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How engineers can make a difference

A challenging but rewarding career, engineers have the opportunity to make a huge difference to the lives of individuals and society as a whole.

Young engineers with prosthetics Engineers tackle some of the world’s biggest problems, helping to save lives and develop exciting new technological advancements that improve the way we live, support the economy and create new jobs. They can be found doing everything from responding to a disaster or improving cybersecurity through to developing clean energy sources or creating systems to reduce the risk of flooding – simply put they’re secret superheroes!

Secret superheroes

Just look at where engineers have got us to today: healthcare has improved dramatically thanks to advancements in medical technology for example, allowing for earlier discovery of illnesses and therefore treatment, and the creation of devices that help save and improve the quality of lives.

Then there are engineers such as Alan Turing, whose creation of the Enigma machine helped bring an end to World War II, those behind the development high speed flight and the power to send a man into space, and the engineers behind advancements in communication that have brought us the Internet, social media and even FaceTime!

New developments are taking place all the time. Take the Crossrail project in London. When complete this new transport system will increase London and the South East’s transport capacity by ten percent, leading to shorter journey times and easier connections.

“While engineers are hard at work tunnelling and creating new stations underneath London, most people will continue to use above ground services without realising the vast amount of work going on underneath their feet,” says IET Technician of the Year 2016 Ozair Said. “Once complete and unveiled then the scale of the project astounds people and you realise the huge impact you are making to the community,” he enthuses.

The impact you can make to society

“The whole idea of being an engineer is about solving a problem that hasn’t been solved yet, or solving it in a way that it hasn’t been solved before,” continues Abbie Hutty, Spacecraft Structures Engineer at Airbus and past IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year award winner.

“Some of the big problems we have in the world [today] are things like an aging population, difficulties in developing countries, and problems around our growing population. We’re doing all sorts of things to address these issues; for example, coming up with new medical devices like artificial joints, pacemakers, aids and devices like wheelchairs and mobility aids.

“We are helping provide infrastructure such as roads, clean water, hygiene supplies, and travel networks for developing countries, and things like green energy and more efficient cars, homes and planes are being developed to help our growing population live the lifestyle they want with the minimum impact on our planet.”

Horizontal innovation

Indeed, engineers have the potential to bring about dramatic change for the good and it's exciting to see the reach newly created technology has across a variety of sectors. Known as horizontal innovation, recent examples include technology originally developed for use in motorsport helping safely transport critically ill newborns, cool the food in our supermarkets and develop a new military patrol vehicle.

But engineers aren’t always behind the scenes – you can also find them out on the front lines helping to save lives, many working through special charities such as humanitarian relief organisation RedR.

Saving lives when disasters happen

And you might be surprised to discover how many ways engineers can make a difference when disasters strike. During the search and rescue phase engineers will be on the ground using programmes, robots and devices such as drones to detect and reach survivors, then they’ll be helping to build necessary shelters, and safe water and waste disposal systems for those affected, preventing the risk of disease outbreak – you could argue that this might save more lives than a medic! They’ll also get transport systems up and running, often with the use of infrastructure such as emergency mobile bridges that can be constructed in under an hour!

Then, when it’s time to rebuild, engineers will be there to help safely demolish or rebuild structures, as well as get water, power and heating systems up and running and help train locals to continue this work.

Engineers also help future-proof against disasters by working on the development of early warning and detection systems, programmes that help better coordinate resources in disaster situations and also designing materials that help buildings withstand extreme conditions. The hope is that this work will reduce the impact of future disasters.

What will the future hold?

We can see what amazing things engineers are up to right now, but who’s to say in what ways they’ll be making a difference in the future?

One of the most exciting things about engineering is that new jobs are appearing all the time alongside the new technologies. With the Internet of Things set to be a game-changer and innovative ideas appearing within the biotechnology sector, it’s thrilling to think of what the engineers of the future will be up to and how they may be positively influencing our lives.

It’s easy to overlook the work of engineers, but as you can see, there’s much more to engineering than you may think. If you want to be at the forefront of technology and help make a difference to lives in all manner of ways, perhaps engineering is the career for you?

Published January 2016