The Future of Engineering
On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union successfully launched the world’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik I. It ushered in new political, military, technological and scientific developments. Today, the world is heavily reliant on a growing fleet of communication, navigation and remote sensing satellites; from smart phone users to jet liners navigating across the globe. This stands as one amongst a myriad of engineering accomplishments that have stood as a key force in the improvement of the world’s economic well-being, health and quality of life.
The pace of technological innovations is constantly shifting rapidly as the population of individuals who interact with these innovations grows more diverse and complex. The presence of technology has led to an intense global interconnection. New industries and disciplines such as nanotechnology and medical engineering have interjected traditional disciplinary fundamentals as well as the application of more recent engineering developments especially information and communication technologies. Meanwhile new products and services that would be impossible without the knowledge and skills of engineers – for instance the internet and mobile telephones – have become a necessity in our everyday life.
With the prospect of the exciting new developments expected to come from such fields as biotechnology, nanotechnology, and high-performance computing, engineering is presented with an undeniable platform to define itself as a career for the most influential and valuable in society.
Technology is the centerfold of most activities conducted in society today. It is incumbent that engineers are able to play a role in shaping the ultimate use of this technology as well as devise the government processes that will control, regulate and encourage its use. The future engineer must be able to assume a leadership position to make positive influences towards public policies globally. This will also affect the general opinion and attitude of the public towards this profession, placing engineering as a desirable and significant career to pursue.
The opportunities offered by an engineering education are multifold, and this is not fully realized by young people, their parents, counselors, mentors, and the public at large. The current education programs available to the future engineer have failed to keep up with the increasing dynamism of the industry. Companies are in search for an engineer who possesses not only the technical expertise but communication skills and inter cultural capabilities as well. Young engineers must learn how to be creative, inventive as well as expose themselves to non-engineering interdisciplinary efforts such as business to accommodate the shifting demands of this field.
The current structure and content of most engineering courses offered in universities has not been adapted to cater for these demands. Furthermore, the output of new, high caliber engineers in the field has steadily declined over the years. Many young people are reluctant to pursue science, technology, engineering or maths related courses and careers. It is often viewed as too difficult, too dull or not well paying. For the engineering practice to be successful, educational institutions and the industry must partner to invest in drawing out a reservoir of talented people.
Engineers have an obligation to meet the basic needs of all humans for water, sanitation, food, health, and energy, as well as to protect the earth’s natural diversity. Currently, the world is facing significant environmental challenges. In the next two decades, it is estimated that the world’s population would have increased by two billion. This growth is expected to put a considerable strain on resources already considered scarce such as water, food, land, energy, healthcare and transportation. Additionally, some technologies developed over the past few years have had a negative impact on the environment.
Young engineers have an opportunity to develop solutions to some of these challenges by approaching engineering with a holistic understanding of economic growth and applying sustainable principles. Educational institutions must build a basic tenet to aspire future engineers to be leaders in the movement for building an economically sustainable system.
The future demands that engineers are able to adapt to rapid changes in global forces and create a balance in the standard of living for both developing and developed countries. With leaps in economies, communication and travel the world has become a synergized unit with all economies dependent on each other. Many of today‘s global challenges can only be addressed through engineers working collaboratively in international networks. Young engineers must embrace a broader vision of their professional role to achieve this.
The ability to live and work within a global environment is a key prerequisite for future engineers. They will need to understand foreign cultures and be able to design and develop products for a global market. They will be required to engage a variety of stakeholders to drive solutions for complex global problems.
For the young engineer to effectively impact the global community, the profession of engineering will have to transform. There are several opportunities for engineering to alter human development and become a cornerstone of modern society. Only through focused efforts from educational institutions, the engineering industry and society will we be able to evolve the profession fast enough to match the dynamic shifts globally. The only people who hold the key to solving the world’s problems tomorrow will be engineers and scientists who are going through their school and university education now.