It is time to restore engineers to their rightful place in the world - Hindustan Times
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It is time to restore engineers to their rightful place in the world

May 11, 2024 02:15 PM IST

Has engineering had its heyday? This might sound like an absurd question as we enter 2023 with a global shortage of scientific and technical talent, and a renewed focus on industrial sovereignty. This is calling for students to change direction in the name of environmental protection.

Has engineering had its heyday? This might sound like an absurd question as we enter 2023 with a global shortage of scientific and technical talent, and a renewed focus on industrial sovereignty.

 This is calling for students to change direction in the name of environmental protection.(YouTube/@rijkswaterstaat) PREMIUM
This is calling for students to change direction in the name of environmental protection.(YouTube/@rijkswaterstaat)

Yet, despite these challenges, we still see a growing wave of criticism deeming technology as incompatible with a sustainable future. This is calling for students to change direction in the name of environmental protection.

Against this background, I feel it is important not to lose sight of some very pragmatic considerations – and to keep in mind that technology is a large part of the answer to the social and environmental challenges we face.

This is not to say that philosophers, sociologists and other humanities specialists have no role to play, because we are clearly going to need to fundamentally rethink certain aspects of our ways of life, our relationship with nature and perhaps even how we organise our societies. But in the short term at least, our priorities are to push ahead on renewables, roll out the next generation of heat pumps, develop new battery technologies, design passive-energy buildings, invent new low-carbon modes of transport, and so on. And how can we do that without engineers?

Whether we like it or not, our world is shaped by technology. It has been that way since our ancestors formed the first permanent settlements 15,000 years ago, and we know there is no going back now. Engineers will always have a decisive role to play, treading the fine line between protecting the planet and enabling our societies to grow and flourish. Others may have a deeper understanding of the natural world around us. But when it comes to how we interact with our environment, engineers hold the answers. To refuse this reality – to dismiss it as “techno-solutionism” – is to condemn ourselves to inaction and, ultimately, to a bleak future.

If you want to change the world, become an engineer. This is what we should be telling our children. Because it is this very discipline and vocation that constitute our only real lever for bringing about, on a relevant scale, new ways to produce, live and consume. Their insights hold the key to more informed policy-making and their role is crucial to the resurgence of industry in our countries.

Of course, today’s engineers apply different methods and doctrines from those of their predecessors, and operating within planetary boundaries will likely become an increasingly important aspect of their work. As an engineer myself, and as the head of a company that employs large numbers of engineers, I have experienced first-hand the shifts taking place in the academic world and in industry. Leading engineering schools have overhauled their curriculums to sharpen their focus on climate change.

Finding solutions to the complex problems we face – solutions that take environmental performance and resource scarcity into account – is precisely what engineering is all about. It is high time to restore engineering to its rightful place as a compelling vocation for young people around the world.

This article has been authored by Patrice Caine, chairman and CEO, Thales.

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