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How an engineering degree can build your future

Life was different 10 years ago. People were still making the jump from MySpace to Facebook and setting your career trajectory was simple – finish high school, go to university, graduate with your dream job at a big company and stay there until you made your way to the top.

As finance firm Deloitte have argued, this steady career model has since been shattered with the speed at which skills can become obsolete, but it isn’t at all grim. In fact, many new opportunities have opened up – especially in fields like engineering. Head of Deakin University’s School of Engineering, Professor Karen Hapgood, believes that engineering is at the forefront of the modern world as it is leading the thinking behind disruption.

Australia’s automotive industry may have drastically reduced its manufacturing activities in recent years but the emergence of startups, the need for additive manufacturing and the accessibility of 3D printing has made up for it, explains Prof. Hapgood. Think about it: Tesla was founded a little over 10 years ago; Uber only launched in Australia in 2012; and it was just two years ago that Australia’s first self-driving car was road ready.

Creating global opportunity

With several closures of automotive manufacturing plants across Australia, (think Holden, Toyota and Ford shutdowns), there may now be fewer jobs in car manufacturing. But with this loss comes the gain of opportunities in engineering design.

‘[The industry has] been transformed into an international automotive design powerhouse, designing vehicles for Australia and Asia, as well as autonomous vehicles for applications beyond personal passenger transport,’ Prof. Hapgood explains.

Last year, South Australia confirmed a $10 million investment into driverless cars to transform the economy. ‘[It] depends on our ability to adopt new ways of doing things, using advanced technologies to build globally competitive, high-value firms and sustainable, well-paid jobs’ transport minister, Stephen Mullighan said in a statement.

'We have advances in almost every material – concretes, metals, timber, steel – that are allowing us to change the basis of the designs. All of this is leading to a surge of creativity and innovation in almost every field of engineering'

Professor Karen Hapgood , Head of School, School of Engineering,
Deakin University

Earlier this month, Business Insider also reported on the strong demand from Australian businesses for people with engineering skills.

‘We’re seeing a strong national demand for STEM skills — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — which reflects a global talent shortage,’ the article quoted Kendra Banks, managing director of job searching site Seek as saying. 

Along with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning having a profound impact on many sectors of engineering, Prof. Hapgood says engineers are now working as an international automotive design powerhouse. ‘We can create more complex parts that have better performance, such as reduced weight without compromising strength, without producing vast amounts of waste,’ Banks says.

This not only gives engineers the opportunities to work with robotics, drones, medical prostheses and more, it also aligns with the trend Prof. Hapgood identifies of socially and environmentally responsible companies being more desirable to graduates.

‘We have advances in almost every material – concretes, metals, timber, steel – that are allowing us to change the basis of the designs. All of this is leading to a surge of creativity and innovation in almost every field of engineering,’ Prof. Hapgood says.

Preparing for high-demand challenges

So if there are such active global opportunities in engineering, why aren’t we filling the growing positions? Prof. Hapgood says the surge simply requires more people with STEM skills than what we currently have. There is huge demand for a larger and more diverse group of people to the industry.

‘In some fields such as cyber security, the demand for skilled staff has outstripped supply and there is a very dynamic bidding war to attract and retain the best people,’ she says. And  although this will ease soon, it illustrates that the time is now to get into the industry and make waves.

And in the modern economy, workplace experience is put at a premium. Deakin’s courses offer career opportunities from concept, to design and creating working products. The entire engineering curriculum was redesigned a few years ago to put innovation and future-looking job skills at the forefront, says Prof. Hapgood. ‘We call it Project Oriented Design Based Learning. Students spend 50% of their time working on real (or realistic) engineering projects that are based on industry needs such as designing bridges, sports boots, automated robots,’ she explains.

Gaining real-world experience

In the modern economy, work experience is paramount to getting a job. In particular, this has been a long-standing tradition in Australian engineering for decades, says Prof. Hapgood. Deakin offers many opportunities for industry experience from formal integrated learning placements and industry projects, including internships via Deakin Talent. ‘We have one of the highest graduate employment rates in the country,’ she says.

And big companies are not the only option. ‘While there are still plenty of large companies around, there are more opportunities these days in small and medium companies available, including startups and entrepreneurial ventures,’ Prof. Hapgood notes.

Interested in experiencing life from the inside of Tesla or CarbonNexus? Consider studying engineering at Deakin University. Or, read an engineer’s perspective on what the job is really like

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Professor Karen Hapgood
Professor Karen Hapgood

Head of School, School of Engineering, Deakin University.

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