I have been given the challenge to deliver a course on ‘Professional Responsibilities of the Engineer’, which has in turn forced me to reflect on how one can elicit the commitment of hundreds of future engineers to always take a considered course of action and make morally defensible decisions.
Most engineers will agree that what makes them (us) tick is the challenge of solving problems. Many will also openly say that our passion and aspiration is to use our skills to make a positive change to the world. The dilemma, however, is that what is good for some may not be so for others. What is a solution in one area, in one culture, in one industry could be a challenge and even a disaster in other.
Our relevant professional bodies such as the Institute of Mechanical Engineering, the Engineering Council and the Royal Academy of Engineering are in agreement about what it means to be a professional engineer; someone trained as such, who ensures their competence whilst acting with integrity and rigour and who puts the public good above all priorities, whilst listening and actively communicating relevant information to all stakeholders.
The guidelines otherwise known as codes of conduct help us follow ethical courses of action. But are these guidelines enough?
As I prepare to meet these hundreds of future engineers, who we’ve been training to be the best technically able, curious, creative and ambitious professionals. But who are also acutely aware of their value to society, I feel a pang of anxiety, I confess.
As an educator I am responsible to prepare these professional engineers to enter a complex world, where every decision, every action can and will bring about change. Will it be the right change? We should all hope so.
I will aim to equip each of them with the frameworks and tools that they can refer back to, in order to help them reach the best morally justifiable decisions. But the world is too complex to familiarise oneself with all possible courses of action.
The mere idea of ‘teaching’ thought models in a classroom suggests that students will be exposed to a limited number of set norms and constrain views. In her review of PREMag, Dr Bev Gibbs said: “This learning technique is an explicit attempt to disrupt that process and invite a wider conversation for students, most of whom will go on to be practitioners responsible of engineering the future.”
With this in mind, I ask you to please engage with the students’ conversations and help them with your constructive views, opinions and advice so that when they are in a position to make a decision in the future, they do so in the knowledge that they considered every possible option and chose the best course of action.