A recent roundtable discussion, moderated by Engineers Australia National President Dr Nick Fleming FIEAust CPEng, set out to identify the opportunities and threats on the minds of CEOs and board directors in engineering and engineering-related sectors.
Attendees included representatives from property investment company Mirvac, engineering consultancies Aurecon and Beca, construction association Ghella and investment company Macquarie Group.
“The attention of CEOs is largely captured by what’s in front of them now,” he told create. “They consider the work that needs to be resourced and delivered.
“I was keen to move beyond that and look at the medium-term issues, to ensure Engineers Australia positions its thinking and activity more strategically and less reactively.”
The roundtable was preceded by another session, hosted by Engineers Australia CEO Romilly Madew AO FTSE HonFIEAust EngExec, which examined topics such as bilateral agreements and the importance of engineering-positive government policy and support.
“These conversations are different from the conversations we usually have and allow us to tap into the minds of directors,” Fleming said.
Several key themes emerged during the most recent roundtable.
The discussion firstly touched on the perception and ‘branding’ of engineering. The essential issue, Fleming said, boils down to ensuring that students and young professionals are aware of the possibilities of engineering as a vocation.
“How do we raise the profile, impact and perception of engineering in their eyes?” Fleming asked. We are “swimming through a sea of engineering products and opportunities” that are ripe for the taking – if only would-be engineers are shown the potential that can be achieved by pursuing such a career.
Challenges in the world of skills and training were also front-of-mind for participants, in particular the role of AI and how to identify the priority jobs of the future.
“How do we bring more people into the profession?” Fleming asked. “How do we improve the balance between professional engineers and technologists? How do we get the best out of the team? Are we using professional engineers to do jobs that others could do?
“At the end of the day, the real challenge is not only to deploy an effective workforce, but to train at pace as well.”
Increasing the productivity of workers was a highlighted priority. Fleming suggested a possible solution lies in taking a modular approach.
“Currently, all major engineering projects are bespoke,” he said. “Maybe we should take a more modular approach to manufacturing.”
The design of a new bridge, for example, could be chosen from a line-up of possible options rather than designed from scratch.
“This could also play out in the energy sector,” Fleming said. “Say one consulting firm does the design for substations and another handles delivery of those stations. It’s about collaboration and updating the business model to get the job done without every entity involved acting in isolation.
“That way, we could achieve much greater productivity because less time is spent engineering everything afresh.”
“Company CEOs and directors realise that we need to maintain high standards in the industry,” Fleming said. “Because when something goes wrong from an engineering perspective, you don’t just risk one life, you risk many. The consequences of getting something wrong are significant.”
On the flip side of the coin, however, is a realisation that there is a lot of work to get through – and that’s where considerations about balancing those two aspects come into play.
The tendency to elevate the standing and achievements of professional engineers over engineering technologists and  engineering associates, as well as tradespeople who may not have a direct qualification in engineering but who nonetheless are highly skilled in their field, is tangible to Fleming.
“After 15 to 20 years of practice, many technologists, associates and tradespeople become phenomenally good, so we need to recognise the contribution of and nurture the entire engineering team,” he said.
“Further to this, because of digitisation, the skills that are required to deploy and maintain engineered technologies are becoming more sophisticated.”
“The energy transition is the biggest thing this country’s ever done,” Fleming said. “But if you look at the current discussion around the energy transition, the headlines that dominate are about how we can’t get it done on time, full stop.
“We have to get beyond the full stop and actually ask what we’re going to do. We need to be vocal about taking a much more modular or collaborative approach to these issues.”
Fleming said that there may likely be another roundtable to further identify solutions to these and other concerns. This is in addition to an ongoing effort by Engineers Australia to engage key leaders within organisations to canvas their perspectives and promote the benefits of collaboration.
“Engineers Australia is currently setting up a capability to conduct further strategic foresight work which would enable us to not only fuel conversations but respond to them as well,” he said. “It’s part of our organisational evolution.”
Lachlan Haycock is a journalist and translator who has written for publications in Australia and abroad. His passion for all things Indonesian is second only to the accurate use of apostrophes on public signage.
An insightful presentation.
While I never regret becoming an engineer, my career path covered much varied activities and required me to learn additional skills and interact with people with many other skills.
Individual engineers need to ask ‘what is my role’ in each situation and act on the conclusion.
EA leadership impressed when I lived on the Sunshine Coast and attended regular meetings. Now, based in Brisbane, I read the EA emails with interest.
EA leadership is on the right track. Please be prepared to state what has to happen in Australia and please don’t go woke.
The headlines that dominate the energy transition fail to highlight what I see as a looming crisis.
Subsidised renewables in NSW can now supply over 50% of demand on a good day.
Coal provides the bulk of power when there is close to zero from renewables.
Existing gas, hydro and batteries cannot provide NSW baseload support for renewables or sufficient backup to allow closure of another coal station.
Increasing renewables now will make it more difficult for coal stations to provide reliable baseload, having to regularly adjust generation over a wider range of output.
The community is being told that coal stations can be closed because there are batteries, gas, Snowy 2, hydrogen, maybe SMR & more pumped storage. These are small scale compared with what coal delivers and most are many years away.
Snowy2 will be important to help with renewables but is only 70% the capacity of Eraring and is not baseload. Closure of any more coal stations before an equivalent capacity of reliable baseload is provided would be high risk.
Good engineering begins with DESIGN. The transition seems to lack an engineering voice, submerged under the noise of emissions, climate change, politics, commercial interests. Where is the DESIGN?
With an open mind the Energy Transition should consider use of Nuclear Energy to achieve net zero status. If other countries can do it there is no reason why Australia cannot do it.
Why is Australia so opposed to nuclear power? Unlike solar, wind and batteries, it is stable, reliable and controllable. It is also much cheaper, and with a transition to nuclear, the power stations could be co-sited with the present power stations. Also, the existing high voltage transmission can be used, and our farmers would not have to surrender their land to hundreds of new transmission lines .
Norway has gone nuclear, and the electricity is very reliable and prices have fallen considerably.
It is impossible to run a power grid with uncontrollable generators such as solar and wind, and a black start could not be carried out. Solar panel systems and wind turbines cannot control voltage or frequency.
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