Future engineers will need to be better prepared for leadership roles, with a more thorough understanding of the impacts of their work on society. That, at least, is the conclusion drawn by a Young Person’s Forum hosted in May 2017 by The Ove Arup Foundation.
Participants in the forum felt that those engineers already equipped with technical expertise would benefit from stronger social sciences training to support them in leadership positions. In an era where big technology companies have influential, unelected leaders of their own, a focus on the social impact of design in the built environment is vital.
The purpose of the Foundation’s interactive workshop was to think about the trends and issues shaping cities over the next 25 years, and direct funding toward new challenges in the built environment. A small group of young people from Arup as well as representatives from RIBA, RCA and CIBSE considered a number of trends and prioritised six – leadership; digital society; artificial intelligence; sustainable behaviours; land use patterns; and water management – and discussed their impact on the role of a built environment professional.
They went on to discuss the risks, challenges and opportunities for the sector, as well as identifying new skills, knowledge, methods and educational tools that are likely to be useful.
Besides leadership skills, Artificial Intelligence (AI) was deemed likely to have a big impact on skills in the future. It certainly needs to be part of a built environment professional’s tool set and language. Climate change, too, should be addressed through improved foresight and holistic thinking in the planning process, with an emphasis on connecting citizens to the built environment, and avoiding the risk of over-engineering.
Other topics discussed included the effects that an increasingly digitally-driven society might have on consumption patterns and the shape of the city itself, and the age-old issue of how to protect long-term engineering visions in the face of short-term planning and political motivation.