During the month of July, I attended the excellent KwaZulu-Natal Industrial Technology Exhibition in Durban. Walking around the show and chatting to various exhibitors, I was suitably impressed both by the way in which the show was organised, and the wealth of knowledge presented on each of the stands.
However, as I moved from stand to stand, I was struck by a realisation that caused a few alarms bells to ring rather loudly in my oldish head: where were the youth, the budding engineers and technicians below the age of 30? The show was predominantly middle-aged and upwards. This is a worrying observation.
And yes, I know that the university and technical college programmes are at capacity in the various engineering disciplines. I just do not know why they do not seem to be interested in the largest industrial trade show in KZN. The youth should have been there in their droves, looking at the stalls, speaking with engineers who have oodles of experience, getting advice from engineers with a wealth of knowledge.
I believe that it is the universities and colleges themselves that need to be proactive in this regard. It is not difficult to organise a vehicle to transport your top 15 students to the show, walk around with them and guide them. The show could be – and SHOULD be – a technical outing that is used as the perfect teaching and learning tool.
But of course, although some blame can be laid at the feet of the tertiary institutions, I believe that many students are choosing engineering – and electronic and power engineering, in particular – as a job and NOT as a career. Students should have to write an aptitude test on application to the engineering faculty to assess their readiness and, dare I say, eagerness for the programme. This would hopefully serve as a marker to help determine the likelihood of success in a chosen engineering field. And do not think that I am promoting a technical assessment here. I think questions such as ‘List three of your interests’, ‘What do you do in your
spare time?’, and ‘Why have you chosen to study engineering?’ will be able to tell you more than you need to know about the respective candidates.
All forms of engineering should be a lifelong pursuit of excellence, and with that comes continuous learning. The engineering fields are changing so rapidly, as new technology is being developed, that choosing to not keep abreast of what is happening in and around you in your field will cause you to become obsolete very quickly. This magazine is a perfect example of how rapidly technology is changing and developing – every month new devices and technologies are documented that are based on new technology.
I do not believe that enough is being done to promote the sciences and engineering fields starting at school level and continuing into tertiary level. Engineering is a rewarding career at the forefront of new technology. As engineering professionals, we need to take responsibility in promoting it as such.
I challenge each technical professional to mentor someone who is currently either starting out on the engineering journey or is on the fence about what career to work towards. Who knows, this could even ultimately benefit you in the long run.
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