This situation has evolved throughout the year and has transformed SL Controls into a hybrid of working on client sites or remotely from home.
Keith Moran, SL Controls CEO, said: “We had several key priorities at that crucial time, including ensuring we continued to deliver for our customers. Health and safety was our top priority and remains so to this day.
“We face different health and safety challenges today with a near-total remote workforce, and the COVID-19 pandemic also presents additional challenges. At SL Controls, we have a duty of care to our employees. We also have responsibilities to our clients.
“Our clients primarily operate in the life sciences sector. Therefore, part of the services that we provide involves our engineers working on equipment in active pharmaceutical and medical device production lines. As you can imagine, these environments have strict safety rules and procedures in normal times to maintain quality and sterilisation protocols. With the pandemic, those rules and procedures have been ramped up to a new level.”
Health and Safety When Working from Home
At SL Controls, we work with each member of our team to ensure they have a suitable setup for working from home. We allowed our people to visit the office if they needed equipment, including a chair or an additional computer screen. Our goal was to mimic the setup we have in our various offices at each remote working location, i.e., the homes of each of our employees.
However, health and safety while working from home isn’t just about having a comfortable, ergonomic chair and suitable technical equipment. Working from home also presents other challenges, including childcare, with stress being something we all have to manage.
Keith said: “Something that has been very important to me and others in the senior management team is to make sure everyone on our team knows we are in this together. I know that can sound a bit cliched, but our people are dealing with the difficulties of managing work responsibilities, home schooling young children, and achieving a good work-life balance. Hey, I might be the CEO, but I’m dealing with those exact same challenges too!
“We put together a document early in the process, and we continue to promote it today. The document highlights 10 things we value at SL Controls in relation to remote working. A central purpose of that document is to help alleviate stress and assure each member of our team that support is available if they need it.”
Some of the main health and safety points on the Remote Working: 10 things we value document include:
- Creating boundaries between work and personal time to ensure personal time is respected when working from home.
- Home life happens – there is no need to apologise for it.
- The importance of maintaining human connections while working remotely and encouraging everyone to stay connected.
- Being flexible to accommodate individual needs.
- Togetherness – even when we are apart, we are in this together.
Health and Safety When in the Field
What about health and safety when working at client sites? At SL Controls, it has always been our policy that members of our team must always follow the health and safety procedures of our clients when on site. That policy has continued throughout the pandemic.
We have also implemented new procedures and initiatives. Firstly, we have a zero-risk policy when it comes to COVID-19. If a member of our team experiences any symptoms, they simply do not go onto a client site. Even with a negative test, we still take a cautious approach, preferring to wait out the government-recommended self-isolation period.
We have also developed new and innovative remote support and project delivery technologies, with security and compliance central to our unique approach. These new technologies make it possible for us to deliver even more of our services without the need to visit the client’s site physically.
Keith said: “The working environment has changed dramatically from where we were 12 months ago. The same applies to health and safety issues. Things will probably be different again 12 months from now.
“The key is to stay flexible and to quickly adapt the way we work to maintain our duty of care. Equally prioritising physical and mental health is important too.”
SL Controls Becomes Silver Renovation Patron of Hawk’s Well Theatre in Sligo
SL Controls has become a Silver Renovation Patron to support the planned upgrading of the Hawk’s Well Theatre in Sligo.
The Hawk’s Well Theatre is a part of community life in Sligo, the location of our head office SL Controls. It opened its doors in 1982 but has roots that trace back to the 1950s. Since it opened, the theatre has hosted a wide range of productions, from drama to pantomime to opera to children’s theatre.
The aim of the renovation project is to improve facilities at the theatre and enhance its appearance. The work includes rebuilding the entrance and foyer, flood prevention work, the installation of a new lift, and upgrades to the auditorium’s seating.
SL Controls CEO Keith Moran said: “The arts are part of everyone’s life, and the Hawk’s Well Theatre is part of life in Sligo. It provides a fantastic outlet for people of all interests and tastes to experience and enjoy the arts.
“Like other arts venues, the Hawk’s Well has really suffered over the last year, but it has a fantastic plan for when things return closer to normal. The renovation plans are exciting, too. We are proud to get behind this modernisation of what is a great Sligo institution.”
Enhanced Test Systems and Data Management Key to Strong Growth for SL Controls Customer Ei Electronics
Ei Electronics manufactures industry-leading fire and carbon monoxide detection products. It supplies its products worldwide and has experienced strong growth over recent years, with 2020 being a record year for turnover.
The company uses advanced manufacturing and test processes with integrated systems at all levels of production. This approach to manufacturing has been crucial to Ei Electronics’ continued success.
SL Controls started working with Ei Electronics in September 2019. We have delivered consultancy support services and completed several projects throughout 2020.
Paul Kilbridge, NPI & Manufacturing Manager at Ei Electronics, said: “Going into 2020, we had ambitious global growth plans for the company. To achieve our objectives, we knew we needed to adapt, upgrade, and enhance our test systems and data management.
“The relationship with SL Controls has been hugely positive. Their support and contribution to the further development of our manufacturing systems has been instrumental in our success over the past 12 months.
“Heading into 2021 and beyond, we have equally ambitious goals, and we are looking forward to the continued support of the SL Controls team.”
Ei Electronics manufactures all its products at an advanced manufacturing facility in Shannon, Ireland. It employs over 1000 people and has subsidiaries in the EU, UK, and USA, in addition to distributors around the world.
Vinnie Boyd, Business Operations Executive at SL Controls, said: “SL Controls is proud to have a strong relationship with such an innovative and forward-thinking company – a company from Ireland competing on the world stage with best-in-class products and a fantastic standard of service.
“The integration projects delivered for Ei Electronics are at the cutting edge of Industry 4.0 technologies, particularly test systems and data management and traceability. Further projects are now in the pipeline for 2021, and we hope to continue providing a valuable contribution to the Ei Electronics team.”
SL Controls Christmas Party Goes Virtual for 2020!
The SL Controls Virtual Christmas Party 2020 took place on Saturday evening, and it was a huge success!
It was very different from Christmas parties in previous years as everybody was in their own homes connected virtually. However, it was still a fun and entertaining evening.
Around 45 members of the SL Controls team joined the party, including team members based in our Florida office in the USA. While there was no Christmas dinner served, everyone got a voucher from Just Eat so they could order a takeaway as a substitute.
The festive dress code was embraced by all (mostly!), with interesting Christmas jumpers, a few reindeer antlers, and at least one Santa.
We had a professional host to guide us through the evening and fantastic comedy from Joe Rooney of Father Ted fame. There was a quiz as well, with spot prizes and an overall winner.
“It was an unbelievable night,” said Keith Moran, CEO at SL Controls. “We didn’t really know what to expect, but we gave it a go, and it exceeded all our expectations. Brand Rocket ran the event for us, and they were first class. Joe Rooney was just hilarious.
“I hope we can get back to a normal Christmas party again next year, but I think we’ll all look back on the 2020 edition with fond memories.”
Press Release: Irish companies unite to ramp up production of Covid-19 testing kits and PPE
- SL Controls and SteriPack delivering swab testing kits to the US and global market
- Surgical masks also being produced
Two Irish companies — SL Controls and SteriPack — are working together to bring swab testing kits for Covid-19 to the US and global market.
The companies are also supporting each other to ensure the delivery of quality Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) into the Irish and global markets.
SL Controls and SteriPack had been working together on other projects but when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, SteriPack started packaging nasal swab kits at its Lakeland Florida operations to meet the overwhelming demand from multiple US and global healthcare agencies.
SL Controls assisted in project management, procurement and delivery of automation and packaging solutions to increase the speed of the swab manufacturing output at the Florida plant.
In Ireland, SL Controls are supporting SteriPack Ireland (Mullingar) with the procurement, delivery and validation of equipment for the production of PPE.
SteriPack, which was established over 25 years ago in Ireland, is a contract manufacturer of medical devices and pharmaceutical products.
SL Controls, which was set up in Ireland almost 20 years ago and is an Enterprise Ireland client, delivers equipment system integrated solutions to a range of industries including medtech and pharma.
SL Controls Business Development Manager Shane McLaughlin says:
“We engaged with SteriPack a number of years ago at their operations and clean room in Mullingar and also in Poland where we worked with them to automate some of their systems. However, on the back of the Covid-19 pandemic, the focus broadened to the generation of nasal swabs which were in urgent need.
“The swabs are used for Covid-19 testing and the project will triple the speed of swab manufacturing on several lines. Aspects of the project include automation to feed swabs at very high speeds, as well as case packing and cartoning of packaged swabs.
“In Mullingar, SL Controls brings its experience of project management and particularly vendor management to this project to enable rapid project delivery in 2020. This critical project which involves the creation of surgical masks supports SteriPack customers’ Covid-19 and related needs.”
Gary Leonard, SteriPack Group Operations Director, says:
“When Covid-19 hit, we decided to utilise available capacity and the highly skilled capabilities of our team in order to help supply the global market, in an accelerated timeframe, with essential equipment needed to fight the pandemic. While we are continuing to produce our usual medical devices and pharmaceutical products, we felt it was important to expand our capabilities and add various forms of PPE and nasal swabs to our offerings as they are so essential across the world right now.
“We have worked with SL Controls for a number of years now and their input into these crucial projects has been invaluable to ensure we are able to ramp up output and ensure the products meet all the required safety standards.”
Government Minister Meets with SL Controls CEO and Other Sligo & Leitrim Business Leaders
Minister of State Robert Troy took a virtual visit to Sligo and Leitrim this week to meet with business leaders, including SL Controls CEO Keith Moran. Robert Troy has responsibility for Trade Promotion, Digital, and Company Regulation in the Department of Enterprise, Trade, and Employment.
At the meeting, the Minister discussed export strategies as well as the challenges faced by Covid-19 and Brexit.
The Minister said: “With just 65 days to go until the Brexit transition deadline, and the continued global health crisis, supporting our exporting companies is vital. This virtual regional roadshow creates a space for all involved in Ireland’s exporting economy and those who want to grow their exporting potential the opportunity to meet and discuss the challenges and opportunities ahead.
“There is a great degree of talent, knowledge and skill residing in the North-West that can help drive new enterprise investment and strengthen SME resilience.
“Despite the difficult business environment, I believe that through collaboration and continued support of start-ups, corporates and researchers we can help foster technological innovation, business development, and R&D activity and build on the strong track record of achievement in the region.”
Aidan McKenna, Enterprise Ireland Regional Director, also attended the virtual meeting. He said the export strategies of SL Controls and other local businesses are making a positive impact on jobs and growth in the region.
“Powering the Regions is Enterprise Ireland’s strategic response to deliver stronger regional enterprises that provide sustainable employment opportunities and local prosperity as well as making an even greater contribution to Ireland’s economic growth and international impact,” Mr McKenna said.
SL Controls CEO Keith Moran said: “The export growth potential in this region of Ireland is substantial. I welcomed the opportunity to discuss this with the Minister as well as our export strategy here at SL Controls and how we have adapted our business to deal with the challenges of Covid-19 and the changing business landscape created by Brexit.”