Leadership and influence

world engineering day

World Engineering Day announced at WEC 2019

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President of the World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO) Dr Marlene Kanga announced that, starting next year, 4 March will be celebrated annually as World Engineering Day for Sustainable Development.

Kanga made the announcement as part of her welcoming address at the World Engineers Convention, which opened in Melbourne on 20 November.

A vote Tuesday at the UNESCO General Conference confirmed the declaration of the date, which followed the adoption of a resolution supporting the proposal by the UNESCO Executive Board this past April.

The 4th of March has a particular significance for the WFEO, which was founded on that date in 1968. The peak global body represents 30 million engineers and 100 organisations.

“World Engineering Day is an opportunity to celebrate engineering and encourage young people to consider engineering as a career for a better world,” Kanga tweeted after the announcement.

“Let’s start planning our celebrations on 4th March.”

Engineering the future

If the world is going to successfully adapt to a carbon-constrained future and produce enough resources for all its inhabitants, engineers will be crucial.

Each of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, a set of targets for 2030, will require engineering to be successfully met.

Raising awareness of this — as well as overall importance of the profession — is part of the reason for adopting 4 March as World Engineering Day.

As WFEO President, Kanga has personally led the initiative.

“It was a remarkable process, with many twists and turns,” Kanga said.

“We had to learn along the way, receiving support and advice from the UNESCO Secretariat as well as various ambassadors from the UNESCO delegations to UNESCO. This is important because the proposal is put to UNESCO by member nations. It was supported by 80 engineering institutions from around the world with total membership of approximately 23 million engineers.”

Kanga wrote the explanatory note for the April session of the UNESCO Executive Board and the proposed decision.

“This eventually went through with little modification,” she said, adding that it seemed “touch and go” at the April meeting, though Namibia, China, Nigeria, France and UK supported the decision before “many countries from every continent followed”.

A worldwide celebration

World Engineering Day will celebrate the essential role of the engineering profession to a modern economy, its role in advancing the 17 SDGs, and its role in both modern and ancient history.

The day will also encourage engineering as a career in which science and mathematics can be applied to solve problems.

Proposed outcomes also include demonstrating high-achieving female engineers throughout the ages, addressing the gender imbalance, engaging with industry and government, and building awareness of the need for extra engineering capacity in developing countries.

“In all countries there is great deal to be done — to deal with the impacts of climate change, environmental issues, our growing cities and the challenges of new technologies including artificial intelligence,” Kanga said.

“There are many opportunities and the day can be used to engage with young people and say, ‘If you want to make change for a better world — become an engineer’.”

Kanga is currently in her second and final year as WFEO President.

“I am very proud that this will be one of the significant legacies of my term,” she said.

“Although there are 11 days in the calendar that celebrate various aspects of science, and a World Science Day on 11 November, there was no day that celebrated engineering.”

At the UNESCO Executive Board meeting, WFEO Executive Director Jacques de Méreuil, speaking on Kanga’s behalf, told the UNESCO Executive Board that World Engineering Day would be an opportunity to engage with society and young people, especially girls.

”You cannot have a modern nation without engineering,” he said.

“Engineers are critical to advance the 2030 agenda for sustainable development and we commend this decision that will enable focus on how engineering can create a better world.”

Kanga said it was important to put the profession forward.

“Look around you. Everything you see is nature. The rest is the result of the work of an engineer,” she said.

“World Engineering Day will be an opportunity to celebrate the remarkable achievements of engineers and engineering.”

Why the world’s engineers need to come together to build a better future

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The clock is ticking to achieve the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The World Engineers Convention will explore the crucial role the profession plays in hitting the UN’s 2030 target.

“Every single one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals requires engineering to implement, and this is the message we have been putting out since the goals were implemented two years ago,” said Marlene Kanga, President of the World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO).

As co-host of the upcoming World Engineers Convention (WEC) with Engineers Australia, WFEO will tap into its network of 100 member nations, comprising almost 30 million engineers, to make this a truly global event, Kanga said.

Each of the convention’s six themes aligns to the UN Sustainable Development goals – from technology and innovation to fostering diversity and inclusion, increasing liveability and preparing the next generation of engineers.

Across the three-day event, WFEO members present alongside Australian engineers on topics that showcase how these themes are being put into practice.

Trish White, National President of Engineers Australia, said collaboration between engineers from around the world is crucial to building a more sustainable future.

“It’s an exciting time to be an engineer, and this coming together of some of the world’s most prominent engineers is the perfect time to think about how you as an individual can make an impact,” White said.

“The No. 17 UN Sustainable Development Goal is about Partnerships — what are the connections and networks that need to be pulled upon to make it possible to fulfil the other 16 goals? That’s what makes the World Engineers Conventions a wonderful opportunity to come together and see what is possible for the future of engineering.”

This is the first time the event has been held in Australia — and it’s likely to be a long time before it’s on Australian shores again. As such, both White and Kanga urged the country’s engineers to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to connect with and learn from their peers around the world.

“There are some 500 speakers, about 25 per cent are women, and more than 60 countries are represented,” Kanga said.

“Whether it’s water, whether it’s energy, whether it’s sustainable cities, technology … It’s about engineers thinking about the impact of our work. It’s about the purpose of our work, and that makes engineering more meaningful.”

A pivotal moment

Besides coming to Australia for the first time, the World Engineers Convention also coincides with Engineers Australia’s centenary year.

The organisation was founded just after the end of World War I, which was a time of immense change similar to the one we are experiencing now, said White.

“It was formed then to help the country’s engineers take advantage of the great technological changes that were happening and help the many disciplines come together,” she said.

“We’re in a rather similar time now. The next 100 years will be a time of enormous technological change, so we need to come together to think about what is the potential future of the engineering profession.”

Having the World Engineers Convention hosted by Australia during this important time in Engineers Australia’s history speaks to the centenary theme of ‘Anything Is Possible’, Kanga said.

“I think we can communicate about Australian engineering to the world, just as the world’s engineers will communicate to Australia,” she said.

“We are bringing the world to Melbourne.”

The World Engineers Convention 20-22 November in Melbourne is about engineers coming together to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems.

To learn how you can help build a better world, register here

Dr Collette Burke, Victoria's first Chief Engineer

Victoria’s first Chief Engineer shares her vision for the future of the state

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With $10 billion of annual engineering projects in track, Victoria has created a new position to ensure impeccable advice and direction. Meet Victorian Chief Engineer Collette Burke.

There is a staggering portfolio of engineering projects in Victoria right now, from bridges to roads, railway stations to sporting arenas and hospitals to libraries.

It seems that everywhere one looks, new life is sprouting: unique shapes created to fit the future needs of a fast-growing state. Such a broad set of builds requires strong direction to ensure consistency, quality and fit for purpose.

Victoria's Chief Engineer Dr Collette Burke.

Chief Engineer Dr Collette Burke (front centre) will shape the future of engineering in Victoria.

The Victorian State Government realised that with so much on the line, regular expert advice was essential. In January this year it appointed Dr Collette Burke to the newly designed role of Victorian Chief Engineer. For Dr Burke it’s a role that, in a way, she’s been preparing for since she was 16 years old.

After undertaking work experience during her school days in civil engineering at a construction project at Melbourne Airport, she knew exactly where her future career would lie.

“I thought it was absolutely amazing,” she said.

“The work, the dynamics, the planning and building of the most amazing infrastructure you could possibly imagine – I said, ‘That’s it. This is what I’m going to do!’.”

Having gone on to study a Bachelor of Civil Engineering, a Master in Engineering Science, Harvard Business School courses and a PhD in risk management, Dr Burke is now the Managing Director of Exner Group, General Manager of Karsta Middle East and a Director on the VicTrack board.

In a candid interview with create, Dr Burke shared her vision of the future of engineering in Victoria.

create: How long is your appointment as Victorian Chief Engineer?

The appointment is for two years, but I am hoping to build a solid work plan that will extend far into the future for the role of the Victorian Chief Engineer.

create: What are your key priorities in this role?

Initially my focus will be on the extensive portfolio of projects in Victoria, so a key priority is to provide support and advice to government on those projects.

Another key area is looking at how we foster better connectivity between government, industry, educational institutes and professional bodies. How do we align and leverage off industry, performance and capability in an environment of such significant investment and growth?

With this level of growth and investment comes major demand on resources — so there will also be a strong focus on the engineering capability not just in government, but across the state. We have to look at how we leverage the engineering capacity and how we work with the education sector to make sure our young people coming through into the industry get practical experience and exposure to the profession, just as I did.

This way, we create the spark and continue to feed their interest in this field and facilitate them entering the workforce as job-ready graduates. Continuing to work towards a very deep pool of experienced engineers is essential.

create: So the role is as much about the engineering profession as it is about the government?

I believe it combines both, as a support to the government and across the project portfolio, with a key role in raising the profile of the profession. This will ultimately benefit government, industry, professional bodies and educational institutions.

We have to forge these partnerships in order to deliver and create the infrastructure that will allow our cities to continue to develop. Those partnerships and connectivity are critical.

create: How can the industry better serve the Victorian Government?

Engineers have very good technical and problem-solving skills, so now it’s important to take those skills and look at building an expert knowledge bank. We need to make it easier for engineers to build relationships and networks. We’re not just in offices undertaking design calculations, or out in the field executing construction. We’re building precincts and entire cities. We don’t just build infrastructure independently.

Infrastructure must be synergised in the existing and future environment. We need a collaborative approach that includes an understanding of environmental impact and social impact. It’s a different mindset from how engineers worked in the past. Digital engineering technology and project visualisation will greatly assist with this.

create: How far has the engineer’s registration system gone right now in Victoria?

It’s a bill that has been tabled in parliament, therefore it’s going to evolve in the path of legislation. As Victorian Chief Engineer I will provide advice and support to assist the registration system being implemented.

The system will create consistent assessment and registration of engineers in Victoria, and one of my key goals is to ensure it is implemented with minimal disruption to the engineering profession. Built into that system will be a continued professional development component to make sure engineers are keeping their knowledge current and building the industry’s knowledge base.

create: You’re also passionate about levelling the gender playing field?

Victoria's first Chief Engineer Dr Collette BurkeInterestingly, when I was younger and came into the profession, I must admit I was quite oblivious to the fact that gender was an issue. I was just so excited to be in the industry and simply didn’t understand that gender created a difference in my role.

Through my past involvement as President and National Director of the National Association for Women in Construction, I began to understand the wider gender issues in industry. I have worked hard in all organisations I have been a part of to ensure we continue to develop initiatives and pathways to attract, develop and retain a greater percentage of females.

We still have quite a low percentage of women in engineering. We need to continue to find mechanisms to attract more young women and ensure they are supported to reach leadership roles. This will add to creating non-homogenous teams, which produce smarter and greater outcomes.

create: How has the reaction been, so far, to the appointment of a Victorian Chief Engineer?

The reaction is overwhelming and very exciting. A significant number of both industry leaders, and governments are wanting to explore the opportunities and changes this role can bring to Victoria.

Common threads through the diverse engagement have centred around raising the profile of the profession, resources and capacity in the state, proven technology that can easily be adopted to assist performance of people and projects, and sustainable construction. I have incorporated these items into my priorities for the forward work plan.

create: At the end of your two-year appointment as Victorian Chief Engineer, how will you measure your success?

We’re heading into a new era that involves significant technological development. This means the way in which we deliver projects will be different from how we’ve done it in the past. This role is very much around ensuring a fostering of knowledge and a sharing of advancement, innovation and development between the government, the private sector, educational bodies and professional bodies.

Dr Collette Burke will be a keynote speaker at the World Engineers Convention 2019, 20-22 November in Melbourne. 

Register now.

Dr Collette Burke

Victoria’s first Chief Engineer talks how to raise the profile of the industry

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Victoria recently appointed Dr Collette Burke as its first Chief Engineer, a position that will help shape the state’s drive to modernise its infrastructure and make STEM an integral part of its economy.

As she begins her tenure, Dr Collette Burke spoke with create digital to tell us what’s on her agenda, how we can raise the profile of the engineering profession, and why you’ll start to see more Chief Engineers across the country.

create: What is your experience in engineering, and why were you chosen to be Victoria’s first Chief Engineer?

Collette Burke: I was selected for this role largely due to my extensive experience in the public and private sector. I started my career in site engineer roles, working my way to executive management and now into directorship and advisory roles.

I’ve delivered a diverse range of infrastructure projects including telecommunications, rail, road, marine and tunnels, and also have a PhD in risk management over the lifecycle of a construction project. This leaves me well placed to advise on risk management and best practice.

create: Australia has Chief Scientists, but few Chief Engineers. Why do you think we need Chief Engineers now?

CB: Investment in infrastructure development is currently at unprecedented levels, and it’s going to continue to grow over the next five to 10 years. I believe the government has realised the need for more expert input on how we design, engineer and deliver projects so we can develop world-class infrastructure for the benefit of our communities.

create: What are some issues on your radar?

CB: For quite a while we’ve been talking about integrated transport networks – how they operate and interlink, and how we move around cities and states. Moving into the future, there is a need to look at how we can maximise the use of existing assets, and how we can link that with further developments in data collection to look at things from both a state and national perspective.

We also have a shortage of engineers in both the private and public sector, so resourcing issues could continue to worsen. Upskilling our younger engineers with good quality work experience in the private and public sector will not only give them an advantage when entering the workplace, but it will also ensure the future supply of an appropriately skilled engineering workforce.

create: How can we raise the profile of engineers and their contributions to society?

CB: I believe government, industry and professional bodies have always had a good relationship. However, the mechanisms have not been in place to move the engineering profession forward in a united way.

Part of my role will be tapping into agency and industry bodies to see what’s on their agenda. After a couple of months, we should be able to gauge the mood of the industry and determine priorities.

Engineers tend to be quiet achievers on the whole. Promoting the profession will be not just working with government and industry, but interacting with universities, working in STEM education and looking at how we can promote those subjects to the younger generations.

People generally have a good understanding of what engineers do out in the private sector, however it’s important to promote and showcase roles and opportunities offered across all of engineering. We need to better understand career paths for engineering and how we can foster this development.

I also believe there is a need to create consistent standards across the board. In Victoria we are introducing a registration system for engineers, which will be an important step to achieving this goal. 

create: You have a history of promoting women in engineering. Will this be something you focus on during your tenure as Chief Engineer?

CB: We need diversity in the industry to get optimum outcomes, and certainly that includes diversity by gender. We need to make sure we continue to promote women, that we have good role models, and that we encourage younger women into the profession.

Having held the position as former director of the National Association for Women in Construction, I’m particularly interested in how we look at promoting and retaining women within the profession.

create: What legacy would you like to leave?

CB: This is a new position for the state, and as Victoria’s first Chief Engineer, setting up a solid foundation from the start will ensure future success for the Chief Engineer’s role.

I look forward to working with my state and national counterparts. I’m excited to interact with them and discuss how we can trade ideas and experience to ultimately raise the profession as a whole.

Dr Collette Burke will be a keynote speaker at the World Engineers Convention 2019, 20-22 November in Melbourne.

Register now.

Chief Scientist Alan Finkel’s plan to jumpstart Australian innovation

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As both an engineer and entrepreneur, Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel knows how to make things happen. He brings to his new role energised leadership, a vision to support great science and research, and the courage to confront real issues.

Soon after he was announced as Australia’s next Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel addressed the media at the National Press Club.

His speech began with a story about a fearsome and powerful warship, the Vasa, that was built in Sweden in 1625. Various tasks, he said, were outsourced to specialists in other countries during the ship’s three-year construction process.

Halfway through the build, the King decided he wanted an extra deck with more cannons, and of course his wish was granted. Twenty minutes after the ship’s launch in front of an enormous gathering on the shores of Stockholm’s harbour, it sank. A total of 53 lives were lost.

There had been no testing prior to launch, Finkel said. Specifications had changed at political whim. The workforce was split into silos, some separated by national borders. There was no prior research, no prototype built and no appetite for frank and fearless advice. In other words, there was no science.

Four hundred years later and science – evidence-based testing, modelling, candid and open discussion – is even more important in order to meet current and future challenges. Now that he holds the office of Chief Scientist, Finkel intends to create a new roadmap for Australia’s scientific future and, thereby, contribute to raising the nation’s scientific output.

Direct research funding

“Research infrastructure, of course, is not the roads and buildings,” he said.

“It’s the big ticket scientific equipment that has a national utility that will underpin our future ability to understand the cosmos, where technology is taking us, artificial intelligence, self driving cars, medical breakthroughs, and also capture and archive and use the information that gives us knowledge about our history and culture and our stories.

“I use the word ‘research’ rather than ‘science’ because the brief is not just to look at the physical sciences. It is not just to look at the natural sciences, but also to underpin and support the research [from] the experts from humanity, the arts and social sciences, too.”

Finkel’s aim, essentially, is to define where government might direct large amounts of research funding over the next 15 years in order to develop infrastructure on a national scale, accessible to researchers around the country. Such infrastructure, or ‘big-ticket scientific equipment’ as he called it, will mean great science becomes possible. With great science comes innovation – not that we don’t have a good innovation track record already.

“Australia is actually quite innovative and entrepreneurial, but not always in the space where people are looking for it,” Finkel said.

“People tend to look for entrepreneurship in ‘high tech’, ‘bio tech’ anything that ends in ‘tech’ … and they just don’t necessarily see it elsewhere.”

Look at the banking and mining sectors, he says, and you’ll see plenty of innovation. “Banks have developed and implemented back-end software and front-end software for their customers that transformed the way banking is done in this country,” he said.

“It’s much easier to do a transaction of any sort here than in America.”

In our mining sector, Finkel continued, you only need to look as far as the processes, systems and technologies put in place by businesses such as Rio Tinto and BHP to automate mines and make them more efficient, cost effective, environmentally friendly and safer for mine workers, to see innovation on a massive scale.

But still, the innovation in technology sectors as a measure of contribution to GDP is very small, likely below 1 per cent. Also low are the current translation levels of academic research to industry relevance.

And so science and innovation, which when done well go hand in hand, are twin obsessions for Finkel. The question is, how will he go about encouraging both?

Wear an engineer’s hat

As well as developing a plan for the next generation of all-important research infrastructure, Finkel said he is one of a panel of three reviewing the $2.9 billion a year R&D tax incentive to ensure it really is effective at encouraging research and development that would not otherwise have taken place.

As Executive Officer of the Commonwealth Science Council, he will measure the nation’s progress against nine national science and research priorities. He is also planning to develop a dynamic database of extracurricular STEM initiatives to teachers, students and parents, to help develop children’s interest in the topics from an earlier age.

All of this is just the beginning, the first steps to solve an enormous problem. But thanks to his education and experience as an engineer, Finkel said, he has the ability to break a problem down into manageable pieces.

“I think that, as an engineer, I bring that ability to analyse problems and test and deliver solutions in a very methodical fashion,” he said.

“With my engineer’s hat on I think of my role as an upside-down T. The base of that upside-down T is a lateral, or latitudinal component. That’s the breadth of research activity across publicly-funded research institutions.

“The vertical arm, which is the longitudinal component, is the translation of that research activity into the community for economic or societal benefits. So, perhaps what I bring as an engineer, beyond what I would bring if I was a scientist alone, is the specific interest in the translation all the way through to economic and societal benefits.”

That engineer’s outlook has also taught him that failure represents learning and opportunity, and that even a sunken ship can be turned into a positive.

At the end of his address to the National Press Club, Finkel explained that the Swedish warship Vasa sat on the bottom of the harbour for 333 years and was finally raised, almost perfectly preserved in the icy waters, in 1961.

“Raising it was a phenomenal feat of ingenuity and engineering,” he said.

“It was installed in a purpose-built museum, where more than a million people every year line up to see it. To Sweden, the Vasa is now a great source of national pride.

“Sweden didn’t give up on building ships. They built two-deck gunships. They built three-deck gunships. Gunships that became the pride of the Swedish military for the next 30 years. They helped to usher in the age the Swedes call ‘stormaktstiden’ – the Great Power Period. Failure – repurposed as a symbol of success. But we don’t have to get there from the bottom of the harbour. Let’s take the direct path to our own stormaktstiden, our Great Power Period.”

Let’s talk nuclear energy

Some have said that Dr Alan Finkel is pro nuclear energy. Where does he really stand on the divisive energy source? In a recent interview with the news website The Conversation, Finkel was asked about his views on nuclear energy. His answers made his point of view perfectly clear.

“I am not an actual advocate of building nuclear electricity,” he said.

“I am somebody who feels we should have an open debate about its potential to contribute.”

What is important, Finkel said, is that we choose an ambition, rather than a technology. That ambition, he believes, should be zero emission technology. In order to then achieve that goal, we must look at technologies that could make it a reality.

In this case, the big four energy sources would be solar and wind, coupled with some sort of energy storage method, as well as hydro and nuclear.

“Other ones that get talked about often in discussions, such as waves and tidal, just have not proved to be practical,” he said.

“If growth [in energy demand] is strong and if we are determined to approach a zero emissions supply as part of our commitment to meeting the Paris accord, then we have to use zero emissions technologies.

“But whether or not we should build nuclear depends not only on whether the technology can deliver zero emissions electricity, but also on the economics and the societal acceptance. And ultimately that is very much a decision for politicians.”

Dr Alan Finkel will a keynote speaker at the World Engineers Convention 2019, 20-22 November in Melbourne. 

Register now.