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The Corporation

Posted: 07/11/22

The role of modern engineering and what tomorrow’s engineer looks like

On the launch of the 10th annual Tomorrow’s Engineers Week (7-11 November 2022), David Gillies discusses the role of modern engineering and what tomorrow’s engineer looks like.

David Gillies is chief executive officer of ERIKS UK & Ireland. He is also a governor of West Nottinghamshire College and chair of its engineering employers’ advisory panel.

Engineering is such an infinitely exciting market, it touches everything in our lives. Anything we buy or use has, to some degree, been engineered. Somebody has gone through the thought process of: “What is the need? How should we do it? What materials will we use? What is the optimum design? How do we efficiently produce? How do we create the least volume of damage in terms of resources?”

Whether we are engineering a mug to have a hot drink or sending astronauts into space, engineers are an intrinsic part of that.

Modern engineering is about trying to make tomorrow significantly better than the past. By its very nature, engineering involves creating something that doesn't exist today – and that ‘something’ is focused on improvements, such as the way we produce our power, manage our food production, or re-utilise and re-manufacture materials. Because it's extremely environmentally damaging to continue to pull resources from the world.

It’s an exciting and forward-looking sector that needs a pipeline of new, talented people entering the market. Therefore, it is essential we capture the energy, enthusiasm and talent of future generations coming through.

Anybody can be an engineer; everybody can bring something important. But you've got to be interested, inquisitive and want to invest your time. Ultimately, I was inspired to become an engineer because I was interested. I still hold out the hope that, as engineers, we are making – and will continue to make – tomorrow a better place.

That means making things safer, more reliable, more efficient and less consuming. All those aspects must be considered when engineering something, particularly if it will be high volume. World population is increasing and resources are limited. We need to engineer our way through this to make sure we can feed future generations.

I believe passionately that people become engineers because they want to make a difference. It’s certainly true you can make a good living out of making a difference. After all, engineers meet a need, and that need is valued – and this ‘value’ represents an opportunity to move into this wonderful sector and enjoy a rewarding career.

However, the primary motivation to become an engineer is to solve problems. Today’s global challenges are extremely sizable, and we don't have infinite resources. Consequently, we must be more intelligent in the way we apply our time and our intellect to think our way through them.

We see evolutions in energy with solar, wind and wave technology, and advances in material science to create products that are lighter, and cost less to produce and transport. We see our ability to design accelerative systems that allow us to produce more, in less time, to meet emerging demands.

So, when I think about the engineer of the future, I see endless possibilities. But it’s imperative the sector continues to become more inclusive. Traditionally, engineering has very much been seen as a male-dominated environment and we need to change that. As employers, we may have siloed thinking around what a good engineer looks like, in terms of education, culture and gender.

Engineers come from everywhere and everybody has something to offer, through their culture, education and mind-set. We all look at a problem, and see a solution, through a different lens – that's the beauty of diversity.

We must continue to build an industry that's fully inclusive, populated by a diverse range of people who use their skills, knowledge and experience to unlock the untold potential around the solutions for today and the years ahead.

Huge strides are being made towards building a more diverse workforce – starting with getting children excited in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects from an early age – and it’s vital we carry on with even greater determination.

After all, diversity of thought is what will help us solve the problems of the future.

David Gillies is chief executive officer of ERIKS UK & Ireland. He is also a governor of West Nottinghamshire College and chairs its engineering employers’ advisory panel.

Click here to see the range of engineering courses on offer at the college. 

Tomorrow’s Engineers Week (#TEWeek22) is organised by Engineering UK to shine a spotlight on engineering, engineering careers and engineering professionals. Now in its 10th year, the annual campaign aims to show young people, their influencers and the general public the real face of modern engineering and to understand that engineering is for everyone.