NEW FRONTIERS Islandeady’s Thomas Gibbons has not looked back since returning to education and now works for Irish Water in their Castlebar office.
“Don’t be afraid of education.” That was the best bit of advice Islandeady man Thomas Gibbons reckons he was given by a lecturer when, at the age of 39 he went back to education to study Environmental Science in IT Sligo.
“It was a big decision. I have three young girls [Keeva, Leah and Sarah] with my wife Anita and she was working [as a nurse] and able to keep things going while I was retraining. It was a big commitment and took a lot of hard work. It was a milestone for myself [to get an honours degree] and my wife was very happy as well,” Thomas laughed.
Eight years later, the 47 year old is sitting behind a desk in the Irish Water office on the Breaffy Road in Castlebar having joined the company four years ago and now works as a Compliance Analyst.
It is a big career move for Thomas who during the 1990s had worked in Bournemouth as a site engineer after qualifying as a Civil Engineer. He spent five years working in England before returning to Ireland where he started making kitchens with Symphony Kitchens.
He then took the decision to start his own business called Alpha Kitchen which was based in Claremorris where he also made kitchens. Business was good for Thomas but the downturn of the economy meant that business slowed down and he was left in a cross-roads in his life.
“It hits hard when you basically have to change your career and make a decision. The decision for me was to retrain,” he explained.
“I felt I could do a lot more so I decided to apply to [IT] Sligo and a few different colleges but I got an offer from Sligo and decided to take that. I thought if I don’t do it now I will never do it and it was the right time to take that leap.
“I treated it as a job and got on with it. The years were not long going by and I was delighted to come out with an honours degree.”
It was a lecturer who gave Thomas the advice not to be afraid of education and he noticed a number of other people of his vintage had also taken the plunge to retrain following the downturn of the economy. He admitted it was difficult at the start but with the help of his lecturers he managed to get through the four-year course.
“There was a lot of people doing the same thing and I didn’t feel out of place at all. I made some great friends when I went back into college and really enjoyed it.
“It took me a while to get my head around learning how to learn, how to research and produce reports. We did a lot of lab work and we had to produce a lot of reports on experiments we were doing. I had to learn all of that and it took time to get familiar with that process. Once I had the first five or six weeks over me I was getting better and better and confidence grew.”
After his qualification, Thomas got a job with Irish Water on a short term contract before getting an extension and eventually obtaining a role in environmental regulation in Dublin. Nearing the end of that contract, he applied for a new role in their Castlebar office and for the last two years has been part of the drinking water compliance team dealing with Mayo and Galway City and County Councils.
“My role with each of those local authorities would involve managing the regulatory and monitoring programmes for public supplies and we would agree those programmes with each of the local authorities. Another important function would be to liaise closely with the EPA and the HSE and this is particularly important with regards to water quality and upgrade works which may be undertaken in the region and might require updates as to the works which are being completed,” he explained.
“I am with Irish Water nearly four years and I have learned so much. When I first joined it opened my eyes to the whole process of the treatment of water. You learn a certain amount in college but it is only when you are on the ground working in the job that you can see the complexities of the treatment process.”
Aside from the day job, Thomas is an active member of Islandeady GAA and coaches the club’s minor team while his oldest daughter Keeva (14) plays football for Castlebar Mitchels ladies and the two youngest, Leah (13) and Sarah (11) play for Islandeady ladies.
Eight years after making the decision to go back to education, Thomas says he has no regrets and would recommend anyone in the same boat to do the same.
“Education is not a burden on anyone. It is a great thing to retrain and get a qualification if you have the opportunity to do it. I’d recommend to anyone who is thinking of retraining. Don’t be afraid to do it.”
What would you do if you won the lotto?
That’s an easy one, I would pay off the mortgage.
Favourite TV show?
Myself and my wife enjoyed watching The Crown on Netflix.
What makes you nervous?
If there is about two minutes to go in a match and we are leading by a point. I get very nervous worrying we will lose.
Best advice you were given?
Don’t be afraid of education – that advice was given to me by a lecturer in Sligo, he said don’t be afraid, it is not a burden.
Three things always in your fridge?
Milk, butter and tomatoes for some reason.
Most unusual thing you have eaten?
I’ve eaten snails when I was in holidays in France.
Tell us something about yourself we don’t know?
I am a secret Aston Villa fan.