Engineers need to keep up with the pace of change in science and technology.

WSP's engineers are keeping up with the pace of change in science and technology

Pictured L-R: David Cruickshanks-Boyd, National Director Sustainability, WSP; Professor Kourosh Kayvani, Managing Director – Design, Innovation and Eminence, Aurecon; Faith Wainwright, President of the Institution of Structural Engineers; Professor John Wilson, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Swinburne University of Technology; Freddy Smyth, Graduate Civil Engineer, WSP; Kyle Hourigan, Graduate and Project Engineer, Robert Bird Group.


Think about some of the future challenges we’re going to need engineers to solve.


If climate scientists are right, we can expect more hurricanes, floods, heatwaves, droughts, bushfires, and all the damage they wreak. Infrastructure replacement is likely to demand innovations in structural design, construction materials, resistance to extreme forces, and resource management. And that’s just a snapshot. Dig deep into any aspect and the challenges multiply.


Do our engineering graduates have the skills they need? Will they have the technical rigour and operational capability they‘ll require to solve the 21st century’s engineering challenges? How are the rest of us keeping up? How do we make sure new engineers can meet future challenges?


At last month’s Australasian Structural Engineering Conference in Adelaide, WSP’s David Cruickshanks-Boyd convened a workshop on engineering education in the future, with input from a panel of engineers from the universities, professional associations and design consultancies. Amongst the panellists was our own Graduate Civil Engineer Freddy Smyth.


More than 200 engineers from across Australia and New Zealand participated in the workshop and discussed four main topics:

  • The primary skills to be cultivated by tertiary educational institutions
  • The important role of employers
  • Engineering is a profession
  • What can governments and Engineers Australia do?


You can imagine the lively debates that ensued! However, there was widespread agreement that future engineers need a thorough grounding in ‘First Principles Thinking’ – the ability to think critically and consider the essence of the challenge at hand. People agreed that two fundamental skills are paramount: the ability to think, and the ability to communicate and collaborate.


Tertiary institutions need to develop a clear understanding of the ‘engineering habits of mind’¬– systems thinking, adapting, problem finding, improving, creative problem solving, and visualising. Learning outcomes need to be based on these key skills, especially as more engineers work alongside artificial intelligence. The discussion moved to the important role teachers and mentors play in inspiring students on engineering’s purpose and benefits to the wider community.


But everybody agreed that employers need to be far more involved in educating future engineers via internships that expose them to diverse projects and give them the best chance to develop a range of critical real-world skills.


Universities and workplaces both need to involve engineers in more study tours and exchange programs. As engineering becomes more of a global profession, the focus sharpens on the key transferable skills of flexibility, speed and learning. People also thought professional codes of ethics should consider including commitments to lifelong learning, reflecting the critical need to maintain skills and knowledge currency – in short, keep up! Meanwhile, governments should set KPIs and create incentives for tertiary institutions, and Engineers Australia needs to review its accreditation standards and practices to reflect evolving realities.


Peter Statton, WSP’s Structures Technical Lead, is Deputy Chair of the National Structural College Board of Engineers Australia and was instrumental in making this conference a success. More than 250 registrations and 78 papers were presented by national and international speakers.


You can read more about this year’s conference here.


The next ASEC conference will be in Melbourne.


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