Saturday, May 25, 1996, 10 a.m.

Address to convocation by Dr. Wallace S. Read


Today, you stand on the doorstep of a new and exciting age for our profession of engineering, an age which you will have the privilege of experiencing and influencing. As you enter the workforce of this country, you can take pride in Canada's record of achievements. Those that have gone before you have made their share of mistakes, that's for sure, but great achievements do not come to those who are unwilling to take a risk and occasionally make a wrong move. In relative terms this nation and its human technical resource, of which you now become a part, are very highly regarded by our peers, and the envy of others less fortunate than ourselves.

That should make you proud and thankful and excited about the future and what it holds for you and your chosen profession. Therefore, it saddens me at times to witness a streak of pessimism showing up in our ranks as to the future in a world undergoing massive changes in institutions once regarded sacred and untouchable.

None will dispute that governments around the world are having great difficulty in coping with rising concerns about employment levels, public health, the well being of an aging population, the education and training of our workforce, and the public debt, to mention just a few of the pressing problems.

None will deny that some of these same pressures, and the knowledge explosion, is testing the curricula, the faculty and the facilities of educational institutions and research centres such as our own here at Memorial University.

Certainly none of us can plead ignorance that global competitiveness, and the rapidity at which new technologies are introduced, have had a tremendous impact on the industrial front.

Nevertheless we must view all of these changes, not as unassailable barriers which discourage us, but as challenges which stimulate us. Your future and the future for our profession is indeed bright, if we play our cards right.

So what will the 21st-Century Engineer look like?

He or she will continue to have a strong technical expertise, but it will be balanced with broader skills in business acumen, skills of an entrepreneurial nature, skills in human resource management, in marketing, and in finance.

The 21st-Century Engineer will have sharpened his or her capability to communicate both in the written and oral modes. He or she will appreciate more fully the importance of working in teams to tackle issues and resolve problems. The day of the closeted individual is over. Things are just too complicated to rely on individual action.

Above all, tomorrow's engineer will recognize that success, in this new competitive business environment, makes it imperative to take charge of one's own destiny. The key to this is that one assumes responsibility for maintaining one's own technical and professional vitality. The learning process does not stop today when you leave this room. Today it starts in earnest.

Take the positive view. Technology advances and workplace changes lead to exciting and rewarding careers, but they require one to be prepared, to be flexible and committed to continuing professional development. Remember technology today changes an order of magnitude every six years, which means that the half-life of an engineering education is about five years. Establishing a framework for lifelong learning is the key for survival. Make a pledge to do that as you leave this hall today.

How do you go about all of this?

First and foremost, develop a comprehensive plan for formal and continuing education which suits your personal needs. Stay close to what is happening in your field of endeavor. Make it a habit to stay close to new technology developments. Read the current literature. And, above all, network with others in the profession. Get connected early in the game. Seize every opportunity to meet with your peers through conferences and local meetings of members of your profession. Read the publications in your field. Take advantage of short course offerings in your field of expertise. Establish a rapport with your employer so that there is an understanding on both sides that a better trained, more competent employee is a win-win situation for both of you.

As I go around the world, on behalf of the profession, meeting with industry executives, educators and government leaders, I never cease to be amazed by the commonality in thinking in what needs to be done to ensure that our human technical resource is properly trained and utilized. What seems to be missing is a lack of co-operation amongst the interested parties to implement the changes necessary to achieve that goal. Education is a lifelong process and must involve partnering of academia, industry, governments and professional bodies if we are to be successful. All of us must recognize the need to adapt our programs, and to share in the financial commitment that will be necessary.

I wish each graduate every success. You have taken the first step in the education process of becoming a 21st-Century Engineer. Continue to apply that same effort throughout your entire career. You will find it very rewarding.