Engineering a social impact

Engineers can empower society in a number of ways, says Barry Brooks, President, Institution of Engineering and Technology, in conversation with Caroline Diana.

Engineers can empower society in a number of ways, says Barry Brooks, President, Institution of Engineering and Technology, in conversation with Caroline Diana.

What initiatives do engineers take in the UK to create a positive social impact?  What should Indian institutions/organizations do to foster a community service initiative?

A good lifestyle and lucrative career path offered by IT companies attracted a large section of the engineering community in India to pursue a career in this field. Engineering and specifically – IT has now become synonymous with job security, good pay packages and good lifestyle. These have become the top reasons for students to opt for IT engineering rather than core engineering in countries like India. Professional bodies like the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) can play a role in changing this outlook. By working closely with the academia and industry, we can set up orientation and counselling programmes to offer students a peek into research and core engineering organizations and to show the next generation what exciting careers are available in engineering. The best ambassadors for this are young engineers.

Considering that online social platforms are the hot tickets, what kind of online activity should Indian students pursue?

Students and young professionals must be part of the right online communities and forums to ensure they are abreast of the latest technology to keep them relevant and updated in this dynamic environment. Being part of technical forums and discussions will help immensely. Recognising the importance of the online platforms, IET launched MyCommunity – its professional network and collaboration platform, enabling engineers to connect, interact and exchange knowledge with their peers across cities and regions.
Even after a student completes graduation, organizations spend a lot of time in making this graduate industry-ready. What best can be done by the academia-organizations to address this gap?

Employers are the consumers of the engineering talent produced by academia. So they should take the initiative of feeding academia with information and insights to help produce an employable workforce. A formal interface programme between industry and academic with champions on either side could be set up. Government and professional bodies can facilitate this programme.

When UK companies hire Indian engineers, besides language, what skills gap do they tackle with?

The knowledge skill gap is not something that is specific to India, but is a problem that we see globally. The IET conducts an annual skills survey in the UK and the 2013 survey findings highlight that new recruits in the UK did not meet the skills expectations of employers. Globally, employers are looking for the right skill-match, high competencies and various degrees of specialisation. It is no longer enough to have a degree and one cannot expect to get trained on the job. Candidates should demonstrate skills, initiative, and teamwork and leadership qualities.
Engineering followed by an MBA is the in-thing in education. Does this combination spell success (more often than not)?

An MBA degree on top of engineering perhaps would help engineers to get the business perspective. For growth and leadership roles, this may be an added advantage. In fact, globally recognised professional qualifications like Chartered Engineer (CEng) measure an engineer on a number of parameters including communication and leadership in addition to technical excellence.

What academic programmes or hobbies do you suggest for young engineers to improve themselves?

Engineering professionals need to constantly keep themselves relevant throughout their lives. The most valuable skill possessed by any successful employee is the ability to network. The right network helps professionals gain access to cutting-edge technical knowledge that will keep them updated and equipped to address the dynamic and evolving technology landscape. Volunteering can be highly fulfilling and a way of giving back to the community, society and profession. Engineering graduates can choose from a variety of volunteering opportunities – technical and non-technical and work with fellow volunteers to learn, share and add value.