I think without a doubt, new technologies will have the biggest impact.
The biggest concern on the sustainability front that I can see is the availability of sufficient clean cheap energy. Fortunately there are a number of technological solutions in the pipeline that should ensure our future energy needs. The cost of solar power has been dropping by about 7% a year for a number of decades, and there have been enough articles published in the last year or two on potential advances in solar technology to suggest this trend will continue way beyond price parity with fossil fuels. Even more potentially game changing are recent developments in the LENR (Low Energy Nuclear Reactions) field. LENR power could hit the market in the next couple of years, and this would radically reduce the cost of energy production, and decentralise it as a bonus. Add Thorium fission, nulcear fusion and genetically modified organisms optimised to produce biofuels to the equation and our energy future is bright indeed.
With sufficent cheap clean power almost all other sustainability issues become trivial to solve.
The skills shortage is also solvable with new technologies, namely a combination of AI and robotics. IBM's Watson AI has already been pressed into service to help doctors with diagnosing illnesses and choosing therapies, and I just read an article today stating Google translate is now translating far more documents that all of the human translators in the world combined, and I know personally that the quality of translations is getting better and better every year. No doubt engineering expertise will also start getting replaced with AI applications in the next few years. I also expect that robots will be used more and more in engineering construction and asset inspection.
In my field asset management it will be AI that has the biggest impact. If it doesn't replace me altogether I am sure it will change the way I do things drastically.
This has been an interesting discussion particularly around skills shortage and the changing role of Engineers and engineering in Local Government.
It is very obvious that the service delivery is the driving force behind the current reforms in Local Government around the world. I believe that it is very difficult to argue that the communities that we serve are not entitled to know what level of services they are getting and are paying for. In adopting this service driven approach the role of the engineer has substantially change.
The real problem with this service based management approach is that organisations and service managers have not adapted to this new role and role that this management model places on the public works engineer.
I remember when I was a junior Engineer working in Local Government the Municipal Engineer / or Shire Engineer at that time was the person or in the position to develop the communities and provide the necessary infrastructure. Now we have a whole range of professionals which were unheard of in local government. We have infrastructure planner's, sustainability officers etc. People in these positions are talking to the community and trying to do what the older style shire Engineer did (and in many cases doing a really good job).
I guess the point of my ranting is that times have and will continue to change as Public Works Engineers. We must change and adapt with the organisations we work with and for.
So what are the implications for us as engineers? As I see it our role will be one of a consultant who advises, educates and leads your organisation and / or client so that they understand the long term implications of the decisions that our elected representative make. This will require us to think and act differently and in many respects require a higher level of technical skill and understanding and importantly improved communications skills so that our message is understood. This is our challenge. Thanks
The work place, local government or otherwise is only what you make it. The roles and responsibilities of senior engineering services or works departments personnel within local government has transitioned to more of a management position away from engineering to cope with the highly regulated work environment with the engineering grunt work being outsourced to professional engineering consultancies. With respect to sustainability I think pavement recycling technology and incorporation of existing pavements into modified pavement designs is key.
Interesting thoughts, Robert.
Living within your means is a great idea whether you are; an individual, a company or a government, but so is thinking about your future. I don't see how two wrongs (not living within your means, and not thinking about your future) make a right.
More likely governments aren't living within their means precisely because they aren't thinking clearly enough about the future.
And, given the very few responses to this thread so far, it seems like no-one much does much deep thinking about the future. Regards, ------------------------------------------- Wayne Eddy Strategic Asset Planning Coordinator City of Whittlesea BUNDOORA MDC VIC -------------------------------------------
And, given the very few responses to this thread so far, it seems like no-one much does much deep thinking about the future. Regards, ------------------------------------------- Wayne Eddy Strategic Asset Planning Coordinator City of Whittlesea BUNDOORA MDC VIC ------------------------------------------- Original Message: Sent: 28-04-2012 01:02 From: Robert Bowyer Subject: 3 trends that will change the world for public works professionals I wouldn't worry about trends until how we can get over the GFC. Joe Hockey is right when we need to live within our means now before we can look to the future and it is just not happening at any level of government. ------------------------------------------- Robert Bowyer Director Kacey Products BOONAH QLD ------------------------------------------- Original Message: Sent: 26-04-2012 20:15 From: Roslyn Atkinson Subject: 3 trends that will change the world for public works professionals [IPWEA CEO Note: I'd like to introduce you to Roslyn Atkinson, who is the Managing Editor of Mahlab Media - and IPWEA's new 'Public Works Professional' magazine to be launched in July. IPWEA will now have a dedicated journalist to research news & write articles for our profession. I'd like to encourage some active discussion as below.] From Roslyn: I'm currently writing a feature story for IPWEA's member magazine on the concept of "Three trends that will change the world for public works professionals" and I'm seeking your input/ideas. The three biggest trends, as I see it, are: 1) New technologies 2) Sustainability 3) Skills shortage Of these three topics, which do you think will have the biggest impact on the way public works professionals do their jobs into the future? Which new technologies will dramatically change your day-to-day tasks? What aspects of sustainability will provide the biggest challenges and opportunities? How will local governments cope with a skills shortage of engineers? Please share your thoughts. ------------------------------------------- Roslyn Atkinson Managing Editor IPWEA's Public Works Professional Sydney NSW -------------------------------------------
I would imagine everyone is thinking about the question being asked and have had very little time, due to the skills shortage, to contemplate their answer. All three topics are linked, however the key to local government is probably more the paradigm shift that has occurred for local government engineers. The shift I am referring to relates more to the workplace and the impacts upon our day to day activities, which can be seen in other industries as well.
Since I am not near retirement, I am basing my thoughts/reasoning upon the stories that I have heard/read and what I am seeing occurring now.
In the old days, money and cost efficiencies (budget bottom line each financial year) probably were not as big a driver as what they are now. This was probably helped by the fact that due to the paper administration of the financial system, senior management were not as strong with financial management (in comparison to today where any manager can know almost instantly where his/her budget is at exactly by logging into the financial system). The old days saw young engineers being mentored and trained up on the job, with sufficient slack in the budgets to cater for this extra overhead. There was sufficient time in the day to keep abreast of things via reading trade journals, and talking with fellow engineers (even considering the extra time needed back then due to slower travel times and communication systems). Engineers had secretarial support and assistants to help them undertake their day to day work. Although the engineers worked hard, they were not stretched to their limits all year round.
In comparison to today where the assistants are largely non-existent, secretarial support has been removed for all bar very senior executive staff, young engineers are expected to produce effective work from day one (although there are some exceptions where employers do invest in their workforce) and thus are not trained/mentored in the workplace. The focus has been on cost savings, with the removal of "fat" when looking at the budget rather than the results being produced in the field.
Because of the mighty budget and the restrictions that are placed upon local government (capped rate rises), something has had to give. A proactive management team will always chase a long term balanced budget and have had to rein in their expenditure as a result. This has been made more difficult by the need to provide an ever rising level of service to the public. With staff being one of the largest costs for local government operations, the staff have been trimmed back to the bare bones. This trimming has been done in many ways, one of which is not replacing staff as they leave the organisation. The result is a stretched team of engineers struggling to cover for day to day operations. It is only when things are not working that they succeed in adding to theirs numbers. However we are in this continuous cycle of growth in work and being stretched to breaking point.
We will, where we have time to research, always take up new technology that will help us with our work loads and work more efficiently or provide a better service to the public. We will continue to take on the sustainability challenge as we as a profession always are considering the long term impacts of what we are doing. But our ultimate challenge will continue to be how many of us are on the ground trying to keep our local community happy with what little money we have available.
The above picture will not ring true for everybody, but I expect some of my colleagues will recognise elements of what I am discussing. How our problems will be resolved have not yet been identified, however they will be complex and require everyone to work together as a team. The fortunate thing is we have the potential to make a fantastic future for ourselves and the Australian public.
Rod's comments are really interesting. I personally believe that humans are contributing to global warming and that there will be some negative consequences of this, but I don't think they are anything that the global technological civilization can't overcome.
I think that it is good that the general population is thinking about the future, but that it is very bad that they are so negative about it.
I think the reason that the "advertising campaign" has worked so well is that it is tapping into an insidious vein of anti-human sentiment out there in the community - a meme that humans are a blight of the face of the Earth and that the world would be a better place with out us. I totally reject this meme, and do my best to convince people that the future is bright, and I'd be very interested to hear the thoughts of those on this forum on this subject.
On the subject of "largely irrelevant training refreshers and charging exhorbitant fees for glossy, glamorous conferences", as much as I feel the same sometimes, I hope this is more about being stuck in the past and not "getting" modern technology than outright self interest.
Conferences are OK, but we need to take more advantage of them - think TED is a great example of how to get more out of conferences.
If someone gives a good talk, record it and let the masses get value from it as well.
Largely irrelevant training refreshers - Lets take advantage of technology here as well. We should build a Local Government Training Video Library along the lines of the Khan Academy, TED Ed or RSA.
Lets get smart about sharing knowledge. Regards,
In response to Roslyn Atkinson's story about "3 trends that will change the world for public works professionals". Here are my thoughts...
Infrastructure Planning - The introduction of the NSW Government's Integrated Planning and Reporting Framework will improve infrastructure planning such that assets are more likely to be financially sustainable into the future. The Framework obligates NSW Council's to produce and report annually on a Resourcing Strategy: Long Term Financial Planning, Workforce Management Planning, and Asset Management Planning. Until now some poor major infrastructure spending decisions have been made, due to political pressure or due to hastily take advantage of funding opportunities without adequate planning. However the development of well-considered Resourcing strategies will help Council's to realise their critical infrastructure priorities, such that they can lobby for funding or simply direct funding in the best direction as opportunities arise.
Climate Change Adaptation - Local councils are responsible for many of the land use planning, infrastructure planning and development assessment decisions made in coastal areas. NSW local councils prepare studies to identify areas at risk from coastal flooding and coastal hazards through the coastal, estuary and floodplain management programs. However there is not presently much adaptation action, mainly due to political sensitivity and lack of a clear and universal framework for adaptation planning. This will change over the next few years as further information becomes available and policies are developed: especially through the OEH's NSW Climate Change Science Program, which is developing a Regional Climate Model for NSW on a 10km2 grid grid, rather than the current 300km2 grid; the 5th Assessment Report of the IPCC (due in 2014), and as further actual measurements of sea level rise and ice melt.
Skills Shortage - There has always been a skills shortage of engineers in Local Government, mainly due to salaries being in the bottom 5% of the industry. In NSW Council's now have to produce 4-year Workforce Management Strategies that will assess issues within the Council, such as a skills shortage. I assume that if the skills shortage becomes chronic then it can be resolved, possibly via justification in the Workforce Management Strategy, by paying engineers at a high enough rate to attract engineers from the private sector.
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