Be Inspired Series
Dr. Brian Hill
Head Of The Engineering And Science School
Northern Regional College, Ballymena
Dr Brian Hill received the MBE for services to education and training in Northern Ireland in June 2011
What does you role involve?
My role involves managing all aspects of the School of Engineering & Science including the Manufacturing Centre of Excellence within NRC which provides cutting edge technologies and training resources to support the manufacturing engineering industry locally, nationally and internationally.
It is a focal point for innovation in key sectors such as CNC machining, robotics, mechatronics (mechanical and electrical maintenance), industrial electronics, CNC fabrication and welding, business improvement techniques (BIT) and other engineering developments and technologies.
How did you get into the position in the first place?
Following completion of my PHD in December 1981, I spent a few years in different industries including De Lorean Motor Cars, Westland Helicopters and Sperrin Metal Products. I joined the lecturing staff of Newtownabbey Technical College and throughout my career, have been involved in different aspects of Further Education within the province.
I became head of school in NRC three years ago with responsibility for 50 full time lecturing staff, 30 part time lecturing staff and 20 support technicians. The engineering curriculum mix is located on four campuses within NRC – Ballymena, Coleraine, Magherafelt and Newtownabbey.
Did you always want to work in this sector in some capacity?
I am passionate about education and engineering and the economic impact that can be achieved through links into industry. I have worked with a dedicated team of staff under the stewardship of our head of faculty, to establish our engineering curriculum and through the NRC Centre of Manufacturing Excellence, build national and international links with specific industries.
Examples of this are training facilities established at Farm Lodge Ballymena through industry links with Toyota (UK) where we are designated a Toyota Academy; Michelin Tyre PLC with whom we have a lecturing partnership as part of the Michelin Technical Training Centre; FG Wilson who supported the installation of an IGM Robot for training and with whom we have continuing innovative economic engagement programmes and Schrader Electronics who installed automation equipment firstly at Farm Lodge and now also at our Newtownabbey campus.
How have staff reacted to the challenge of delivering the mainstream curriculum and building NRC’s reputation for cutting edge industrial innovation?
With considerable hard work and a willingness to look across the world at examples of best practice across the world! Our engineering team has the capability to lecture as well as enter the industrial world with a current skills set that industry recognises and can utilise.
Our staff are working with companies in the Republic of Ireland, Europe, USA and the Far East – an example being Schlumberger where NRC are responsible for delivering a worldwide training programme in which all their graduate engineers must take as part of the company CPD programme.
What training or previous experience do you have that has helped you in your current role?
Since coming into further education, my goal has been to ensure that what is delivered in the workshop/laboratory/classroom is relevant to the engineering industry - the drive to ensure that the customer is key is a prime driver (learned from my time spent in industry).
I have had some very good mentors throughout my career as well, the late Professor Gordon Blair (QUB), Bill Maginnis (MD Sperrin Metals) and Tom Knox (current head of faculty).
What is your organisation’s role in the local community?
As an engineering section, we have been the key drivers, in partnership with the Engineering Training Council, South East Regional College and others, in designing, developing and delivering many Northern Ireland sector wide initiatives. These include lecturers into Industry through the Learning & Skills Development Agency; business improvement techniques for lean manufacturing; the NI Maintenance Strategy which includes upskilling and the adult apprenticeship programme.
In addition we have, with the help of our business support office, brought in projects under various European awarding bodies including KITE under INTERREG IVA (a partnership project with the Institute of Technology Sligo and Ayr College that develops knowledge and innovation transfer in engineering along a corridor from the west of Ireland, through Northern Ireland and into the west coast of Scotland for the engineering industry).
And how does your role fit in as part of this?
Supporting staff to ensure that they reach their potential and that the team meets the demands placed upon us.
What sort of personality and qualities do you need to do your job successfully?
he ability to empower staff to do their job; negotiation skills to ensure staff development is available to all staff for upskilling or retraining on current and developing new technology; management qualities to make effective and widespread use of both human and physical resources.
Also key is an innovative approach to ensure staff are not spread too thinly across a range of disciplines and finally it’s vital to encourage staff to take on new developments and students to get involved and enter competitions.
What are the biggest rewards of the job? And the biggest challenges?
Given our focus on industry links, one of our biggest rewards was achieving the status of Centre of Excellence in Manufacturing Engineering.
Seeing our students achieve is particularly rewarding – two of our students won UK Skills Mechatronics Gold Medals and we had two students who gained Medallions of Excellence in Mechatronics at the Worldskills Finals in London last October and a student who came tenth in the CNC Milling Competition.
On a personal level I was honoured to receive the MBE for service to education and training in Northern Ireland in June 2011.
Ensuring NI PLC has the technical skills set to meet the demands of the government led knowledge economy initiatives is a significant challenge as our team continues to work to bring education and industry together.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
As engineers we are part of the solution to any of the problems encountered.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to do the same job?
Be prepared to work hard but know there are rewards.
What do you enjoy doing outside work?
I have a busy family life - I am clerk of session at Muckamore Presbyterian Church, I enjoy music and play piano and keyboard.
With a love of engines I follow the Formula One and World Rally Championships.
Looking to the future I am leading a team to engage on a building project in Uganda this summer to help others.