Has Engineering Divorced?

I came across this report on the economic contributions of engineering prepared by PWC for Engineering New Zealand. In preparing the report, PWC and Engineering New Zealand assembled about 20 senior engineers from a representative sample of industries and asked them to write a brief description of engineering.

Fascinating.

Here’s a word cloud summarising the result.

Now, what’s gone missing?

Remember that this was an exercise in assessing the economic significance of engineering in New Zealand…

Still wondering?

Read more to see what I think is missing

Pothole in Australia’s Emissions Policy?

Over the last few weeks I have been studying Australia’ climate and emissions reduction policy. Remember the bush fires before Covid-19 took over the news media? Few disagree now that we have to hurry up and got on board the world-wide push towards zero net emissions by mid-century… except perhaps Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Minister Taylor assert that Australia will meet the 2030 emission reduction target “in a canter”. We may just do that, but in 2031 or soon after we will hit a massive pothole unless we make changes very soon.

Australia is relying on emission credits carried forward from the 1997 Kyoto climate accord to the December 2015 Paris agreement. We undershot our emissions targets over several years, partly because of the cap and trade scheme we started in 2012 which Tony Abbott labelled the ‘carbon tax’ before abolishing it.

Never mind that carrying forward credits is not mentioned in the Paris agreement. Our government is going to try and float this one anyway.

According to the 2019 projections available at the Industry Department web site, we can maintain our current level of emissions with no further reductions right out to 2030 using these credits. But, then what?

Read this op-ed piece and see if you agree with my assessment. Comments welcome!

Did you see or comment on the government’s low emissions technology roadmap? In a few days I will post my comments and submissions.

Blinded by Tech?

These days, apparently, “tech” is ubiquitous.

Technology will save us?

Yet technology, the word, now means much less than it used to: it has been slimmed down to mean mobile phones, apps and gadgets. I asked a few friends: they said tech means an electrical gadget like a phone. Is an electric toaster technology? Oh no, they said, it’s too simple, too ancient. So “tech” has to be complex? “Ah, yes!”

Read to learn more

Can Indian engineering regain its former shine?

India has produced some of the world’s greatest engineers and scientists and graduates hundreds of thousands of engineers annually. Mughal Indian civil engineering led the world 500 years ago. Therefore, today’s relatively slow progress towards a modern, sustainable, industrialized society is puzzling. India’s national productivity, along with many other low-income countries, lags advanced economies like USA, Japan, and Europe by a factor of about 5, a gap that has hardly changed in many decades.

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Engineering graduates will need help very soon

The most critical issue for engineering right now is a collapse in short and medium term employment opportunities for engineering graduates.

27th July 2020: Since this post went up, I learned something. The only response came from an engineer who regularly writes on LinkedIn, suggesting that this problem was caused by universities who graduate too many engineering students. I learned that readers of this forum and my posts exhibit a disappointing lack of empathy for others less fortunate. I am unsure why. If you have suggestions on how to evoke a more positive response, please let me know. My suggestion was declined by Engineers Australia on the grounds that they do not have resources…. even though the hard work would be done by volunteers.

It’s not just the Corona Virus. Mobility restrictions and the oil price collapse are stopping engineering projects around the world.

Project cancellations and a loss of investor confidence will force engineering firms and suppliers to curtail hiring and many will close or stand down existing employees.

What can we, as a global community of engineers, do to help the next few cohorts of engineering graduates, many of whom will find it nearly impossible to find paid engineering work? If we don’t find ways to support these people, we risk losing a generation of engineers and stifling an economic recovery with critical engineering skill shortages.

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Corona virus will be more lethal for startups than bushfires

Update May 1st 2020: A modest success. With the help of friends and politicians, I and others managed to persuade the Australian Treasury to modify the JobKeeper scheme to include startups like Close Comfort and many others. A lifesaver for us. Thank you to all those who listened and acted!

The Australian government’s business rescue packages, while welcome, have overlooked the future: thousands of small and successful startups. Startups in many other less fortunate countries may struggle to survive.

Our company, Close Comfort (www.closecomfort.com), a small family-owned business, cannot demonstrate a 30% year on year loss of business to be eligible for assistance because we have invested to grow our sales. Now we face a similar financial catastrophe like tourism and hospitality businesses as our sales and sources of investment capital dry up simultaneously.

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Engineering the Sustainable Development Goals

Click here for the article: Engineering the Sustainable Development Goals

It actually appears at SDGO, a respository of published knowledge on implementing the UN Sustainable Development Goals by Taylor & Francis, publishers of my book The Making of an Expert Engineer. I was very honoured to be invited to help edit this collection… and in that role, contribute this opinion piece. In this piece I argue that engineering is the key to achieving all the goals. Particularly in low-income countries.

Since I started taking an interest in the SDGs, it concerned me that there’s so little on the critical role of engineers. It’s not just the obvious goals… water, sanitation, energy, cities… picked out by the World Federation of Engineering Organizations. In fact, even WFEO have struggled to gain recognition in the UN system. Currently engineering lies pidgeon-holed under the assistant director general of the UNESCO natural sciences division. If you browse the UN SDG web site above, you will find it hard to find any mention of engineering. In 2010 UNESCO commissioned a report on engineering. It shows just how far we have to move. I performed a content analysis of the text and the words “value” and “benefit” are linked overwhelmingly to attending conferences! I guess that fits with the UNESCO culture.

So does it really matter that engineering is not recognised as a real solution for implementing the SDGs?

Read more ON THIS TOPIC

What works in Higher Education…

… and perhaps what doesn’t seem to be working.

Recently, thanks to a tweet from Jenni Case, I came across Michael Schneider’s and Franzis Preckel’s analysis on the influence of 105 variables influencing student learning performance in higher education [1].

Teaching staff are being urged to adopt new and supposedly better teaching methods than traditional lectures. With more than 60 different methods ranging from problem-based learning to flipped classrooms, it can be hard for even an experienced university teacher to know where to begin. And then there are dozens of student factors that also influence learning performance. Knowing which characteristics of students, teachers and instruction methods influence learning outcomes and by how much will be immensely helpful which is why this is an amazingly useful paper.

The results should be compulsory reading for everyone involved in university teaching.

Read on for more details and the results summary

Can Indian engineering regain its former shine?

India has produced some of the world’s greatest engineers and scientists and graduates hundreds of thousands of engineers annually. Mughal Indian civil engineering led the world 500 years ago. Therefore, today’s relatively slow progress towards a modern, sustainable, industrialized society is puzzling. India’s national productivity, along with many other low-income countries, lags advanced economies like USA, Japan, and Europe by a factor of about 5, a gap that has hardly changed in many decades.

Continue reading

How important is STEM education?

Recent reports have highlighted Australia’s declining results in PISA testing of maths, science and reading capabilities of children. Some in particular have drawn attention to Australia’s relatively weak performance compared with China and Singapore. I am unsure what this means. Should we invest more in maths and science education?

The Singaporean government is making it harder for foreigners to work there. International company people I meet in Singapore complain that young Singaporeans cannot perform as well as foreigners and demand too much pay, and the government is trying to force companies to employ more locals.

Read more: I argue that STEM is not the most important priority