14 DECEMBER 2023
With their Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) released and HSC results presently on the minds of most Year 12 school leavers, an engineering academic argues we need a new mindset to confront the huge shortage of engineers in Australia.
By Ms Shara Cameron (pictured, inset), Course Director and Senior Engineer-in-Residence in the Charles Sturt University School of Computing, Mathematics and Engineering.
As many Higher School Certificate (HSC) students wonder whether their ATAR will be enough to gain admission to the course of their choosing and whether they have the right HSC subjects, I hope they don’t discount a career in engineering because of the maths they studied.
Australia is facing its largest ever shortage of engineers, particularly civil engineers. The Chief Engineer for Engineers Australia, Jane MacMaster, recently expressed that, “We need more young Australians to study maths at higher levels and higher standards, in order to be the pipeline of our future engineering workforce.”
While I do have concerns about the state of maths education in our schools, I think we need to take a different approach to solving this shortage. Waiting for big changes in Australia’s education system will take too long.
Engineering has long been seen as a career for maths and science ‘nerds’ and this isn’t true and needs to change.
We are limiting the potential pool of engineers by perpetuating this stereotype. We need to approach the problem of a huge shortage of engineers in Australia, with a new mindset. Engineers are excellent problem-solvers, and we need to use these skills on our own profession.
Sustainable development, climate change, water shortages, increased frequency of natural disasters, population growth, efficient transport systems and creating infrastructure to support thriving communities are just a few of the challenges that civil engineers can contribute to overcoming in the coming decades.
Facing these challenges will take more than just maths and science ‘nerds’. These issues need creative, engaged people from all genders and cultures to work together to continue to create thriving urban, rural and regional communities around Australia.
Engineering students study for four years and I believe maths is only one small part of the foundational knowledge required to be an engineer. Engineers need to be strong communicators and team workers, system thinkers and project managers. So, does it really matter what subjects were studied in Year 12?
Students who care about the environment and enjoy studying geography, earth and environmental science, design and technology and agriculture would make great engineers. As a community we need to encourage all these students to consider this as a career.
When taught in an engineering degree by experienced educators this required content can be quickly covered. Students who may not have been motivated or interested in maths at school can see things totally differently when maths is given meaning in the context of engineering.
In my opinion, most engineering degrees contain too much maths. This has occurred over time due to some academic snobbery, informed by academics who are out of touch with industry and focussed on recruiting researchers rather than training practicing engineers.
Engineers do not sit at a desk all day doing mathematical calculations
Engineers design and problem-solve. They use their engineering judgement. They are informed by a whole range of tools including software and, increasingly in the future, artificial intelligence (AI).
A good engineer has the foundation knowledge to understand conceptually how this software is calculating the design and the inputs and outputs; however, they will very rarely use the maths themselves.
So, a good engineer, even a great one, can scrape through maths and even not particularly like it.
At Charles Sturt University we don’t have prerequisites in maths or anything else for engineering, and this is a decision I defend. Charles Sturt civil engineering courses are based on problem-based learning and industry placements so that learning is done in context.
We welcome a diverse range of students, including school leavers and mature age students. We provide support and paths for our students to learn the maths and sciences they need along with all the other engineering skills and knowledge.
With large scholarships and paid work placements throughout the course it is a great option for tradies or others to consider a career change.
Who can you encourage to think about a career in engineering today?

To arrange interviews with Ms Shara Cameron, contact Bruce Andrews at Charles Sturt Media on mobile 0418 669 362 or news@csu.edu.au

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We pay our respect to all First Nations elders both past and present from the lands where Charles Sturt University students reside. In particular, we acknowledge the Wiradjuri, Ngunawal, Gundungurra, and Birpai peoples of Australia, who are the traditional custodians of the land where Charles Sturt University campuses are located.