Is the future of engineering human?

At the World Engineering Convention held in Melbourne this week, day two was kicked off with a panel discussion based on a simple question: Is the future of engineering human?

The panel featured Meredith Westafer, senior industrial engineer at Tesla, John Sukkar, director of engineering design at CISRO, and Felicity Furey, co-founder of Power of Engineering and director of industry partnerships at Swinburne University.

When posed the question, ‘Is the future of engineering human?’, the panellists agreed on one idea.

As Furey summed up, machines will take on the mundane jobs, allowing engineers to focus on thinking, learning or creating in the future.

Sukkar was also of the view that engineering will only be augmented by machines and technology.

“Skillsets are changing but the products are not going to design themselves, we will still need engineers. We still need the knowledge and the ability to think and learn and design new things, whether it is in manufacturing, construction or digital technologies,” he said.

The discussion then led to the industry’s ability to attract and maintain engineering talent. It also debated how engineering talent can be defined and what it might look like in the future.

Westafer explained her idea of attracting talent is through the way in which engineering projects or objects are communicated.

This idea was expanded upon by Fury, she stated there is a need to change the language in which engineering is described from the outset.

“If we say things like build structures, write code and research or analyse data that actually can switch people off engineering, particularly girls… but if we use words adaptable, creative, organised, and motivated that can actually turn people onto engineering,” Furey said.

In order to keep talented engineers in the work force, Westafer explained that engineers need to be able to do what they are best at.

“It’s important to give engineers the freedom to do the design work. I think that this is the most commonly held complaint in the engineering world,” she said.

She highlighted that often on an engineer’s first day in the job they are sat down and told of strict processes to work by and restrictions around approvals for any new ideas.

“We need to give our engineers the ability to actually engineer,” Westafer said.