Looking back, I’m so pleased that I chose to study maths and science at school – even though at the time I had no idea of the opportunities this would bring. Thirty years on, I’m a professional engineer and director of a fascinating portfolio of companies. These span a range of engineering and resources sectors such as electricity generation, retail, water, natural gas and minerals. I’m glad I chose an engineering career, and that many more women are now joining me in this industry.
Identifying business purpose
I’m hearing a lot about purpose in business – establishing why we are in business – and that resonates as much or more with customers than what our products are and how we sell them. STEM education can give us the practical and analytical tools to help identify the why, and then deliver the what and the how.
Today’s graduates need systems thinking – an understanding of the interactions between components of an organisation, product or problem – to work across disciplinary boundaries. This is crucial to developing sustainable solutions that will enable our society to transition from the industrial era to the digital era, and embrace the disruption of business with the rise of consumer power.
“Many of the most interesting challenges facing businesses require a broad understanding of economics, finance, politics, marketing and communication, as well as skills in STEM areas.”
Encouraging STEM education more broadly in our society
Girls (and boys) start out with a fascination for science as they explore the world during early childhood, but many seem to lose this fascination as they develop into adults. Fortunately, we know how to stimulate interest in STEM using hands-on activities, engaging role models and examples of real-world achievements. Results for the effort are fantastic.
My husband and I have experienced this first hand with our daughter who pronounced in Year 1 that ‘science was boring’, only to be subjected to a very successful intervention from her parents (one an amateur astronomer and myself an engineer). We are still on the watch for any dimming curiosity.
The Leeanne Bond Scholarship at The University of Queensland provides financial assistance for a first year female engineering student. It encourages pursuit of the wonderful engineering careers there are for women as well as men. In addition to showing passion, ability and need, all applicants write an essay on engineering and business. It’s clear from these essays that these young women aspire to shape their world and engage with business and society to achieve their goals.
Integrators, disruptors and translators in engineering careers
I’m very encouraged by the interest in coding and robotics for young children we see today. Having started my engineering career in an era of Fortran programming and computer cards – programming that is now done on laptops and mobiles – I’m keeping up-to-date with information technology and social media. I see the nexus between traditional mature large-scale, capital-intensive industries I know well like utilities and manufacturing, and the newer, radical, disruptive, emerging business models like 3D printing and ecommerce as exciting – and I want to be part of it.
Many of the most interesting challenges facing businesses, such as sustainability, require a broad understanding of economics, finance, politics, marketing and communication, as well as skills in STEM areas. To tackle these challenges, engineers and scientists work in cross-disciplinary project teams of people with diverse backgrounds and qualifications.
A great example of the rising need for cross-disciplinary skills is in the personal transportation industry, where technological disruption is ripe. I recently heard a senior executive from a European car manufacturer speak of the need to fuse engineering and technology skills. In the race to develop electric and autonomous vehicles, today’s car companies are adding coding expertise to their traditional engineering teams and aspiring disrupters like Apple and Google are hiring engineers to work alongside their technology staff.
It is an exciting time to be an engineer in business!
Director, Breakthrough Energy
People and careers: Meet graduates and postgraduates who’ve paved brilliant, cross-disciplinary careers here, find further success stories here and explore your own career options at postgradfutures.com.
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