How can we navigate transformative change?
Currently, we are facing huge changes to our infrastructure, technology, and environment. This affects all industries on a global, human scale. There are multiple possible outcomes as these separate facets interact and play off each other. While nothing is certain, the possibilities are exciting! If we are extremely adaptable, we can successfully navigate these changes and transform our future for the better.
Recently, I attended a workshop of the Engineering Change Lab focused on how we can incite transformative change in our industry. The provocative and interactive workshop encouraged us to look forward and act as a catalyst for positive transformation. These discussions sought to answer questions about how these sweeping changes will affect the future of our industry—and our world.
What skills will future engineers need?
Good communication is an essential skill for our future. As technology progresses, it seems likely that much of what we now view as human-essential jobs will become obsolete. We can automate more straightforward systems to free our time to focus on complex partnerships, incorporating perspectives from engineering firms, software companies, academia, construction and manufacturing. Interpersonal skills become increasingly important, and solutions that integrate multiple industries and viewpoints will be most successful.
Communication and coordination between groups, markets, and industries is key. Engineers need to engage with public policy to solve the big social and environmental problems we face. We need to broaden our focus to create positive, substantive changes.
Likewise, having comfort with ambiguity is a uniquely human skill that will be required to navigate the changes ahead. The ability to assess and integrate multiple, conflicting viewpoints is what allows us to think creatively about the future and therefore enact real change. We need people who, in addition to possessing a specialty skill, can bring others together to solve these complex problems.
An integrative approach
These infrastructure, climate, and other engineering challenges are complex. New technology, environmental issues, current and future infrastructure, and social systems are all linked. Every human system influences and interacts with the others, and a careful balance exists between them. As we face large, substantive changes across multiple industries, it is vital that we maintain this balance.
The AEC industry is uniquely poised to accomplish this. An engineer can work to find the right balance among environmental, social and technological solutions, acting as the nexus to unite the interests of separate industries. A wholistic, systems approach, encompassing collaboration among engineers, scientists, and experts in related built and natural environment professions, will yield best results. The true breadth of these issues is enormous; the last thing we should be doing right now is narrowing our focus.
As we move forward, it becomes necessary to shift our way of thinking. Change is coming whether we are ready for it or not. We must broaden our view of the AEC industry to situate ourselves within a wider global context to successfully navigate transformative change.
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