Australian Engineers losing their skills?

Australia’s intelligence is dropping. Not the general intelligence, but a specialised type of intelligence that is essential for Australia’s economic and general prosperity.

It’s a drop in the natural and intuitive comprehension of technical systems. For years it has been implicitly assumed by educators that engineering students have this comprehension. Even though this is really no longer the case, there has been no major change in the education (primary, secondary and tertiary) system to compensate.

To many of us, this might not seem like a major issue. However, without well-trained engineers (and other technologists), Australia won’t be in a position to develop the new technologies that make it easier, faster and cheaper to do things. When it becomes easier to do anything (travelling through a city, making a product, building a house or sending information electronically, for example), it naturally becomes more affordable.

And those who know how to make it easier not only improve the wealth of society, but are soon in a financially better situation themselves. The value of engineering – and its effective education – to a country is obvious once you think about it.

Nevertheless, because of the drop in the average comprehension of technical systems within our society and no effort to account for it, we cannot hope to produce the quality of engineers that we once did.

This started more than a decade ago.  Clint Steele recalls a lecturer of his about to use a component of a car to explain a phenomenon, but then catching himself and making the comment that ”students don’t work on their cars the way they used to”.

It is harder these days to work on your car or to fix your appliances or garden equipment. These days things just aren’t made to be repaired.

Obviously, the typical exposure to the inner workings of technology that the average Australian can expect growing up is reducing.

In his article, Mr Steele reveals a division where the cars are made of paper. Their design is remarkable, but because the students build the car by simply putting the parts together, they gain insufficient technical expertise of how the car was actually engineered. In other words, they gain less technical aptitude because they are removed from the creative process of engineering.

Without exposure to technology and how it works, young Australians will neither develop an interest that will motivate them to pursue a related career or develop an intuitive understanding that will let us develop the excellent engineers that are so vital to Australia’s future.

For some time, we relied on country students (who gained the required insight from working on farm equipment) and the rare students who maintained an interest in Lego or Meccano to an age that some would consider unhealthy. But these students are becoming rarer.

This reduced interest means students don’t consider engineering until later in high school, and often don’t take the ideal subjects in their final years (physics, chemistry and mathematics). The result is that the entry standards for engineering courses are reduced, and exacerbate the problems already mentioned.

Teaching technical skills in engineering degrees is too late; without the early interest in technology, students just won’t develop the interest and motivation that will encourage them to select the ideal subjects for an engineering degree, let alone the intuition essential for excellent engineers.

If we don’t take this aspect of education just as seriously, Australia will struggle to remain competitive.

That’s why my blogs, programs and events are so vital for engineers to consider – to maintain and further develop the highly sought after skills that employers are willing to pay a premium for.

1 Response to “Australian Engineers losing their skills?”

  • This is a very important issue for Australia. According to recent articles such as this in The Australian we have less than 1/3rd of the required number of engineers graduating each year in Australia.

    So we are in danger of not only losing our edge intellectually, but also our capacity to commercially meet future societal demands.

    Engineering is a very demanding profession so outstanding study skills is a huge advantage when undertaking such a career.

    Ray Keefe
    Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd
    Casey Business of the Year 2010
    MSE Business of the Year Finalist 2011
    Award Winning Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development

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