Young Engineers Public Speaking Competition!
The other night (Tuesday I think) I entered a public speaking competition at uni for Young Engineers Australia. A sub-bit of IEAUST, the professional orgnisation for Engineers in Australia. The main idea of entering was due to the fact that I needed the money. As a poor uni student, the idea of making a little money by getting up in front of some people and giving a little song and dance on a subject wasn't too daunting. So, for completion's sake, I have decided to stick it up on here. It is basically about the need for my vacation positions. Not a fantastic or world changing topic (by itself of course!) but the whole idea was to rip into something that you know about and to entertain the audience. A warm up for what engineers should be doing in industry. Well, I don't know if the Dean was too happy with my opening joke, but it prooves the point. Here it is:
PS... The slide show that went with this, really helps to emphasise some bits, so sorry if you miss some of the ideas because I can't post that with it!
The Accounting graduate asks, "How much will it cost?"
The Science graduate asks, "Why does it work?"
The Engineering graduate asks, "How does it work?"
And the Arts graduate asks, "Do you want fries with that?"
Its funny and very stereotypical, but is it time to stop and ask ourselves, are these afore mentioned “real” degrees in danger of producing graduates that fit into the latter category?
Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen, my name is Kirsty Last and I am an engineer.
Or at least I am trying to be. I currently study Mechanical Engineering at the University of Wollongong, and whilst undertaking this degree I have had to ask myself and my industry some pretty hard questions..
Why you may ask? Well, I better start at the very beginning.
Dictionary.com defines an engineer as: “One who is trained or professionally engaged in a branch of engineering, who uses scientific knowledge to solve practical problems.” It was found to be synonymous with the words “Mastermind, direct, organise and orchestrate.”
Whilst your average engineering student may reply that they are the best drinkers of the academia community, they are undeniably the movers and shakers of the world’s industries.
Today, engineering educators list the profession’s biggest threats for the future as a downturn in engineering enrolments. As a student who went through the long and arduous process of finding a way into University, I would beg to differ. I pose that the greater threat to the profession today is actually the missing link. Not attracting kids to enrol, but finding a way to build them up and provide them with the necessary experiences they need to find their way in the wide and varied fields of Engineering.
The basic way one becomes an engineer today is to rock up to your nearest University and beg and barter your way in. Once in you undertake some sort of basic introduction to the sciences and maths. You are then given the opportunity to customise your education to your wants through the selection of elective subjects. With all this reading, writing and arithmetic well under way, the University decides it is high time to take your first steps in industry. So, over one of your summer holiday periods they promptly chuck you out the door and tell you to get a job.
It sounds like the logical path for the engineer to take, but looking closely at the method, makes one wonder if it really is all it is cracked up to be.
Currently Universities and APESMA, A professional engineering association, have a going list of all current employers that have suitable vacation employment initiatives. This list for a discipline as popular as say Mechanical engineering, has about 80 positions. There are more informal methods of applying also, but either way, it is then the student’s responsibility to get the ball rolling, make some applications, go to some interviews and hope for the best.
All in all, it seems like a pretty good setup. The industry takes on young student engineers, gives them a taste of the real world and then hopes to pick them up upon graduation to ensure the industry encourages growth.
But, as many students have found, this is not an easy process and does not always return a positive result. If we do the maths, say just for Australia, and If we pretend that each position available is a lolly and each student vying for a vacation position is a hungry little kid, we can look at the statistics this way.
There are 33 Universities in Australia offering engineering in 20 different disciplines. If only 20 of these unis offer mechanical engineering and there about 20 students enrolled in each of these, that works out to 400 hungry little kids looking for a lolly EVERY summer break. And that is in Mechanical Engineering alone! Admitingly, due to the size of Australia, these students are spread throughout a country of 20 million people, but the fact of the matter is, there just aren’t enough jobs to go around.
So what is the solution? Well, the easy option is to drop a need for vacation industry experience. If there is no need for it, there is no demand for positions. But is it that easy? That means that somewhere in the barren wasteland between Engineering studies and sitting behind a desk in a graduate position you are meant to have gained all the knowledge and understanding necessary to pursue a chosen career path.
If we were visual art’s students it would be laughable if the practical application of our skills was overlooked in our education. If we were doctors or nurses, a lack of practical experience would mean it would be a crime to start practising professionally. So as engineers, why is it seen as neither of these extremes when it comes to focusing on the importance on industry placement initiatives?
As a learn to swim teacher, I know that when teaching kids to swim, floating is an essential part, but the getting them up and stroking independently bit is the aim.
So, it is important. But who is going to do anything about it? Who should do something about it? Well, as Aussies, it is our natural reflex to point directly at the Government. And why not? They are the ones that allow for positions in Universities to be regulated so as not to have an influx of graduates into industry. According to them, there is just the right amount of jobs for just the right amount of students.
In 2005 I welcomed with open arms the first in what hopes to be a long line of government and industry initiatives. Or should I say, the government prodding industry to action. The inaugural “Women in Motorsport Scholarship.”
The A1GP of nations was introduced in 2004 as a new category of motorsport that would give all countries a level playing field in which to develop their motorsport interests. The single make formula meant that no one team had an advantage over any other. 25 Nations competed and the category went all over the world.
The day that it was announced that an Australian team was to be formed, The Hon. Sandra Nori, Minister for Women, Sport and Tourisim in NSW stepped up on stage to address a crowd gathered to hear the announcement. As Sandra looked at the crowd she had a brainwave… but I call it divine intervention. She asked herself, “Why aren’t there more young people… young women, involved in this sport?” Here we have a sporting category setup specifically to meet the needs of developing international level motorsport interests, what better opportunity to also develop our young engineers?
And so started the ball rolling for the scholarship. Sandra turned to Australian A1GP seat holder and F1 World champion, Alan Jones and presented the same questions to him. Talking to the Sheik of Dubai and founding chairman of the A1GP- also at the same function, Sandra started to quickly engage the contacts necessary in industry to make the scholarship a reality. The only thing that might have held her back? The industry’s choice to not undertake such a development program. But even they had to admit, it was the best idea in a long time to ensure the growth and longevity of the sport, for what is motorsport without it’s engineers?
The scholarship offered the chance for one young woman, to be part of Australia's pit crew at upcoming A1GP events. Here the winner was able to closely observe a world-class motor racing team in action, and participate in activities that matched their level of knowledge and experience. Amazingly enough, I was selected.
In November 2005 I was part of the crew at the Australian round, at Eastern Creek. I was given the chance to work as an apprentice mechanic to get me familiar with the car itself and what the engineers do to it to make it go faster. This included everything from cleaning and matinence such as dis-assembling and re-assembling the frontbits of the car, and also things like making adjustments to the car in the secretive way that engineers on race teams do. I received valuable knowledge, hands on experience and made lifelong contacts and friends who will serve me in my engineering pursuits here in Australia and abroad.
But this one weekend wasn’t all. In December 2005, I set off for my first taste of motorsport, hands on, at an international level. Dubai in the United Arab Emirates hosted the 6th round of this revolutionary racing category. We braved sandstorms and windburn in 6am starts for pit-stop practice, to assist in new ways on the team. Here I was given a look at Data acquisition, the mathematical and scientific basis for an engineer’s decisions. I learnt first hand the importance of gaining every millisecond in a race to ensure some level of success, and how the team works together in their roles to ensure that. The team’s engineers worked through their own tasks whilst also taking the time to explain to me all the jargon, data and secrets behind success.
The team once again provided me with the time and resources to get my hands dirty. It might sound like a strange thing to get excited about if you aren’t an engineer, but after 3 years of bookwork as a University student, it is like bringing a thirsting man to the beer garden. The knowledge that I received, not to mention the contacts, have set me in great sted to pursue my chosen career path as a race engineer. Without such an initiative, I know that this pursuit would have been less than a pipe dream.
It all started with a conversation. One person asking another how they might best increase someone else’s chances within the industry… One person asking another how that gift might help growth in the industry. It was that easy.
This isn’t a story that is specific only to motorsport, but is a story that should be as synonymous with engineering education as Beer is to beef pie and as engineer is to mastermind.
Go back to Lasts and Lasts Motorsport's Webpage via this URL: www.lasts.com.au