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“It’s time for engineers to step up”


Australia’s Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel, has called for engineers to step up and be thought leaders. He has shared his vision for 2025, where government and corporate bodies recognise the importance of engineers in improving business and Australian public life.

“The first engineer whose name is known to history is said to be Imhotep, who oversaw the construction of the Step Pyramid in the ancient Egyptian city of Memphis,” said Finkel.

“At the time, it was the largest building ever constructed, at more than 60 metres high; complete with temples, living quarters, courtyards and 13 false doors. It remains the world’s oldest known monument of hewn stone: a 4500 year-old testament to inspired engineering.

“We could say that the engineering profession doesn’t stand on a pedestal quite that high today.”

According to Finkel, it is very easy to take the people who put the planes in the sky and the electricity in the grid for granted.

As the old joke goes, “every technological success is a great scientific achievement, and every technological disaster is an engineering failure”.

Finkel has drawn attention to the importance of engineering by noting that many of the leaders of our time are engineers: “from Jeff Bezos at the helm of Amazon, to Sundar Pichai at the helm of Google, to Xi Jinping, President of China”.

“So much of their success, in turn, comes down to the ingenuity of their crack teams of engineers – teams with global impact out of all proportion to their size.”

Turning the conversation to Australian public life, Finkel said: “As an engineer come neuroscientist come Chief Scientist, I know that I don’t have to persuade engineers to take an interest in public policy problems.”

“It’s not in an engineer’s nature to sit in a traffic jam and not emerge with a prototype urban congestion plan.

“In my vision for 2025, the Master of Engineering is the equal of the MBA, if not the premier qualification that head-hunters for corporate boards want to see.

“Engineering concepts are applied with the same fluency in Parliament and the media as economic jargon is today – and the terms aren’t just co-opted, but understood. And engineers are encouraged and supported to step up as thought leaders in business and government alike: knowing how to make their knowledge useful at the tables where decisions are made.”

According to Finkel, leaders need to be able to grapple with the messiness of human affairs and build confidence in unconventional solutions.

“It can’t be done by pure engineering logic, but it can be done by perceptive engineers,” he said.

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