As we work to a COVID-19 recovery, innovation has emerged as a theme in many of our recent conversations, write Engineers Australia National President Chris Champion and CEO Dr Bronwyn Evans.
We recently celebrated 30 of Australia’s most innovative engineers.
Their work spans a vast and fascinating range, including an artificial intelligence humanitarian tool that improves battlefield decisions and a 3D-printed reinvention of the humble pair of thongs. There’s a wearable braille replacement you can wrap around one finger and phosphorus from waste to help make fertiliser for food.
While the most remarkable innovation examples are about doing what was previously impossible, innovation also includes doing the already possible in new ways — and implementing best practice in new environments.
COVID-19 forced Australia to rethink how we live, work and communicate.
That includes our team at Engineers Australia.
We have mostly been working remotely — but not in isolation. Through our webinars we have engaged and supported our members around the world, with attendees from the US, Japan, Hong Kong, India and Mauritius.
Recent initiatives have included a series of virtual CEO Roundtables, where we discussed the longer-term implications of COVID-19 — and, it seems, flexible working is one innovation that’s here to stay!
One CEO described the response to COVID-19 as the “biggest, fastest experiment we could have ever asked for” in flexible work. It demonstrated that outcomes were delivered, enhancing trust. New voices came to the fore, with the changed dynamics of online meetings.
Relationships were maintained and, in some ways, improved.
“As leaders, it’s humanised us in a way that you couldn’t with a million town-hall meetings,” another CEO reflected.
“We’ve invited all our staff into our houses. And, when the dog barks or someone walks behind you, they go, ‘Okay, you’re a human being the same as everybody else.’”
Future innovations that we discussed could include reducing the need for on-site inspections, for example, with lidar-equipped drones. New programs could enable engineers to get experience in both client and delivery organisations.
Chartered credentials could help further develop and demonstrate engineering capability, helping companies win work based on skills, rather than by discounting fees.
The need for innovation also forms part of our recently published paper, COVID-19 Recovery: a 9-Point Plan, which is available here.
The plan identifies immediate measures to protect jobs and help business: things like investment in infrastructure, asset management and better payment and procurement practices. As described in the plan, we want governments and the private sector to invest in research and development with a flexible “start-up mindset” to capitalise on opportunities, including the transition to a low carbon future.
An invigorated focus on innovation can create environmentally and economically sustainable and resilient industries in the years ahead — and to serve the ultimate customer of all engineers: our community.