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ATSE column

How to Address the Engineering Shortage

By Archie Johnston

Shaping the future of a thriving Australia means addressing the national opportunity cost by building engineering capacity.

The shortfall in engineering skill capacity has far-reaching effects on the Australian economy – constraining innovation, increasing the cost of construction and maintenance of new and existing infrastructure, and preventing the nation from realising its productivity and growth potential.

The opportunity cost to the nation of chronic engineering capability shortages is significant. The issues are several:

Professor Archie Johnston FTSE chairs the ATSE Education Forum and is Dean of Engineering and Information Technologies at The University of Sydney. He was National Chair of the Centre for Leadership and Management, Judging Panel member of the Prime Minister’s Science Prizes, and Chair of the Judging Panel for the Australian Construction Achievement Awards. He was the Sir John Holland 2007 Civil Engineer of the Year and 2007 Entrepreneurial Educator of the Year of the Business and Higher Education Roundtable.

Technology Underpins Better Water Management

By Brian Spies

Water policy needs to accelerate the development and uptake of efficient technologies that can adapt rapidly to changing climate and population.

Water holds the key to Australia’s long-term productivity and quality of life, , and technological innovation and scientific advances are the keys to our water future. However, innovation in the water space in this nation is often impeded by existing long-term investments in infrastructure and outdated systems and technology.

A key step in moving forward is for Australian governments – at all levels – to encourage investment and uptake of energy-efficient and flexible water supply options, which will increase economic efficiency and productivity and reduce environmental impact.

Dr Brian Spies FTSE is Deputy Chair of the ATSE Water Forum. His career spans senior research and management roles in resource and environmental sectors in Australia and the USA, and most recently he was Principal Scientist, Sustainability and Climate Change, at the Sydney Catchment Authority.

Energy Future Needs a Portfolio Approach

By Martin Thomas

Nuclear options must be part of the low-carbon discussion.

Pressures are growing internationally to develop low-carbon energy resources, technologies and policies. Australia simply cannot rely on clean coal, wind, solar and geothermal technologies alone to meet its policy objectives of securing affordable energy to drive its industries, businesses and homes.

A rational portfolio approach that takes account of all realistic available national and regional energy resources is essential. To do otherwise would be unwise.

Mr Martin Thomas AM FTSE HonFIEAust chairs the ATSE Energy Forum and is chair of Energy Technologies Limited and Dulhunty Poles Limited. He was a former Principal of Sinclair Knight Merz and a member of the 2006 Uranium Mining, Processing and Nuclear Energy Review.

Enhancing Women’s Career Prospects

By Mark Toner

Women need better career options and more control over their professional lives.

Women continue to be disadvantaged in male-dominated organisations. Engineering and some parts of science remain heavily male-dominated, so female engineers and scientists will invariably work for organisations run by men, and some cultures and practices may disadvantage them in their careers.

Dr Mark Toner FTSE is a company director and management consultant and Immediate Past Chair of Australian Science Innovations. With Gunilla Burrowes he runs a gender consulting business, Gender Matters. Ms Burrowes is an electrical engineer with extensive experience with gender issues in engineering.

Focus on Education to Feed the Future

By Kadambot Siddique

Agricultural science education is a national priority for the nation’s food security.

Australia ranks fourth in the world behind Brazil, Argentina and The Netherlands as a net exporter of agricultural products, and typically exports 60–70% of its output, helping meet the food requirements of Australia’s 22 million people plus another 60 million overseas.

Conservative estimates suggest Australia helps feed 400–500 million people in developing countries through agricultural education, training, development, knowledge and technology transfer in partnership with developing countries and International Agricultural Research Centres.

Winthrop Professor Kadambot Siddique AM FTSE is Chair in Agriculture and Director of the UWA Institute of Agriculture at The University of Western Australia.

Boosting Our Innovation Dividend

By Vaughan Beck

It’s time for urgent action to drive productivity and prosperity.

Australia needs to take some substantial steps to boost our national prosperity through innovation. We need to:

• make innovation more attractive;

• change the incentives for Australia’s world-class researchers;

• improve our innovation skills; and

• focus on information and communication technologies (ICT) as the innovation enabler.

None of this will be easy, but not doing it is not an option.

Innovation is about risk-taking and driving new and improved products and services through to the marketplace. The more we do, the better we get.

Dr Vaughan Beck FTSE is Executive Director – Technical with the Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, and led its campaign on innovation issues during 2011.

Six Steps to a Balanced Economy

By Andrew Liveris

Australia can take six steps to secure its future as a balanced economy, says the Australian CEO of a global company.

Globalisation has been a force for progress, but also for instability. It has upended old economic models. By its nature it favours efficiency, and thus has the potential to create serious imbalance in economies – struggling sectors can become casualties of rapid change.

At the same time we remain, in important ways, masters of our own fate. Nations that want to succeed in the global era need not – indeed they must not – sit back while the forces of globalisation drive them toward economic imbalance. Passivity is not a growth strategy.

Dr Andrew Liveris FTSE is Chairman and CEO of Dow Chemical. An Australian-born chemical engineer, he is co-chair of President Barack Obama’s Advanced Manufacturing Partnership, and delivered the keynote address at the Australian Government Future Jobs Forum in Canberra in October.

Strengthening the Weakest Link

By John Bell

Australia needs to develop better incentives for public–private sector collaboration.

Through initiatives like the Australian Research Council (ARC) and the Cooperative Research Centres (CRC) programs, Australia has a long history of encouraging public researchers to seek links with firms and other end users of research. These “supply-side” innovation measures encourage researchers to supply their skills and experience to innovating companies.

Productivity, Competitiveness and the Missing Link

By Terry Cutler

The debate about Australia’s flagging productivity and competitiveness has overlooked one vital factor – and some local role models.

Productivity is finally back in the headlines, if only because action on the nation’s productivity has been missing just when it is most needed.

Competitiveness is back on the agenda, too, but only as the flipside of a worrying resurgence of talk about protectionist bail-outs for underperforming industries now hit with adverse exchange rates and increased trade exposure.

Pricing Carbon to Fix the Problem

By Peter Laver

Peter Laver says that Australia should look closely at rewarding emissions reductions rather than just taxing emissions production.

The debate about carbon pricing – and the government’s announcement about its “carbon tax” – risks losing sight of what we are trying to achieve.

Rather than the debate being about compensation, wealth redistribution, making “polluters pay”, international competitiveness, exemptions and impacts on growth, we really need to focus on capital investment. We should use most of the money coming from pricing carbon to fix the problem – to make the necessary investments in low-carbon electricity generation and transport, and improved energy efficiency.