Engineering Career

Dr. Steve Mackay has worked in engineering throughout Australia, Europe, Africa, and North America for the past thirty-five years as a design and commissioning engineer in projects as diverse as automation of power stations, mining plant, offshore oil and gas platforms, and more. He founded both IDC Technologies, focusing on short engineering courses, and the Engineering Institute of Technology, providing accredited diplomas to master degrees in engineering and technology using state-of-the-art online labs/web and video conferencing. As the current dean of EIT, he shares his insights on engineering education with MPT readers below.
MPT: With an ever-increasing reliance on automation and the rise of “smart pump” technology, are engineers still as necessary in today’s job market as in the past?
Dr. Steve Mackay: At a recent career expo attended by happy throngs of kids and parents, one dad (a practicing engineer) indicated to me that he had advised his two kids who were shortly finishing high school to avoid an engineering career and to focus on more lucrative jobs such as in law or merchant banking. I sympathize with him, as many of my engineering friends have been caught out in intermittent down draughts.
However, I am not so sure that lawyers and merchant bankers can find good jobs either. There is a ferocious amount of automation going at present with a lot of legal jobs being automated (you can buy a proforma contract document for a few dollars or even an hour of cheap legal advice online nowadays). Business graduates are ‘a dime a dozen’ these days because of the massive growth in these university programs.
MPT: Where are the engineering careers of tomorrow coming from?
Dr. Steve Mackay: You only need to look at some of the most profitable companies in the world—they are all based around engineering and technology. Companies largest by revenue such as Saudi Aramco, Shell, and so on employ huge numbers of engineering professionals. There are huge and growing opportunities in the new technologies such as the Internet of Things, cloud computing, automation itself—the list seems endless and constantly growing.
MPT: What skills would advise young engineers to develop in order to prepare for change?
Dr. Steve Mackay: One area which I believe engineering professionals are short changed is in not having sufficient business skills. These sorts of skills include finance, accounting, marketing, and law. With this know-how, you can participate more effectively in your business and indeed help steer it out of choppy waters and keep it going. Or at least help management make good decisions by giving a business perspective to your engineering role. You can also quickly identify when things are becoming unsustainable with your current employer and start looking at alternative scenarios.
When I think of engineering colleagues who have done well consistently, it is those who are entrepreneurial and have strong business skills either formally or through on-the-job learning. As a result, they are more attuned to dodging the curved balls coming in from all directions—something which is increasingly the case these days. I know that ‘pure’ engineers will be somewhat disparaging about people with business skills remarking that they are no longer engineers but business people. But a mix of engineering and business skills definitely makes you more saleable and able to sustain your career. ◆
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