Jimmy Kirby | Kirby – Investors in People

Kirby Group Engineering Managing Director Jimmy Kirby talks to Irish building about the past year, expanding into new markets, overcoming the challenges of the skills shortage, investing in people and delivering value to clients.

Founded in 1964, Kirby is a mechanical and electrical engineering contractor with an annual turnover of €165m. The company provides full mechanical and electrical contracting services as well as specialist high voltage (HV) and medium voltage (MV) design and construction services across Ireland, the UK, and Northern Europe. Kirby directly employs over 700 highly-skilled employees including 100 apprentices.

Kirby recently made a number of key appointments at senior level in response to its growth and success: Aidan J. Kerins joined Kirby as the new Group Business Development Director. Henry McCann has been promoted to Operations Director. Alan McHugh has been promoted to Associate Director – Power Transmission & Distribution.

Kirby operates in the following sectors: Data Centres, Life Sciences, Industrial Manufacturing, Substations and Renewables, Power Generation, Petrochemical and Commercial. The key recent milestone projects in Kirby’s portfolio include:

• Confidential Data Centre Client, Sweden
• Gemini Data Centre and Substation, Dublin
• Castlepook and Buttevant Windfarms, Cork
• Grousemount Windfarm, Kerry
• Alexion, Dublin and Westmeath
• Slane Distillery, Meath
• Solvay Group, UK

Asked what sectors they are performing well in, Jimmy says: “We are performing well across all of our chosen sectors, particularly within Data Centres, Life Sciences, Industrial Manufacturing and Substations and Renewables.” Speaking on expanding into new markets, Jimmy Kirby says: “Over the past 12 months, we have been working hard on expanding our international operations. The expansion into the Nordics market is proving to be a successful development for Kirby. We are currently delivering work on a number of high-profile data centre projects in the region with more projects in the pipeline.”

Kirby Values, Investing in People

As a company, Kirby embrace the following core values:

Safety – keeping you safe through safe systems of work and a safe place of work;
Quality – eliminating waste through getting it right the first time;
Delivery – project delivery through relentless execution discipline;
Value – creating and sharing value through collaboration, innovation and operational excellence.

Kirby has supported and participated in Construction Safety Week for the past number of years. Jimmy tells us: “Last year, we held a series of week-long events, which focused on a number of key aspects of work-related safety including: Day One: Working at Height; Day Two: Plant and Equipment Safety; Day Three: Occupational Health (dust); Day Four: Positive Mental Health; Day Five: Driving for Work.” Jimmy says that this year, they hope to build upon the success of last year and do all they can to promote the health and safety of all those involved in Kirby’s operations.

Earlier this year, Kirby was awarded gold accreditation against the Investors in People Standard, demonstrating their commitment to high performance through good people management. “Investors in People is the international standard for people management, defining what it takes to lead, support and manage people effectively to achieve sustainable results,” Jimmy explains to us. “Underpinning the Standard is the Investors in People framework, reflecting the latest workplace trends, essential skills and effective structures required to outperform in any industry. Investors in People enable organisations to benchmark against the best in the business on an international scale.”

In addition, with regards to safety, Kirby received their 8th consecutive Gold Medal Award from RoSPA and two NISO Safety Awards.

Maintaining Advantage and Skills

Jimmy describes how two of the most prominent challenges in the sector currently are maintaining competitive advantage with their chosen customers and the limited recruitment pool. “When the recession hit,” he says “the industry experienced an exodus of talent and experience with large numbers emigrating to find employment. This has led to a limited recruitment pool. During the economic instability, Kirby worked hard at growing the business and placed a strong emphasis on developing international operations.”

The company continued to run and develop its apprenticeship programme, which has been an integral part of the business for over 50 years. “Our apprenticeship programme is an integral part of our business,” Jimmy says. “We invest heavily in this programme and we currently employ over 100 apprentices. We are continually improving our skills base.”

As well as the apprenticeship programme, Kirby also run a very successful graduate programme. Jimmy explains: “Our Graduate Development Programme ensures we have a continuous pipeline of talent. The programme provides graduates with the challenge and opportunity to grow a very successful career and supports them to become technical and commercial industry leaders. Additionally, we have a site management programme and development plan in place, which helps craft professionals to go on to become site managers, and then project managers. We work closely with third level institutions. Most recently, we were involved in the development of a new Level 7 Bachelor of Engineering in Industrial Electrical Engineering programme at Limerick Institute of Technology.”

For the past number of years, Kirby has been actively involved in Engineers Week, an initiative which encourages primary and post-primary students, their teachers and parents to explore the exciting world of engineering as well as highlighting the diverse career opportunities engineering offers. “This requires a genuine employee value proposition. We aspire to develop our graduate and craft professional talent to become technical, commercial and people leaders,” Jimmy adds.

These measures have somewhat sheltered Kirby from the labour shortage, but in order to meet future challenges and opportunities, Jimmy believes they will need to continue to develop and grow their people.

Asked if the construction industry is doing enough to encourage women to take up construction careers in order to avail of skills and build equality, Jimmy says: “In recent years, there has been an increasing focus on promoting the career opportunities in the industry to women, which is encouraging. We need to continue to build upon this.”

Achieving Efficiency, Delivering Value

BIM capability is very well established and used on Kirby projects including the role model co-ordinator. “Significant progress has been made on many of our projects where we have achieved efficiency based savings of the overall man-hours through 3D modelling and offsite fabrication,” he informs us. “Our overall approach to Lean at site level is through cycle time reduction and eliminating rework.”

Through early engagement and collaboration, Kirby’s Prefabrication, Modularisation and Digital Construction approach allows them to continuously deliver value to clients by making a positive impact on key project drivers such as programme, Q-EHS and budget, and ensures the best possible project outcome for the clients and the company.

The Future

Kirby has joined ‘Host in Ireland’ as a strategic partner for 2018. In addition, Mark Flanagan, Kirby Group Operations Director joined the Host in Ireland Executive Committee. Host in Ireland is an industry-led initiative specifically developed to generate awareness and recognition of Ireland’s benefits as a prime location for companies to host digital assets.

We ask what does the future hold for Kirby? Jimmy states: “The company has excellent future prospects due to the strength of our management team, our staff and associated capabilities, our strategy formulation and implementation capability and our customer value proposition.”

The content of this site is subject to copyright laws and may not be reproduced in any form without the prior consent of the publishers. The views expressed in articles do not necessarily represent those of the publishers. This article first appeared in the ‘Leaders in Construction’ issue of Irish building magazine June 2018.