Today, we celebrate World Engineering Day for Sustainable Development and shine a spotlight on the pivotal role engineers must play in building a liveable future. This year’s theme is “Build back wiser. Engineering the future.”
To celebrate this day, IOL spoke to engineers who are paving the way and shattering glass ceilings in their respective roles.
Senior Lecturer at the Department of Chemical Engineering, Prof Thinus Booysen, said as an engineer who lectures tomorrow’s engineers, the theme reminds him of his responsibility to sow the seeds of sustainable engineering in the young minds of tomorrow’s cohort of engineers.
“There is no time to waste – the next generation will have to hit the ground running to rectify the environmental wrongs of industry – to a large degree engineers – in years gone by. Secondly, as an engineer and parent, it again makes me aware of our pressing responsibility to sustain life on this planet by using whatever means we can, including technological advances.
We are facing real and salient challenges in South Africa as we transition towards improved development via a just and equitable transition. Engineering has a substantial role to play in these.
“I think the most purposeful role engineering can play is to re-imagine a society that treads carefully when it walks in our natural habitat. Developed countries have taken a very specific route from pre-industry to where they are now, and that has locked them into a certain mindset.”
Booysen said to be an engineer is to invite science, maths, technology, and logic to the dinner table and have a feast. Before you can invite them, you have to befriend them, get to know them, and love them.
“My main advice is to take up these subjects with fervour. Interestingly, maths and science are both tools the human race have developed and used to understand nature – the very thing we need to protect and celebrate today,” he concluded.
Dr Margreth Tadie, Associate Professor at the Department of Electrical Engineering at Stellenbosch University, said the theme Build Back Wiser is a timely theme after the disruption that Covid-19 has brought into everybody’s lives.
“What we have learnt in this period is that the things that we thought could not be changed, such as work, intercity, provincial and international travel, could indeed be disrupted, and in some cases, banned. The slow transition within raw materials, manufacturing and construction industry to more sustainable practices due to an inertia to change has been challenged. As the world rebuilds to find a new normal, there is no excuse not to build back wiser.”
Taddie said the biggest challenge facing South Africa is youth unemployment which stands at a record 66.5 %. Engineering can address this through the development of innovative technologies that can create opportunities for young entrepreneurs to venture into small scale industries.
“Supply and installation of renewable energy solutions to households (solar PV), recycling of electronics waste products, recycling of plastics, production of construction material, used oil recycling as well as the manufacture of snacks and beverages. All these can be achieved in small scale industries within communities where the youth reside, thus creating opportunities for employment.
“If you are thinking of becoming an engineer, you are choosing a very rewarding career, and you will be part of the future of humanity. Don’t focus on the salary. Focus on being the best that you can be, doing the best that you can for your environment (your planet and the people on it), the salary will come as an acknowledgement of who you are,” concluded Taddie.
Civil engineer at MW Earthworks (Pty) Ltd, Merice Koopman, said her dad often took her to his sites from the age of four, and she developed a deep love for engineering through watching her dad work.
Koopman added that in the gender-biased industry, however, challenges are merely mountains to be conquered, and it is for them as women in engineering to pave the way for young girls looking to go into stem careers.
“The engineering world still has the tendency to be a very gender-biased industry, favouring the male counterpart at C-Suite positions. There have been great strides made by several females who are breaking the glass ceiling and thus creating a new norm on the sort of positions that Female Engineers can hold. Personally, being on-site Managing Engineering Projects is my happy place.”
She further stated that South Africa is a developing nation, and so the infrastructure, water and sanitation and solar projects are the most important.
“A great economy is the culmination of good roads and transportation systems, a balance in the urban design where one is also bringing about sustainability in every essence. This is where our engineers are needed the most,” she said.
Giving advice to upcoming engineers, Koopman said engineering is based upon your ability to problem solve using the foundation principles of maths and being able to fulfil a need in society through that exercise.
“If you are interested in that, then Engineering is for you,” Koopman said.