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An Engineer's View: 'Why we Need Engineers'

Tuesday, 16 October 2018   (0 Comments)
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Ninety-nine percent of everything people interact with daily, is man-made. By man-made, I mean nearly everything is: 

  • the result of a technology innovation either created or applied by an engineer.
  • built, manufactured or generated by value-add processes both developed and managed by engineers.
  • shipped and handled by thermodynamic miracles invented and improved by engineers.
  • powered by energy generated by petrochemical, nuclear and natural wonders like wave and wind energy harnessed by engineers.
  • used by people fed, clothed, housed and cared for via mechanised agricultural and industrial systems, including healthcare, characterised by continuously improving productivities and advances which reward us with generous free time, greater health and longer lives.

We need more Science Technology Engineering and Mathematically (STEM) educated people in every field, as a technology-driven society and innovation-based economy, it is a given.

For example, for every R1 of economic value directly generated by engineering intensive innovation and value add processes there is approximately R20 generated downstream in other fields such as law, banking, real estate, insurance. 

If we are to accommodate billions more people on the planet and address issues such as waste or material limits, we need more and more engineers and others to make it happen. We need all the engineers we can get. Even if we successfully meet all the current demand and then generate an army of unemployed engineers, an unemployed, bored engineer will literally make their own opportunities, and we will all benefit. 

Views and analysis
An example is global warming which is often the impetus for people to take up engineering. So, let me pen down my views and analysis.

Engineering marvels have enabled us to attain better food security by improving the yield per area for farming. Engineering marvels have helped us have a better quality of life in terms of both health and wellness overall by providing us with access to better equipment. Engineering feats are what have enabled us to communicate with each other from virtually anywhere.

These are not the feats of a single individual nor a small group of individuals. To get to these points we had to build upon the knowledge of the known and research and collaborate among millions of the brightest minds. But as we progressed, the scale of problems also increased exponentially.

To tackle these problems, we need more numbers of people collaborating and working together on these issues. So yes, to tackle these problems, we need more engineers, just to boost the odds of solving the problems.

If we successfully meet all the current demand and then generate an army of unemployed engineers, an unemployed, bored engineer will literally make their own opportunities, and we will all benefit.

Two-person economy
As for the other professions such as law, accountancy, or even entertainment, I agree they are important, they just don’t push the frontiers of humanity to a better level. In my opinion, we as an organism, can afford entertainment only after we have secured the safety of our existence. I read a story that may help to illustrate this. Consider a two-person economy.

One-man fishes with a rod and line and suppose he catches two fish per day. The other man chops down trees and makes firewood. They exchange, each day, one fish for one bundle of firewood.

Now suppose the fisherman invents a net which allows him to catch ten fish per day. Then, because he has always had a good relationship with the lumberjack, he decides to pay two fish for the same bundle of firewood.

After the invention, both men are richer: the fisherman has eight fish and a bundle of firewood, and the lumberjack now has two fish (and of course his firewood). The world needs more engineers because they invent the nets. Every engineer is compensated based on his or her ability to build something new or improve upon something that already exists. They optimise, research, and improve everything, constantly.
The world doesn’t just need engineers, it desperately needs them.


William A Hadley
MSAIMechE


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