Out with the ordinary

Tags: Knowledge

With the world looking for solutions beyond borders, we need engineers who can think out of the box

What should we, as a country, do to become the real player of the future world? One way is to nurture future innovators. Organisations want not only exceptional scientists and engineers, but also persons who are temperamentally innovators. An innovative organisation understands the joys of uncertainty.

How do we prepare young innovators for the future world? Tony Wagner, author of Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World, says to drive the young to think beyond the box we need teachers who can think out of the box. The out of the box thinkers love the learning culture that appreciates problem-based multidisciplinary approach to learning. This culture encourages the learner to learn from the mistakes. The out of the box thinkers are not averse to taking risks.

The support of teachers and parents plays a significant role in nurturing young innovators. Wagner thinks, contrary to the opinion of many, that today’s generation is not materialistic. “What they may end up doing is some compromising in terms of whom they are willing to work for.” This connected generation knows how to find support for what they want and need. Wagner’s advice to the parents is that they should not try to overprotect the­ir children. Hel­icopter parenting, hovering over the children all the time, is certainly not an innovative idea.

Subra Suresh of Carnegie Mel­lon Univer­sity highlights some major global trends that are shaping engineering talent in the recent years. One of the trends is that Asian education and research and development (R&D) will soon represent a larger investment than is being made in either the Americas or Europe. In 2012, the total worldwide investment in R&D was estimated to be $1.4 trillion, split in roughly equal portions among the Americas, Europe, and Asia. The second trend Suresh mentions about is that shifting demographics are transforming the hunt for talent. In Asia, 19.2 per cent of all college graduates are engineers; in the European Union, 12.1 per cent are engineers; and in the United States, just 4.4 per cent are engineers. As global challenges require global solutions, Suresh says that cross border talent will be required to solve grand challenges. Another important trend is that output of the talent has no borders and borderless knowledge enterprises are the order of the day.

Marie Thursby of Georgia Institute of Technology says innovation is the adoption of inventors not the invention itself. For enabling this adoption, engineers play a pivotal role. She doesn’t forget to mention the fact that “real wages for engineering graduates have been more or less constant during the last 20 years, which does not indicate a rosy job outlook.” Thursby’s suggestion is to broaden the engineering education base by combining engineering with degrees in law or business. This is one way of grooming CEO’s, rather than limiting them to the role of CTO’s. Obviously all this is not possible in the already overburdened course structure, unless the time frame to complete the requirements for a degree is increased appropriately.

No one doubts the place of engineers in society, but, as William Banholzer of the Dow Chemical Company says to retain their unique place in society they need to do a better job of explaining the value they create for society. “Brains are globally distributed, and we have to maximise the assessment of talent across the globe,” says Banholzer. zz

(The writer is a biotechnologist

and ED, Birla Institute

of Scientific Research, Jaipur)

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