Here is a true event that happened in my workplace. We were discussing about a new promotional campaign titled “Innovation is invention” for our online website. We needed a new set of banners and an interactive landing page for our campaign. But just two days prior to the “crunch day” the only developer assigned to our campaign fell ill. Arun, the lead campaigner, was pacing around nervously, scrambling his mobile, all very depressed. In the meantime, I was sitting down carving out a plan B (which to be honest, we never had). It didn’t take me long to figure out that we could use the online templates to start an initial campaign until our lead developer returns back. And, thankfully, the ‘plan B’ worked. Later Arun asked, “How did you manage to be so unperturbed by the unseen disaster our marketing campaign faced with?” “I am an engineer, and problem-solving is in my DNA,” I replied promptly.
We, engineers, are an interesting breed of people. We simply relish a challenge. And to the utter dismay of many, the harder it is to solve, the better! The irony, however, is the fact that irrespective of the monumental role engineering has played in shaping the world to what it is today, people still ignore its importance. For starters, if I were to ask you to notice the room you are sitting in? Or for that matter think about the chair you sit on. Can you see the engineering around you? If you are an average individual belonging to age group 15-55, you are almost certainly carrying a smartphone. If so, then you are surrounded by engineering! Yes, you read it correctly.
So why is it that we do not appreciate the engineers more? Often, engineering is highlighted when there’s a catastrophe – for instance, the recent Nepal Earthquake. The truth, however, is engineering has played a significant role in shaping the world to what it is today. Road, rail, aeroplanes, medical equipment is just a few of the many marvels created by beautiful minds of engineers – the creative thinkers. By only highlighting the negatives of engineering, we impose a bad impression on people, and more alarmingly, the profession. These obsolete, damaging perceptions of engineering are upsetting our capability to recruit the next generation of engineers.
Why sudden dearth of engineers?
Engineering’s greatest strength and perhaps the biggest challenge is its diversity. For years, the magnificent work done by engineers has moulded our lives, but hasn’t received its due. Name any assignment, and I can assure you that there are thousands of invisible engineers slogging their hearts out. And it is time we wave our arms and celebrate the tireless effort done by millions. Maybe we equate technology with nerds. Fortunately or unfortunately ‘nerdy’ is the next “in-thing” and it needs its share of importance.
However, the present teaching methods in engineering schools have become repetitive and it has become increasingly difficult to attract the best of the minds to the profession. What if we could inspire kids to see engineering in action? I would predominantly like to see a closer working relationship between schools and manufacturing hubs. While interactive sessions are doing a great job of making the classroom more interactive and less monotonous, however, you simply can’t compete with the experience of going into a factory full of gadgets/machines (lots of noise) – watching a plastic toy or an iPhone being made. Imagine how impactful it will be for children to witness it first-hand.
Anything we can do to make kids understand the importance of the subjects will be extremely important for them to turn them into the next generation of engineers, mathematicians, scientists, and technicians. By opening the world of engineering, we will help children to join the dots about the technologies. Furthermore, it will make them aware about facts and findings to which most children and for that matter many adults too are oblivious. Those who work in academic world have a primary role of inspiring the next generation. Our country boasts of some of the best engineering schools and engineering brains.
Also, there is an urgent need to assess the teaching quality in our higher education institutes. However, when our government decides on funding an engineering institute receives, its quality of teaching does not count for much and it is awarded mostly on its research output. Our company has been involved in developing educational content and information with focus on engineers. Our blog has had somewhere close to 10,000 viewers worldwide. The major response that we receive is the beleaguering state of Indian engineering schools. Anyone looking objectively at these sorts of activities can see their value yet universities don’t have a tangible way to recognise that value.
My plea is to those in government to recognise the importance of public engagement, and for universities to find a way to support it. That way, the passionate ambassadors who already work in many faculties will be encouraged and supported to go out and spread the wonderful bug that is engineering. It may be all around us, but if we don’t open the door, how will future engineers ever find us?