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The Forum > Article Comments > Engineering Australia's future > Comments

Engineering Australia's future : Comments

By Tanveer Ahmed, published 27/10/2005

Tanveer Ahmed argues Australia needs more engineers and less bankers to secure our economic growth.

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The problems identified by Dr Ahmed, i.e. a lack of perceived high financial rewards for scientists, engineers and technologists are real. However there is little to be done, at least in the short to medium term about those perceptions. It will take a long time for it to 'sink in' that engineering at least offers plenty of reliable and interesting jobs - globally. Because the demand side problems are not easily amenable to resolution it is important that attention be turned to the supply side. By that I mean the enrolments and standards of maths and the numerical sciences in secondary schools. Enrolments are weak, standards worse. That problem is something that governments, given the will, could rectify. The various Boards of Study now compel students to study highly diluted material and then be assessed by methods that owe little to objectivity. Education faculties churn out teachers who frequently lack essential subject knowledge and are imbued with teaching methods and school organisation systems that actively militate against high achievement. A drastic parliaments driven revolution of schooling is long overdue.
Posted by eyejaw, Thursday, 27 October 2005 2:19:28 PM
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A lot of kids donít know what an engineer does. They think they are mechanics or something similar. Engineers Australia is currently trying to fix this perception of engineers in schools. Kids are also steering clear of the sciences in school such as the higher level of maths, essential to studying engineering at university. They are taking the easier options available to them. I agree with Dr Tanveer Ahmed that TV plays a major part in influencing young peopleís career options such as the half dozen law and crime shows currently shown on TV. I remember when I was at primary school coming home from school and watching a kids science program (can anybody remember the name of it?, have a look now at the rubbish been shown after school to our kids.

PS I do not wear glasses and would not be considered a geek
Posted by MechEngineer, Thursday, 27 October 2005 6:27:14 PM
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Its true that there is a perception inside and outside the engineering profession that engineers are not adequately paid for the work they do. Labourers with no responsibility and no education on construction sites are paid more than the young engineers.

I know several excellent engineers with bright children. When I ask the children if they are going to study engineering at University they usually reply "No, I've seen how hard my Dad works and he doesn't get paid enough." These are people who know exactly what an engineer does. I know one example where the NSW engineer of the year's son, is now an investment banker.

One reason that engineers don't share the status of doctors and lawyers is that engineers spread the knowledge around and try to make the knowledge less mysterious. Plumbers know a little hydraulics, electricians know a little power engineering, carpenters and concreters know a little structural engineering. Lots of engineering problems can be solved without an engineer. If you ask a lawyer or doctor to explain why they make some recommendation, they imply that it is just too hard for the layman to understand.

Another perception that is hard to overcome is that once you graduate in engineering you will always be "just a technical guy." Whereas a business or finance major has the world laid out in front of him. In fact, an engineering education is excellent training for a wide variety of careers, because it teaches science, technology and problem solving.

I think Dr Ahmed has written an interesting article but I wish he would offer some solutions rather than just describe the problems. We live in a capitalist society. Engineers are paid what the market will bear. It is also unlikely that we are going to see a sexy new TV show about engineers although CSI and NCIS use a lot of science in their crime solving. Even my teenage son says "Gil Grissom is cool."
Posted by ericc, Thursday, 27 October 2005 8:07:45 PM
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Continued from above:

One of the hardest things to sell for the engineering profession is that engineering is fun. Nobody wants to believe it. I honestly think that is one of the factors that keeps engineers salaries low. Engineers love doing their jobs.

I know many engineers who have turned down higher paying, more senior jobs because "My whole job would have been management. I'd rather stay with the calculations and the nuts and bolts engineering work." I doubt if many accountants turn down promotions so that they can continue adding up balance sheets.

This also contributes to the nerd factor for engineers. The nerd always has his calculator out solving a problem or figuring something out. The reason that we always have our calculators out and are trying to solve problems is that engineering is fun and it is fun to find the answer to a problem. It feels great and you can't wait to get the next problem to solve.

One thing that I think IEAust could do to promote engineering is to do profiles of high powered engineers or people in high powered positions that have engineering training. That way you could show that engineering trainaing is good for a variety of positions not just nuts and bolts engineering.

One thing the government could do to promote engineering is ensure that engineers get the high powered civil service jobs where it is appropriate and then let it be known that the skills needed are engineering skills. The heads and boards of directors of the Roads authorities and Environment authorities in many states don't have any engineers on them. It would seem like that would be critical, but apparently it is not.

I hope we can continue to progress without much interest in engineers.
Posted by ericc, Thursday, 27 October 2005 8:30:46 PM
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Unless you have the 'perpetual employeee' mentality, here is a strategy for Engineers.

Work for some company after you graduate, get the expience we all need for a few years, then identify 'something' you can make or improve, or invent, or do better- leave and start your own company !

After all, when the crunch comes the company which employs you will think little of downsizing the Eng dept when they need to, no matter if you have been faithfully and selflessly giving and giving of yourself for a decade.

When you have identified that 'something', zip over to Singapore, then goto the Island of Pulau Batam, just 40 minutes by Ferry, check out some VERY low cost factories with labor rates similar to China and make that 'something' and sell it to the world.

Forget Australian labor, you won't compete, at least that's what the government has been telling us.

Or... if your 'something' can be pretty much 90% assembled by automation, then you have a chance of competing, so you can employ maybe 1 or 2 people to do the associated admin and stores work, whereas in the past you might have required 20 production workers to load your circuit boards. (speaking from my own field of electronics)

As for your customer service, well that's simple, outsource that to a Malaysian call centre in Cyber Jaya, when you need to go there ..simple, jump on a plane, over to KL, then onto the Fast train enjoy the sights of Oil Palm planations for a few minutes, a little bit of Pavaroti thru the AV system and "viola"-you are there.

Yes, we need more engineers, but we also need a framework which will make them meaningful and fulfilled.

Korea and Taiwan, have similar populations to Australia, pay rates are MUCH higher than China, yet we export commodities to them for steel etc.......we don't value add.

How stupid, selfish and short sighted we are.

Do we have any engineer who can see ways to work "smarter" than Korean Ship builders, or Taiwanese chip makers ?
Posted by BOAZ_David, Friday, 28 October 2005 9:24:28 AM
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ooops.... I forgot one thing.....

Among the jobs which are already being outsourced to Asia

Customer Support
Back office/Clerical/Accounts
Hi volume Low cost Manufacturing
Car parts
IT/Software design

I should add 'ENGINEERING'

Its as easy as getting on a chat room, finding some bright Engineer in India or whereever, and making your deal there and then.

Design me a widget which will do such and such.

All communications are as fast as within Australia, by email etc...
Payments from your computer with International money transfers.... piece of cake.

But don't worry .. I can probably grow enough vegies to feed myself and maybe 20 other families on my place, so if we work together, we might survive.

I think we are not headed for a crisis, it has already arrived, we just don't see the fallout because like smoking, you don't get cancer after the first puff, but in the end it gets you.

During the 'Asian Crisis' Malaysia bucked the system and pegged it's Ringgit to the US dollar. Everyone poo-pooed them, but now they are doing fine thankyou very much.

Survival in this dog eat dog world will take creative and radical government action, some protection, some innovation, and a lot of clear thinking. I say 'government' because private enterprise has a simple way out if things don't go their way.. MOVE TO BRAZIL or somewhere.
Posted by BOAZ_David, Friday, 28 October 2005 9:34:42 AM
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