Career Blogs

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SL Controls Employee Stories: Robert O’Hanlon

In 2004, Robert O’Hanlon had just left school, was working part-time in an electrical wholesaler, and was trying to get someone to take him on as an apprentice electrician. Travel was not something he did regularly. Fast forward 13 years to now and he travels Europe and elsewhere in the world as lead field engineer for SL Controls.

Everyone has a career story to tell, of course, but Robert’s is different given the extensive travel involved in his job. “They said to me how would you like to travel and get paid for it,” he said. “It was easy to say yes.”

Robert’s story not only shows the diversity of people in SL Controls, but also the diversity of roles. Our reach extends far beyond the shores of Ireland, with international growth being a key priority.

From Kildare to the World

Robert, who’s from Kildare, joined SL Controls in 2012 after completing qualifications in Electrical Apprenticeship – Level 6, Renewable & Electrical Energy Systems – Level 7, Sustainable Energy Systems – Level 8. He was able to obtain the qualifications quicker than most because he was already a qualified electrician – he managed to find an electrician to take him on as an apprentice after he left school.

In fact, if the economy hadn’t tanked back in the late 2000s, Robert’s career today might be very different. The financial crisis, however, meant jobs for electricians were scarce in Ireland at that time, so returning to study was the best option. For Robert, that decision led to his first engineering job in SL Controls.

He started working on-site with a client in Dublin, working on several projects over two years. Then a new opportunity came up.

Robert explained: “The opportunity was with Systech International, an American partner of SL Controls. The service we offer them is supplying field engineers to implement their systems in manufacturing facilities across Europe and further afield. I was offered the role of field engineer.”

Living Life Out of a Suitcase

So, what’s the job of a field engineer really like? Robert flies out of Ireland, usually on a Sunday afternoon. He could be going anywhere but some common destinations are Italy, Germany, and Sweden.

SL Controls Employee Stories Robert OHanlon

He gets settled in and prepared to arrive at the customer or OEM site first thing on the Monday morning. Often, he works with a project engineer or manager who could be based in the US or China, and the work can be intense as deadlines are often tight. Normally he then flies back to Ireland on Friday for the weekend.

Every fourth week is a home week where he is off, giving him a chance to catch up with friends and family and recharge the batteries.

Being a field engineer is not a role that suits everyone, but Robert relishes it. “For me, getting the opportunity to travel is a major perk,” he said. “It was daunting at first, but I’m familiar with the travel aspect now so I enjoy it even more, if anything. The trick is to have two suitcases.

“I’ve been to many different European countries as well as the US and Canada – it could be anywhere, really. In fact, I’ve been to three new countries every year over the last three years.

“It’s not just work, either, as you also get to experience and explore those countries, particularly if you’re there for a layover on the weekend. For example, I achieved a life goal last February by driving across the Alps in Austria, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland. It’s great being able to visit these countries, do these things, and learn about different cultures.

“There are places we return to regularly as well, so we also get to know the best restaurants to eat in, the best hotels to stay in, and other local knowledge.”

More Than Travel

It’s not just the travel that Robert enjoys, though. He said: “As a field engineer, I also get to work with different clients on a range of different projects. That variety is interesting, plus it increases my level of experience and improves my skills.

“Communication skills are a good example. English is international, and everyone speaks it, so language is not generally a problem. There can be issues, however, when you need to discuss very technical issues with someone who doesn’t speak English as a first language. The skill is recognising where this might be a problem and getting someone else involved to ensure there is no misunderstanding.

“I’ve even picked up bits and pieces of other languages. That goes a long way when you’re dealing with people from different countries.”

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9 Reasons Why It’s Better Working for a Small Business

If you saw two job openings with similar descriptions, one for a large multinational corporation and the other for a small Irish business with about 100 employees, which would you think was the better opportunity? Here are nine compelling reasons why the small company is the better option.

1. Small Companies Are More Flexible, Agile, and Ambitious

You’ll find smaller companies are more flexible and agile, particularly in fast-growing markets. They will adapt better to new opportunities and are more open to new ideas. Very often, the focus is on rapid growth making small companies exciting to work for as well as being rewarding.

2. You Won’t Be Put in a Box

In a corporate environment, you often end up doing the same thing on the same equipment with the same colleagues working for the same clients and using the same technology. In a smaller company, you’ll get the opportunity to work on a more varied selection of projects, expanding your skillset and giving you a much broader range of experience.

3. You’ll Be Exposed to Wider Range of Technology

Following on from the last point, you’ll also be exposed to a wider range of technology in a small company. In SL Controls, for example, we are vendor neutral. That is a sales term but for the engineers on our team, it means they get the opportunity to work on systems and platforms from all vendors, increasing their skill levels and equipping them for the future.

4. You’ll Develop a Wider Range of Skills

This has already been touched on in the two points above, but it doesn’t just apply to job-specific skills. In a smaller company, you’ll also get new opportunities for professional development. For example, you will get business experience in areas like sales, and you will get more opportunities to work on soft skills like presentation skills or customer service. This will make you a more rounded professional, enhancing your career prospects.

5. It’s Easier to Get Noticed

In a large company, there are multiple layers of management which means many different people who take part (or all) of the credit for the things you do. This is much less likely to happen in a smaller company. Instead, it’s easier to get noticed which makes it easier to make your mark. This improves your potential for career progression.

6. You’ll Interact with a Wider Range of People

If you currently work in a multinational corporation, when was the last time you had a conversation with the managing director or CTO? Probably never. In a smaller company, however, senior people, including the executives and company owners, are much more accessible. You can learn from them, express your ideas, build relationships, and get noticed.

7. You Can Work Closer to Home

In many cases, working for a smaller company enables you to work closer to where you live – or closer to where you want to live. If this is outside Dublin, you also get the benefit of getting away from the traffic and high house prices.

8. More Flexible Salary Review Process

Multinational companies often have fixed salary increases across all business units based on company profits. In a smaller company, the process is much more flexible and is more directly linked to your performance and career progression. This often means higher percentage increases at reviews, particularly if the company you work for benchmarks rates with the market, as SL Controls does.

9. It’s a More Fulfilling Work Environment

You’ll find there is more camaraderie in a smaller company with everyone feeling a greater sense of ownership of what the business does. This is a more pleasant environment to work in, but it also gets you closer to the success of the business as you play an integral part, something which is very rewarding.

So, if you’re job hunting or are just looking to see what job opportunities are available, remember this: bigger doesn’t always mean better.

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SL Controls Employee Stories: Jacob Mussler

Most people working as an engineer in Ireland or elsewhere in the world follow the traditional career route – get an engineering degree, find employment, advance your career, and, often, obtain post-graduate degrees and other qualifications.

This applies to SL Controls as much as it does in other engineering companies – most of our team have followed a career path similar to the above.

There are people who break the mould, however, proving you can become an engineer even if you have a background that is different to the norm.

From Archaeology in the US to Controls System Engineer in Ireland

One example we have on our team at SL Controls is Jacob Mussler. He is currently working as a controls system engineer in our Limerick office, but his journey to that position is anything but conventional.

Jacob Mussler

Originally from Colorado in the US, he studied archaeology at university, obtaining a degree. He graduated, however, when the US, like Ireland, was struggling with the financial crises that started in 2008. Jobs were hard to come by, particularly in his chosen field of archaeology.

A different approach and qualification were needed so Jacob joined the US military to work as a maintenance technician mostly on ships getting serviced in dry dock facilities. This involved working on multiple ship parts and systems, so he gained considerable experience with different technologies, platforms, machines, engines, and equipment.

Jacob continued on this career path when he left the military in 2013, getting a job with Mercedes as a multi-craft maintenance technician. Although the groundwork had been done, it was in this role that he made his first steps towards an engineering career.

This happened in a light-hearted way – he took a Siemens touch panel and used the white, green, red, and blue lights to make Christmas trees. The controls engineer for Mercedes’ US operations noticed, however, identifying an aptitude for the field. As a result, he put Jacob in a controls group for training and upskilling. In other words, Jacob went from diagnostics work to writing code.

The Step Up

Unfortunately, Mercedes didn’t have a position that would let him use the new skills. With help from the Mercedes controls engineer, however, he got a job with Intrepid Potash at one of their mining facilities in New Mexico. That was in 2014.

Jacob’s title was controls technician but nobody else at the potash mine worked in controls, i.e. there was no controls engineer. So, Jacob essentially did everything.

“I was basically thrown in so had to progress very rapidly,” Jacob said. “They’d ask if I could do something and if I couldn’t, I basically had to figure it out. It was a steep learning curve, but the experience and knowledge I got from working at the mine were invaluable.”

The next move came in 2015 when he went to work for the City of Loveland, Colorado as a PLC and SCADA programmer in the water department. It was in this role that he met a recruiter for SL Controls.

Ireland Beckons

Jacob first discussed a position with a different company located in Baton Rouge in the US but that wasn’t something that interested him. Moving to Ireland, however, and a position with SL Controls, did.

He said: “I didn’t have a connection with Ireland except through my wife’s family, but I had been in Ireland before. During my archaeology degree, I came to England as part of the course. While there, I took the opportunity to take a trip to Ireland. Over those two weeks, I fell in love with the place. That made it easy to make the decision when I was offered the opportunity to move to Ireland.”

So, Jacob, his wife, and his three-year-old daughter moved here in 2016. With his military background, however, where moving is something you do on a regular basis, the resettlement in Ireland was simple. He was straight into a job too, working for SL Controls on a project for a large client in Dublin.

Jacob is now based in the Limerick office. Given the clients that SL Controls has on its books, there is a much larger compliance element to the role, but the programming and other skills are essentially the same. Jacob’s unconventional career path was, therefore, a highly successful one.

Plus, he likes the position he currently is in. He said: “I like living in Ireland and SL Controls is an easy place to work. The projects are interesting and the approach to HR is the best I’ve encountered.”

“Moving to Ireland and SL Controls has been another step in the evolution of my career.”

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SL Controls Employee Stories: Volker Winhausen

At SL Controls, we employ engineers with a variety of backgrounds. The growth of the company, as well as the sectors in which we operate, are some of the reasons why people choose to work with us. The training and support we offer engineers who move from other branches of engineering to positions with us also helps people to make the switch.

Of course, there are other reasons, including achieving a better work-life balance. There is also the company structure at SL Controls.

Moving from a Multinational Corporation

Many members of our team have moved from large corporate environments to a position with SL Controls. One example is Volker Winhausen, a German national who joined SL Controls in 2014. He previously worked in the Middle East for the Swiss-based multinational corporation ABB. It’s the large engineering company that is involved in everything from robotics to energy to heavy electrical equipment. The company operates in 100 countries and has around 132,000 employees.

Volker Winhausen

Volker worked for ABB as a Commissioning Engineer in electrical distribution in the company’s Abu Dhabi operation. He worked there for four years, during which time he met his wife – Kathleen from Rhode, Co. Offaly in Ireland.

Volker and Kathleen decided to move back to Europe – specifically Limerick and a position as a controls system engineer with SL Controls. The role was a perfect fit for Volker’s skills, presenting him with the opportunity to get a much more in-depth knowledge of automation systems. The transition to the new job and the change of country went well, though, not least because Volker prefers the way of life here in Ireland as well as the people.

A Different Company Structure and Culture

Apart from the cultural differences between Abu Dhabi and Ireland, and the variations in job role, the biggest change Volker faced when making the move is the different company structure that exists at SL Controls. It was a change for the better.

Volker moved from a global engineering corporation with huge numbers of employees to a team of less than 100 at SL Controls. He likes the new working environment, though, and thinks it’s a big advantage over what he did before.

“Working at SL Controls is different to ABB,” Volker said. “Obviously, the work is different, but it’s a huge corporate structure at ABB. It’s a good – and successful – company, but I prefer my role now at SL Controls.

“I know all the senior management team and have conversations with them at various company events. You simply can’t do that at a company like ABB as everyone is more distant and detached.

“Also, SL Controls is growing fast, the projects we work on are varied, and there are excellent opportunities for career progression.”

Volker is currently working on designing concepts for new code implementations at the SL Controls Limerick office.

He said: “My time with ABB was an essential part of my career, but the move to SL Controls is the most important and beneficial I’ve made so far.”

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SL Controls Pathways Programme – Helping Engineers Grow Their Careers

Engineering talent is a core driver of success in SL Controls. We are not unique in this as industries in almost all sectors become more automated, technologically advanced, and data-driven. To fully harness the potential of our engineering talent, we have put in place a structure to ensure our engineers can grow their careers and be properly rewarded. We call it the Pathways Programme.

The programme has multiple elements that discard traditional thinking about career development and instead focus on the individual engineers in our team and the specific needs of our business.

Our Approach to Engineering Career Development

A crucial aspect of the SL Controls Pathways Programme is we don’t just want engineers to move into management. This traditional vertical career trajectory (moving up the career ladder) is right for some people but not for others. Of course, we want to facilitate as much as possible those who want to go the management route. This shouldn’t be the only option, however.

In other words, we believe that considering the vertical career path as the only or even the best one to follow as being outdated. So, we moved away from the linear approach of starting as an engineer and working up the ranks to senior management. Instead, we take a non-linear approach with multiple career pathways, loops, and endpoints.

This means giving our engineers the opportunity to grow their careers horizontally by enhancing their knowledge, acquiring new skills, and becoming thought leaders in the industry.

Each member of our team already does great work, but we want them to become even better, to delve deeper, and to have even greater influence on the projects we deliver for clients. We also want them to widen their scope of influence even further, developing new products, concepts, and ideas that become recognised in the wider industry.

These career paths come with suitable financial rewards meaning we don’t just give managers higher salaries.

In addition, for engineers working at SL Controls, promotions are more personally meaningful. In other words, as engineers move along their career paths, they:

  • Master new skills – increasing the amount of influence they have on projects
  • Become more autonomous – making their own decisions
  • Gain recognition – through new job roles, project participation, project influence, and more
  • Receive enhanced compensation – the increase in value added to the company comes with structured financial rewards

The SL Controls Pathways Programme for Career Progression

The primary aim of the Pathways Programme is to help our employees identify the skills and abilities they need to progress their career.

The programme has three core elements:

  1. Employee job classifications and grades – for salary purposes, we classify together positions in the company that have similar impact and scope. This ensures pay equity as well as enabling us to transport salaries when employees add value to projects by delivering new skills or knowledge.
  2. Competency framework and career progression model – this defines the knowledge, skills, and attributes the company needs from our employees. It ensures transparency and lets employees map out a career progression route.
  3. Salary bands – SL Controls regularly reviews salary bands to ensure they remain competitive and reflective of current market conditions.

Benefits of the Pathways Programme

  • Gives employees a clear career progression path to follow based on the needs of the business
  • Ensures all employees receive customised training and professional development
  • Ensures SL Controls has the necessary skills to deliver for our clients
  • Helps with employee recruitment and retention
  • Improves performance evaluation
  • Enables fast identification of skill and competency gaps
  • Improves the efficiency of change management processes

Finally, the Pathways Programme at SL Controls benefits our clients too. After all, continuous professional development within our team keeps us at the leading edge of the industry.

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A Day in the Life of a Pharmaceutical Engineer

Pharmaceutical engineers are involved in all aspects of pharmaceutical manufacturing. This includes designing and operating machines, determining product presentation, designing packaging labels, and more. They can also have roles designing, building, operating, and improving pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities. Pharmaceutical engineers also design, build, and operate pharmaceutical research facilities too.

The job is a rewarding and challenging one. After all, the products you are responsible for developing or manufacturing as a pharmaceutical engineer help save lives. There are serious responsibilities that come with this too in relation to patient safety and regulatory compliance. Every day, however, the jobs that pharmaceutical engineers do have a positive impact on society’s health and wellbeing.

What Do Pharmaceutical Engineers Do?

In manufacturing, pharmaceutical engineers are involved in the processes that convert chemical and biological materials into pharmaceutical products and therapies. Healthcare providers or individuals then buy these products to treat a range of different diseases and medical conditions.

Due to the nature of the products that pharmaceutical engineers help develop, they often work in state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities. Those facilities use the latest equipment, processes, and software solutions to ensure the products produced are profitable, safe, and regulatory compliant. There is intense competition in the pharmaceutical industry, though, particularly in relation to research and development. As a result, the only people who often get to see inside these facilities are pharmaceutical engineers and others involved in their design, management, and operation.

Specific Roles

The manufacturing processes that pharmaceutical engineers can be involved in include:

  • Product conception, although this is often in laboratories and research facilities rather than manufacturing plants
  • Designing the product, a role that, again, often takes place in a laboratory
  • Scaling up production capabilities, a role that is crucial to the financial success of the pharmaceutical company
  • Manufacturing the product
  • Labelling the product and ensuring compliance
  • Packaging the product to optimise distribution

One of the key responsibilities of a pharmaceutical engineer whatever their job role is the elimination of risk to patient safety, i.e. the people who ultimately take the medications and other manufactured products.

In addition, pharmaceutical engineers also have a responsibility to eliminate risks to staff working in product manufacturing and distribution. They have a responsibility to protect the environment too.

As already mentioned, there are stringent regulatory and compliance issues that apply to pharmaceutical manufacturing. As a result, pharmaceutical engineers must have detailed knowledge of all these issues. In some situations, a pharmaceutical engineer will need to be aware of regulations in multiple jurisdictions.

As a result of the regulatory and compliance aspects of the job, pharmaceutical engineers are involved in:

  • Validation Assurance (VA)
  • Quality control
  • Maintaining GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) compliant facilities
  • Serialisation
  • And more

What Is a Typical Day Like?

A pharmaceutical engineer’s typical day will depend on the company they work in and the role they do. Those roles include:

  • Research of new drugs as well as drug delivery methods and systems
  • Pharmaceutical manufacturing
  • Labelling and packaging
  • Manufacturing facility design
  • System and process automation
  • Management
  • Compliance
  • Sales and marketing
  • And more

So, pharmaceutical engineers can do a varied range of jobs plus there are multiple career paths available. In all situations, however, being a pharmaceutical engineer is a satisfying, financially rewarding, and personally fulfilling career to pursue.

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Benefits of Permanent Over Contract Working

As an engineering, IT, or programming professional, you have the choice to get a job as a permanent employee with a company or to become a contract worker. While there are advantages to both, the benefits of being a permanent employee far outweigh the benefits of contract working.

We look at some of the main benefits below but before going into those, let’s deal with some common misconceptions about the comparison between permanent and contract working.


One of those misconceptions is salary, i.e. many people believe you will get a higher salary as a contract worker than a permanent worker. This is sometimes the case but it is not a hard and fast rule. In fact, many permanent employees in technical roles in Ireland earn the same or more than contract workers. In addition, your earnings over time will be higher as you will spend less time out of work, you can potentially receive more benefits, and it can be easier to progress your career.

Another misconception about contract working is it is more flexible. After all, you can leave permanent employment at any time so there is equal flexibility. You may have to honour things like non-compete clauses and notice periods, but these are likely to be part of fixed-term contracts too.

Benefits of Permanent Working

Here are 11 reasons why opting for a permanent contract is better than working as a contractor:

1. Employee Rights

In general, contractors should get the same rights as the permanent employees in a company. The reality is not as simple as this, however. You may have to work a set number of hours per week to be entitled to join a work pension scheme, for example.

2. Career Development Opportunities

You will have more opportunities to advance your career in a permanent position. This includes upskilling opportunities as well as other training to refine and enhance your skills. You can also take on greater responsibilities to gain further experience.

3. Easier to Follow a Career Path

Following on from the last point, you are likely to find an easier to follow career path in a permanent role as there will be more promotional opportunities available.

4. Job Security

As a permanent employee, you will have long-term job security. This is a weight off your mind plus it makes it easier to plan ahead.

5. Income Security

Following on from the last point, having job security means you also have income security. After all, as a contract worker, you could have periods of time when you are between contracts and not in work. This doesn’t happen when you are a permanent employee.

6. Work Instead of Job Hunting

Staying with this theme, as a contract worker, you must spend time job hunting, particularly as your existing contract nears its end. As a permanent employee, instead of job hunting, you can continue working, earning, and advancing your career.

7. Easier to Obtain Credit

In some situations, it can be easier to prove your income as a permanent employee. This can make it easier to obtain a mortgage and other forms of credit and/or you may get access to more favourable credit deals.

8. Don’t Have to Worry About Tax

As a contractor, you will have to pay your own taxes through a self-assessment tax return. Your employer handles paying your taxes, however, when you are a permanent worker. This saves you time and possibly the expense of hiring an accountant.

9. Easier to Plan Your Personal and Family Life

Having job and income security makes it easier to plan your home life – buying a house, deciding on a school for your children, etc.

10. Enhance Your CV

Some employers value commitment and loyalty when assessing potential candidates. This can be harder to demonstrate on your CV or in an interview when you are a contract worker, particularly if you move about a lot. Being a permanent employee demonstrates loyalty and commitment.

11. You’ll be Part of a Team

This one should not be underestimated as being part of a team can make you feel more valued and content with your career. The camaraderie of being part of a team also makes work more enjoyable.

Of course, there will still be some people who swear by the benefits of contract working. As you can see, however, there is a compelling case and significant advantages of moving into a permanent position.

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