Evolving engineers: president of representative body says they’re smart for the economy

29 Jan 2009

Launching Engineers Week 2009, which runs from 9-13 February, Engineers Ireland president Dr Jim Browne championed his profession, saying engineers will be instrumental if Ireland is to become a ‘smart economy’ and return to sustainable growth.

He noted that engineers have a huge contribution to make in commercialisation of R&D and the development of ‘green energy’, as well as continuing investment in infrastructure – three areas flagged as being critical for Ireland to address in order to overcome economic challenges.

His views may encourage the many engineers around the country who have been let go or fear for their job security. But it was clear Browne’s aim was to also raise awareness of the importance of engineering generally and make it appeal to young people as a career.

“Ireland now hosts seven of the world’s top 10 information and communications technology companies, 15 of the world’s top 25 medical device companies and nine of the world’s top 10 pharmaceutical companies,” he said.

“People tend to associate engineering businesses exclusively with the design of buildings, civic infrastructure and machines, but the great majority of these companies are high-technology companies that tend to employ engineers and technologists in great numbers.”

Browne said the engineering industry was evolving to meet this changing need for new types of engineer.

“Many of these companies are now looking beyond what might have been their initial focus on manufacturing, production and distribution and are becoming involved in R&D with a view to new product and process development.

“As a result, we now have new engineering programmes in areas such as biomedical engineering, computer and software engineering and environmental engineering in our universities and institutes of technology to meet this need.”

He contended that mathematics or the physical sciences per se don’t draw young people to engineering, but rather the use which can be made of these disciplines to develop interesting products and services.

“We need to tackle the problem of how maths is taught in schools through support for maths teachers. Maths and science are essential ‘tools’, but engineering is about the application of the understanding, knowledge, skills and know-how of scientific, mathematical and technological principles in a business context to achieve an economic solution.”

Some 70 events are taking place over the course of Engineers Week 2009.

By Sorcha Corcoran