Thursday 23 November 2017

Engineering your future

THINK OF a world without buildings, roads, cars, buses, trains, clean water, sewerage systems, mobile phones, medical devices.... and you begin to realise the importance of engineers.

Many engineers have gone on to have very successful management careers, for example, 30% of Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) in Ireland have engineering degrees. Others work in financial institutions.

Like with many other careers at the moment, it is understandable that the job crisis may be of concern when considering engineering. To be honest, it is hard to see a situation in the near future where Ireland will need the same number of engineers as employed at the top of the boom, particularly in the residential building sector, but we will need engineers to work in other areas. It’s worth noting that a similar crisis occurred in the late '80s when I graduated. Most of us went abroad for 4-5 years to work on large, challenging and interesting engineering projects. If you are interested in engineering as a subject and you feel you would be good at it then my advice to you is not to make the current job situation the deciding factor. Consider other factors as well, for example, your strengths in technology subjects, your favourite school subjects, do you like figuring out how things work? Generally, students who like what they study do better at university and in their careers.

The other big worry for students when thinking about engineering as a career is mathematics. You don’t need to be brilliant at maths to be an engineer but you do need to be sufficiently competent in it so that you can use it as a tool to do the really interesting engineering material. That’s why we ask that you obtain a HC3 in Mathematics in the Leaving Cert.

The engineering degree, itself, is an interesting challenge. Along with lectures, you will work on engineering design projects e.g. teams of students compete to come up with a model bridge design to withstand the highest load before collapse. Of course, engineering students also make time for socialising so engineering at university promises to be a ‘work hard, play hard’ routine.

We need smart students to go into engineering more than ever at the moment to help solve some of the big national and world problems. In recent weeks we have seen the devastating impacts of severe weather conditions in parts of Ireland. We need to come up with better engineering solutions to deal with this.

Another challenge is energy. The world needs new energy sources. Ireland is responding to this challenge with a particular focus on wind and tidal energy. Again, we need smart engineers to work on these problems to help provide reliable, safe and efficient solutions.

Professor Margaret O’Mahony is professor of Civil Engineering at Trinity College Dublin and can be contacted at by secondary school students who wish to find out more about engineering as a career.

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