Graduate employee of the year 2014: Niall Fitzgerald

Mechanical Engineer, Abbott

Degree subject Engineering (UL)
Job title Mechanical Engineer
Employer Abbott

The winner of gradireland ‘Graduate Employee of the Year’ for 2014 was mechanical engineer Niall Fitzgerald, who joined Abbott after completing an 8-month internship while studying for his degree. he was recently awarded a place on the coveted Abbott Professional Development Programme and is currently based in California.

What led to your career choice and why?

Coming from an agricultural background, I have always had an interest in how things work. I decided to study engineering as I enjoyed engineering, physics and honours maths at Leaving Cert level. I had an uncle who was an engineer and I was always curious to know what he did so mechanical Engineering was a natural progression for me.
I selected the University of Limerick due to the reputation of the engineering courses there as being the best in the country with an integrated 8 month
Co-op placement. Through the University of Limerick I had the opportunity to complete my 8 month internship with Abbott vascular Clonmel. I worked in the
equipment group during which I gained a valuable engineering experience and an insight into the graduate programme.
I selected Abbott’s graduate programme due to its award-winning reputation, the variety of positions offered during the programme and the opportunity to work overseas for six months. The graduate programme offers members the opportunity to work in 4 of the following positions: Operations, Engineering, Supply Chain, Quality, R&D, Regulatory Affairs and scientific roles.

How was your degree relevant in your choice of career?

Mechanical engineering has served as an extremely relevant degree for my
current career. The large scope of an engineering degree has helped me through the diverse positions I have held to date at Abbott.
Initially during my internship within the equipment engineering group, as a manufacturing Engineer and as a Project Coordinator, many engineering skills and techniques were directly transferable. Mechanical and process design, waste reduction of high-value materials and material utilisation and process optimisation to name but a few.
However in my non-engineering assignments, as a Supply Chain Analyst and as a Technical Specialist, other engineering skills were to the fore, such as problem solving and interacting with and leading project teams. Individual modules such as project management and math skills provided vital skills for all my positions.
I believe there are good opportunities for Irish graduates, particularly engineers. A career in engineering is guaranteed to be challenging, but very rewarding. It offers great opportunities for development and diversification into
other areas.

How have you settled into working life after life as student?

Life as a student was fun. The freedom to frequent a night club on a
Monday, Thursday or any night for that matter was an enticing option, to
relax after a tough day of lectures!
The selection of clubs and societies was endless too. However the economic environment and limited jobs market motivated me to work hard and strive for a solid degree. The transition from being a student to the working world was easy for me as I worked through college on the family farm. I gained valuable life lessons and skills which I now apply now in my professional life. I have noticed that I now have additional time for hobbies, which I did not have in 4th year, so that is a welcome change.

Could you give us a brief description of what your role with Abbott involves and where you are based?

I recently completed the Abbott Ireland Professional Development Programme (PDP), a 2 year rotation consisting of 4 different assignments in 3 different Abbott Divisions. My rotations were in:

  • Manufacturing Engineer in Abbott
    vascular, Clonmel
  • Project Co-Ordinator in Abbott
    vascular, Clonmel
  • Supply Chain Analyst in Abbott
    Diabetes Care, California
  • Technical Specialist in Abbott
    Diagnostics Longford

The PDP consists of four assignments over a two- year period. Every assignment is identified by a business need and is six months in duration. Each programme presents the opportunity to complete a unique combination of assignments.
As a manufacturing Engineer in Abbott vascular in Clonmel, I coordinated the commissioning of a new production line resulting in a significant increase in production output through a cross functional team involving facilities, operations and engineering.
In my role as Implants Project Coordinator with Abbott vascular I helped to achieve significant savings through the introduction of a material management process for one high value material. I also implemented shop floor control principles using innovative processes and material handling techniques without the multimillion dollar investment usually required. I implemented a new cost centre structure to provide visibility on material usage, on a lot by lot basis which was not previously available, which again had a very positive impact on unit cost.
As a Supply Chain Analyst in Abbott Diabetes Care, California, I had the opportunity to coordinate the introduction of a supply planning software at three manufacturing sites across three continents to support the division. I was the main point of contact between planning managers and IT consultants. The tasks required for successful completion were coordination of stake holder meetings, writing specification documents, software testing and data analysis.
In Abbott Ireland there is also scope to contribute beyond your core job and support the local community by getting involved in the employee volunteering programme known as “Croi an Oir.” For instance I delivered an education programme to a local school in Clonmel under a partnership Abbott has with Junior Achievement Ireland. Besides supporting your local community, volunteering is also a great way of developing your broader skills.
Currently I am working as a component Engineer for Abbott vascular in Redwood City, California. I have responsibility for numerous plastic components, validation of new plastic moulds, supplier selection and material investigations.

What further study or training are you currently involved in?

Becoming a chartered engineer through Engineers Ireland is my next personal goal. I have started working as a Component Engineer to further develop a solid foundation in engineering principles and to continue my professional development at all opportunities. I am also planning to complete an MBA in the not too distant future.

What tips would you have for graduates looking for jobs and would you have any advice regarding the application process?

Be as flexible as possible when considering first jobs after graduation as the best personal opportunity may not be available in your local town or city. There is always scope to move closer to home when you have gained sufficient experience and have become proficient and recognised in your field or area of expertise.
Spend as much time as possible preparing a robust CV. Include all clubs, voluntary organisations and team involvement. Personal achievements and experiences are very important components also, as many companies use more than just grades as a selection criteria for positions. The jobs market is highly selective, any unique attribute that a student has should be leveraged in a positive light. Examples of flexibility, eagerness and ability to work as part
of a team can positively impact interview prospects.

Niall Fitzgerald was interviewed for the gradireland & postgradireland Directory 2015