The Art of the Possible: Why engineers should never stop learning

As modern engineering transitions from isolated industrial fields to interconnected systems, it’s never been more vital to curate the skills that keep you curious. In any engineering career, moving forward and making progress means being a lifelong learner.

Forward thinking

What do tomorrow’s engineers need to learn today? When we spoke to several engineers and engineering leaders, we discovered that it’s not about what you learn. It’s your attitude to learning — at every stage of your career.

Dr Bronwyn Evans, CEO of Engineers Australia, knows the value of building a team’s ability to acquire information and apply it flexibly.

Dr Bronwyn Evans, CEO, Engineers Australia

“Retaining the ability to learn has become the one skill every engineer must develop. Whatever we know now and whatever environment we operate in now, it won’t be the same in 10 or 20 years’ time,” says Dr Evans.

Hayden Loveday is an early career mechanical engineer in the HVAC industry. For Hayden, it’s important to stay in ‘growth mode’, to keep boredom from creeping in and to keep on top of work challenges.

“No matter how experienced you are, it’s always good to find a new way to do things. If you feel like you’re getting to a point where you’re not learning too much or you’re a bit stagnant, throw yourself back into the deep end again.”

Further along the career journey is Gary Swarbrick, Chief Technical Officer at Naval Group. Gary is leading the team designing Australia’s new Attack Class submarines. Gary views the engineer of the future as a thinker and an integrator.

Gary Swarbrick, Chief Technical Officer, Naval Group Australia

“Our job as an engineer should be to imagine how we can use emerging technologies in our own area of expertise. The challenge for future engineers is to think differently.”

Learning comes in all shapes and sizes

Communication skills, the ability to learn and critical thinking. These are all skills that take time to master. Working on your skills might look like building experience in another department or group, to gain the technical expertise to move you forward.

It might also look like staying connected with organisations like Engineers Australia (or EA), where professional development is part of the culture. EA membership offers easy options to pick up new skills and bounce ideas or problems around in a safe community of peers and leaders.

Finding your team

Even though we’re more connected by more channels than at any other time in history, it’s often hard to find and interact with a like-minded community. Here too, EA membership can help.

Thomas Burns, an electrical and software engineer working on projects like the 13 CABS app, found that EA gives him a voice in a very ‘noisy’ world, and connects him to people he would never normally get the chance to associate with.

“I’ve used my Engineers Australia membership to volunteer with Young Engineers Australia. What I’ve learnt is that there are a surprising number of similarities across different engineering jobs and there are some very interesting differences. But we’re all solving similar problems at the end of the day, just in a slightly different context.”

“The greater the variety of people I meet, the more I learn about myself, about the industry and about the world in general. And from that, I can take new knowledge back to my work to design better products and better systems.”

Staying open to possibility

Most engineers are time-poor, so it’s easy for professional development to slide to the back burner. But if you want to stay ahead, it makes sense to keep an open mind and tune in to emerging trends in your field.

Professional development has moved beyond tedious PowerPoint sessions to engaging, bite-sized training that’s ready to boost your engineering practice. As Australia’s peak body for engineers, EA has an industry-leading library of training resources designed to equip and inspire you for tomorrow’s challenges.

Take up the challenge

What does the future hold for Australia’s engineers? The challenge of relevant professional development is here to stay as Australia’s focus moves towards building our own industrial and commercial manufacturing capabilities in a digital-first environment.

Gary Swarbrick encourages engineers to meet the future head-on with a vivid imagination. “Our job as an engineer should be to imagine how we can use new technology in our own area of expertise and in our own application. I’d like to think that we imagine the art of the possible. And I think that’ll be as true tomorrow as it is today.”

Ready to step up and move your career forward? For a limited time, EA is offering free access to our Early Career Channel online training series. Visit engaus.org/stepup for more.

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