Mayo vice-captain and principal engineer at Jacobs, the Westerner says time management and resilience are key to achieving excellence – whether focused on a round ball or project managing a highways team, writes James Harrington
Civil

From a young age, Tom Parsons had an interest in all things STEM: whether it was science, technology, engineering or maths. “I studied engineering at Sligo IT [BSc in civil engineering] and, when I graduated from there in 2010, I went on to DIT to do a master’s degree [in Energy Management (MSc)],” he says. “I was always interested in construction, construction management and engineering. Any part-time job I had as a kid was in construction.”

Following graduation in 2012, Parsons had to seek consultancy and design work in engineering in Britain: “So I started as a graduate trainee with Jacobs in Cardiff and I worked with the structures energy team there on a number of schemes,” he says.

“I have worked on a mix of interesting projects with Jacobs, including several substation replacement projects in the UK. When I transferred to Dublin in 2014, I joined the highways team and since then I have worked on the Gort to Tuam motorway and some major schemes across the water. I am currently project managing a number of bridge remedial schemes in Essex as part of our Ringway Jacobs framework with Essex County Council.

“A lot of the projects that we deliver require a diverse range of engineering services. Take, for example, the bridge remedial schemes. It is being managed by the Dublin office but we tap into our geotechnical teams in London, structures teams in Manchester and our rail specialist teams in Manchester as well. A lot of our projects do require an integrated approach and that is where we are quite strong as a company.”

Busy schedule combining project management role with football career


Parsons has a busy schedule combining his role as an engineer with his sporting career as a footballer with Charlestown Sarsfields and Mayo. He has captained the Mayo Under-21 team and is currently vice-captain of the Mayo senior football team.

‘The skills that I have acquired through sport are paying dividends on the projects that I am working on at the moment, and will do so in the future’ – Jacobs’ Tom Parsons

“In your professional life you are challenged with a 40-hour working week, and probably committing 30 to 40 hours to your sporting week as well. Playing with Mayo requires us to train approximately five times per week. On a Wednesday, we would travel to Mayo, so that would mean leaving work at one o’clock on and returning home after midnight. And, then, I would also travel down on a Friday afternoon and return on Sunday.

“That all means that your professional life has to be somewhat flexible and, luckily, Jacobs does provide flexible working hours. It is that flexibility – and certainly time management – which is key. As a project manager, time management is really important – managing meetings, calls, deliverables and so on.

“A lot of the skills that you pick up in sport are helpful in your professional life and I have taken numerous leadership roles with Mayo,” he says. Recently he studied for a postgraduate certificate in professional leadership with Maynooth College.

“All those skills that I have in sport are certainly transferable to being a civil engineer and, particularly, to being a project manager. Apart from communication skills, there are the issues concerning organisation and time management, both of which are key. In terms of time management, it is vital that I have an organised diary and that I have daily and weekly task lists, in order of priority.”

Achieving a work-life balance


For Parsons, a big part of both sport and work is managing his resilience and stress levels. “With the GAA and GPA [Gaelic Players Association], I do a lot of work in the area of mental health. I have also taken up a role as mental health first aid co-ordinator in Ireland with Jacobs. We have rolled out a number of mental health first aiders across our UK and Ireland offices.

“That working group sets up a number of talks and workshops on various aspects of mental health. So, for example, this year we have set up talks on resilience, workplace relationships, time management, goal setting and more.

“A lot of the challenges in sport relate to these topics. You have to manage your emotions and deal with difficult relationships and conflict. Similarly, a lot of engineering projects can be difficult, with tight deadlines and tight budgets, and so you have to manage your team and your emotions.”

According to the Westerner, “one of the most satisfying things for me is that it’s nearly like I have two completely different lives: for 30 to 40 hours of my week, I am a professional athlete focused on training, recovery, diet, video analysis, workshops and so on; then, for the other half of the week, I am a professional engineer.”

It leads to some interesting situations. “A lot of the people I work with in the UK don’t know that I play Gaelic football, or that I may have played before 80,000 people the day before our meeting. This year, after the All-Ireland final, I received a call to say that I was needed for a meeting in the UK related to one of my projects.

“It’s nice in a way to be able to completely park your football career. In Ireland, I can be quite well known but, in the UK, I am still the project manager that needs to be ready to work on a Monday morning,” he says.

Delivering major infrastructure projects around Ireland and the UK


He elaborates on how these two elements of his life balance each other out: “A lot of GAA people take up sports-related roles but I find it nice to completely step away from football and into my engineering life. Eventually, Gaelic football will finish and I need to have other aspects of my life that are strong enough to fill that void. A big part of that is being driven to win games and trophies. To balance that, as an engineer and project manager, I have equal goals and the drive to deliver some major infrastructure projects around Ireland and the UK.

“Having balance in your life is so important and that is something that is relevant to our mental health initiatives here in Jacobs. We would communicate the message that it is important for the engineers working here to have balance in their lives and that their time is not consumed by work. They also need to have time for their family, their friends, their hobbies, and their health.”

Parsons has recently taken up the position of executive board member with the GPA. “A big part of that is to try and encourage players to focus on other aspects of their life, because I know from experience – and also from speaking to other players who have finished playing intercounty football – that they have struggled to fill the void without the goals provided by the game.”

Achieving chartered engineer status


He gained the title of chartered engineer in 2016. “A lot of those hours travelling on buses to Mayo were spent on the application. I started playing for Mayo when I was 18, and at the age of 21 I was released from the Mayo squad, just when I graduated from college.

“That was a lesson very early in my career that football and sport won’t last forever. Being two years off the panel made me really focus on my professional career. Since I came back playing for Mayo, in 2014, I have really valued my career,” he says.

He acknowledges that a big part of his good fortune is down to the support he has received from Jacobs with regard to his football career, even during the year when he was flying home from Cardiff every weekend. “Senior management in Jacobs do recognise that a lot of the skills are transferable. Those skills that I have acquired through sport are paying dividends on the projects that I am working on at the moment, and will do so in the future.”

Or, to put it another way, it’s all about being part of a team and achieving goals – on or off the pitch.

Tom Parsons is currently working on two projects: a multiple framework contract in the UK for Jacobs, where he is a project manager for a number of bridge remedial/replacement schemes. And, secondly, he is aiming to play his part in engineering the transfer, via rail, of a certain Sam Maguire to Castlebar on the morning of September 3, 2018

http://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/a-gaa1-1024x694.jpghttp://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/a-gaa1-300x300.jpgDavid O'RiordanCivilcivil,Jacobs Engineering,Mayo,roads
From a young age, Tom Parsons had an interest in all things STEM: whether it was science, technology, engineering or maths. “I studied engineering at Sligo IT and, when I graduated from there in 2010, I went on to DIT to do a master's degree ,' he says....