Last year I attended Engineers Without Borders’ (EWB) UK annual conference, United for Change. The highlight was Nick Francis’ keynote speech, recounting his experience of leading a team of Royal Engineers to build three Ebola hospitals in Sierra Leone with a deadline of just 10 weeks from arrival to commissioning.
His was a fantastic example of an engineering challenge – utilising all of an engineer’s abilities and providing an inspiring benchmark that young engineers can be excited to work towards.
The life cycle of a construction project was condensed to an emergency disaster response timeline, with a wide range of local labour skill levels and resources to identify, adapt and utilise.
The remote jungle locations needed electricity and water supply, sanitation, shelter, laboratories and a mortuary, and the design of the facility specified that the sick must be kept separate from the staff at all times.
There to save lives and prevent a global pandemic, Francis and his team stretched themselves to their limits to fight a disease threatening to kill millions.
This is what more young engineers should be aspiring towards as we embark on our careers; to use the skills our profession provides us with to enact positive change around the world.
It is essential that young engineers understand the power that they wield, and are able to fully appreciate the ethical implications of their decisions. This awareness is not just important to tick off an IPD attribute, but helps ensure that engineers make the most of their incredible opportunity to make a positive impact – and simultaneously attract the brightest and the best into the profession.
The key message I took away from United for Change was the need to inspire the next generation of globally responsible engineers.
EWB incorporated this concept into its new strategy, released last month. Recognising our generation’s desire to make a positive difference in the world, EWB calls for a fundamental change in approach.
As Francis puts it, “as engineers, many of us come from a maths and physics background, but in reality engineering is all about people and the world we live in. As a profession we are too often happy to leave the big ethical issues to other people.”
We must change the way that we inspire the next generation of engineers so that we encourage diversity and growth in the profession. We must shout heroic stories such as Francis’ from the rooftops, to re-invent the public’s image of engineers and inspire future generations.
To meet the demand for engineers we need to promote the positive impact that they have on our global society.
We must change the way that we educate our engineers and better inform those that are already in the profession so that they give proper consideration to the global impact of their work.
We can be the instruments of change that make the world a better place, and that is something that young people can really get excited about!
Francis published a paper on his experiences in May’s ICE Proceedings.
Nicola Talbot is a member of Yorkshire & Humber ICE Graduates & Students Network