Invisible engineers … again!

This week televised ceremonies announced the Australian Engineering Excellence Award winners.  Once again, the engineers and engineering were invisible. Just like the tunnel photograph. Tunnels are invisible from the outside, and we pass through them in darkness.

Here is the Create Magazine article that announced the winners. I read it and immediately noticed that both the engineers and the engineering were absent from the stories and photographs. None of the photographs of the winning achievements show any people, let alone the engineers whose efforts we are supposed to celebrate. There is little about the value generated by these achievements. None of the descriptions tell us inspiring inside stories from the inside. Other than the implication that these were recently completed projects, there is not even much we can discern about the reasons these achievements were chosen ahead of others.

These awards could be such an amazing opportunity to engage with our community, especially the opportunity to inspire school children thinking about engineering as a career. Naturally, with some achievements representing combined efforts by perhaps hundreds or thousands of engineers, it’s not possible to tell the full story in a series of online articles for short attention spans.

Most of the real challenges in these achievements were just as much about people and relationships as finding technical solutions, the stuff of fascinating human stories. Stories waiting to be told.

Think of the money spent on video presentations for every division, and how much more benefit we as a profession could have gained if only we had seized the opportunity to inspire a new generation of young Australian engineers. Well, there’s always next year….

Image Credit: Ricard Gomez Angel –

Why is engineering invisible?

Why is engineering invisible and so often taken for granted?  (Updated November 28, 2014)

In the preface of the book I explain some reasons why engineering practice has been invisible for so long. A combination of perceptual barriers has diverted attention from the complex socio-technical processes that dominate practice for engineers. These are mostly needed for collaboration and coordination and even in a small venture, they demand most of an engineer’s personal time and effort. According to the best data we can find from research, both our own and that of many others, this effort requires at least 60% of an engineer’s time, often more.

Scrapers-lrEngineers are also invisible in photos, like this one, winner of the 2011 Engineers Australia photo competition “Images of Engineering” by Mark Zvirblis Abi Group Contractors 2010 (with permission)

Part of the problem is complexity. Recruitment advertisements for engineers repeatedly emphasise communication proficiencies but, in reality, communication skills are only the bottom layers of many proficiencies needed for technical collaboration. In the book, I have set out a structured series of collaboration performances that engineers enact for their work, and why they are so often seem to be invisible and taken for granted. Continue reading