A world away from tiling swimming pools
At the height of Celtic Tiger era, Kevin McMahon was living the dream, putting his construction skills to use tiling swimming pools in sunny Australia.
Work and money were in plentiful supply during the boom, and the Monaghan man enjoyed six or seven years great employment, both at home and abroad.
An electronic and electrical engineering graduate, he was among the many thousands lured by the bountiful opportunities in the construction industry in the early noughties.
Kevin's post-college job with an electronics firm in Co Antrim ended in unemployment after a year, when the company transferred operations out of Ireland. "So, I came to Dublin and got a job with a friend in construction. I worked as a labourer and also trained as a paver and tiler and I was making good money", said Kevin, of Killanny, Carrickmacross.
Like thousands of others, he was caught by the travel bug and spent three years in South East Asia, South America and Australia, where his paving and tiling skills were in much demand.
Kevin returned to Ireland in May 2008, with no idea of the economic devastation that was about to hit: "Initially, I got a bit of work, but then it started to dry up and I ended up on the dole".
The 32-year-old had confronted redundancy before and he took another positive career move. Kevin sought advice from the State training and employment authority, FAS on how he could use his engineering degree as a stepping stone back to work.
He was directed to Dundalk Institute of Technology (DKIT) for a one-year conversion course leading to a diploma in Bio Pharmaceutical and Process Engineering. It allowed him top up his existing skills and gain the necessary, scientific technical and regulatory expertise for work in the bio-pharmaceutical industry in which Ireland is a key global player.
Kevin said the DKIT opportunity was a "lifeline". Despite eight or nine years away from the books, he said he quickly got back into a study regime.
He described the difference between his two third-level qualifications as like the difference between working for Intel and Pfizer.
Last summer Kevin was accepted for a work placement in BioUetikon, a Swiss-owned company based at Dublin City University, which manufactures proteins and antibodies for the pharmaceutical industry.
"My technology background is helpful, and all my experience in the building industry has stood to me because I am used to handling equipment".
After a three month work placement, Kevin was kept on and is continuing to work for BioUetikon on a rolling-contract basis.
However, he is also keeping a careful watch out for a permanent position. It may be a world away from tiling swimming pools in the sun, but he is happy in his laboratory.
Such is his enthusiasm for his new field, that he is starting a Masters degree programme in September, on part-time basis, and hopes to follow that with a PhD.
"It has been so worthwhile going back to college. It doesn't mean that you stop looking for work, but it is something to do to take the hopelessness out of the situation", he said.
Irish Independent Supplement