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Added: 1st August 2019 by Mott MacDonald
With the recent release of the Institution of Civil Engineers’ (ICE) professional skills report, we caught up with our chartered engineer Jason Hyde for a quick discussion on the future of engineering.
I’ve always had a desire to make a difference. A lot of things have changed from when I first started my civil engineering career, but I’ve always kept true to that original thought.
My career really got started after I successfully completed undergraduate and postgraduate engineering degrees and I decided to join Mott MacDonald.
Many of the skills I use today I learned on an ICE Quest scholarship and during my early post-graduation years. For example, early in my career I was tasked with designing a concrete viaduct for the second phase of the Nottingham Express Transit project.
During this time, I was seconded to work on site to provide a liaison between the contractor and our design team, as well as inspect multiple structures and manage bridge records.
The work was lengthy and challenging, yet necessary and formed the basis for all my future work.
Fast forward 10 years into the future and I am now a chartered engineer in our light rail team and I’ve worked on numerous innovative projects and presented technical papers across the globe.
I’ve started to think about the future and where I see engineering developing over the next few years. In my opinion, the application of technology is fundamental to improving design processes and driving efficiencies. It will allow engineers to spend less time drafting designs and processing hardcore equations, freeing them up to focus on developing innovative solutions. We must make sure that engineers keep innovating and figuring out new ways of doing things. Changing the industry won’t happen overnight, however I believe adopting new technologies is the easy part. What will be more challenging is changing people’s cultures and traditions, as people aren’t a piece of software that can just be patched if there is a bug.
People aren’t always accepting of change and this can be said about the engineering industry. However, we have hope. I recently helped coordinate an educational outreach event, in partnership with Network Rail, called Fast Trackers and during this I had the opportunity to speak to a bright 17-year-old, who explained the system used by trains to communicate with each other. It seemed that they learned the system through a simple internet search, which was comforting as it made me realise that the next generation of engineers are willing to learn quickly without being biased and will be able to find solutions that we as experienced engineers aren’t able to see.
If I could travel into the future and bring something back with me, it would have to be an engineer. I like to think that they would have ideas that can push the boundaries of our understanding and seek innovation from the fringes of the future industry. The technology that this future engineer will have at their disposal is an exciting prospect and this has made me reflect on the technology I use on a day-to-day basis. The one thing I always go back to is my pencil. To be able to fully communicate your ideas you have to use something to help bring them to life and there is nothing better than a pencil. Unless you’re using a whiteboard, then you can be tech savvy and use an electronic pencil or be traditional and use a board marker! I predict that the technology of the future will make engineers more efficient, though I also believe that we will still go back to the traditional ways of doing things from time-to-time, for example if technology fails.
Sustainability is important to the future of engineering. We could discuss the need to provide an alternative to concrete that uses less energy and is more environmentally friendly, however I think we sometimes overlook an important subject within civil engineering which is the legacy our projects leave. Mark Enzer, our Group technical director, previously used the phrase “not having to say sorry to your grandchildren” to describe sustainability. This has stayed with me as we, as engineers, shouldn’t have to say sorry. We drive improvement and strive to leave the planet in a better state than we found it. We consistently deliver projects that benefit thousands, if not millions, of people and we must not forget this. In fact, we need to shout louder about it.