Industry Interview Paul Sheerin, CEO of Scottish Engineering

Industry Interview Part 2: Paul Sheerin, CEO Scottish Engineering

This is part two of our interview Paul Sheerin, CEO of Scottish Engineering .

Our colleague Andrew Dow sat down with Paul to talk about what’s happening in the industry, his new role and the career path that took him there.

Missed part one? Read it here.

Part one: A tumultuous year, career advice and an engineering hero

Andrew: Moving out of industry, you joined Scottish Engineering about 18 months ago. How has your role been so far and do you have an idea of your future plans for the organisation?

Paul: First of all the role is fantastic, absolutely brilliant. The best bit about it is we get to go out and meet companies, companies who are really doing it every day and wherever we can, we try to help them and that’s fantastic.

Scottish Engineering LogoAnd if you look at the range, breadth and scope of engineering and manufacturing companies in Scotland there’s just everything. You and I talked about it earlier, you can go from shining examples of probably some of the most efficient steelworks manufacturers in J&D Pierce through to precision engineering and optronics; companies like Optos over in Dunfermline. Meeting with companies of that range, scale and depth really is the absolute best bit about it.

In terms of the role, what I find tricky is, whilst I do have a boss and we do have an executive committee I report to, we’re a member organisation. It’s the closest thing to not having a boss in place on a daily, weekly, monthly basis so choosing what to do with your time, keeping yourself honest and making sure that what you’re doing is in keeping with the right thing for Scottish Engineering, that’s a trickier balance for me but I’m really enjoying it; lots of things you can get your teeth into.

“If you look at the range, breadth and scope of engineering and manufacturing companies in Scotland there’s just everything”

A: Lots of changes happening at Scottish Engineering?

P: I came into this job always appreciating what Scottish Engineering brings in support, networking and best practice. The challenge we’ve got now is making the most of the 154 years of heritage we’ve got without being backward looking, and that’s the same challenge with any organisation.

So yes, we are constantly looking to see what can we do to keep and increase our relevance to industry and in the last year we’ve looked at how we communicate, the platforms we communicate on, how we can use digital systems to do that more efficiently and ensure we’re putting out content that companies want to see. I think widening the scope and looking at what can we do to bring values to our members, that’s where we’re headed.

A: Myself personally I’ve noticed several changes in Scottish Engineering, even in just the way information is presented to members. It’s the same as anything else; it’s constantly looking at what you’re doing and adapt the way you do it.

P: Absolutely, and the other feature of the last year is that it’s been quite a tumultuous political landscape and we shouldn’t comment on it because if we comment on it today it’ll be out of date by the time you download this audio file from your phone!

We, like everyone else, don’t have a magic wand to wave and fix it. The best thing we can do is look at what things of value we can offer, how we can help make our members as competitive as possible and that’s what we’re trying to do.

A: And you’re right we shouldn’t talk about it but have you had members coming to Scottish Engineering to ask for advice or support in relation to these political events?

P: So there have been some, I wouldn’t lie and say it’s been a flood but we’ve had a number of companies ask for specific advice or to benchmark their situation; “what are other people doing?”, “what are they looking out for?”, “I’ve got concerns about how am I going to get spares to my customers as quickly as they need them”. And that’s where we can take up the cross-pollination and say customer X has got this in place or they’re thinking about that etc. We try to be useful but also know it’s important to be a listening ear as companies are very frustrated and concerned right now. It’s useful for us too as we can then replay those concerns to the UK and Scottish Governments and make sure anyone who we feel has a hand on the tiler and can influence things knows just how strongly the Scottish engineering and manufacturing community feels about it.

“It’s never too early to start building your network”

A: So leaving political events there for now… let’s go back to your engineering days, is there any advice you’d give out to people starting their career at the moment?

P: Do you know what, whenever I get to meet young people through school events, particularly those now into their 5th and 6th year I say you need to add one more social media icon to your phone and that’s LinkedIn.

I think it’s never too early to start building your network. I have some rules for LinkedIn for myself, I try and keep my LinkedIn network for people I’ve actually met so if they come to me for a favour, I feel happy to do that because I’ve met them and likewise if I go out to them and ask if anyone can help at least there’s been a connection.

So my advice to young people is your career will go where it will go, I think you and I are used to the idea that no career path is straight, there’s bumps in the road and you could lecture about resilience and getting yourself back up but I think the most practical advice I can give is build your network and start that now.

When you start to go out to work placements or maybe go along to things that interest you, link in with the people you meet and who have inspired you so far, that could be teachers, head teachers, the Duke of Edinburgh trainers you’ve met. Start building that network and get in the habit of always adding to it.

A: It’s obvious you remain passionate about engineering so for our final question, tell me, have you got any engineering heroes?

P: If I ever get the opportunity to bore a bunch of 16/17 year olds, the person I usually end up quoting is Henry Ford. And it’s an interesting one because Ford, like all of us, was not a perfect individual, by no means, but there is no doubt that he had real clarity of thought.

My favourite quote, the one I quote the most is the one that talks to the science of communication or your communication to yourself and it’s his quote that says “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right” and it’s that idea that you have to start out from a belief that you are going to do something.

There were a number of other things he did and said, I think he was an example of the less is more approach, to boil things down to the simplest approach; pick three things and do them well, not pick ten things and do them half-heartedly…

A: …you can have any colour you want as long as it’s black…

P: …well there you go, that’s definitely simplifying things down!


Our thanks to Paul Sheerin for his time and insights.


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