Engineers and the fourth industrial revolution: SA's future engineering landscape

The first event in South Australia's Boardroom Lunch series recently allowed guests to share insights on engineers and the fourth industrial revolution.
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Hamish Gamble presenting at the Boardroom Lunch event

At the start of the month, 20 of South Australia’s engineers attended the first of Engineers Australia’s new Boardroom Lunch series.

Targeted towards a group of experienced engineers with a keen interest in advancing our profession, the Boardroom Lunches provide an opportunity to contribute to the blueprint of engineering capability for South Australia.

The first session focused on the topic of engineers and the fourth industrial revolution, exploring how industrial transformation is set to impact the South Australian engineering workforce.

Guests heard from Hamish Gamble, a representative of Flinders University’s Australian Industrial Transformation Institute, as he presented on South Australia’s current economic state, the workforce challenges presented by Industry 4.0, and the opportunities presented by new technology.

With South Australia seeing employment growth slow compared to other states, and both South Australia and Australia being economic complexity laggards, what does this mean for engineering? 

Gamble argued that South Australia, like the rest of the country, needs to diversify its economic base with a focus on knowledge-intensive or ‘complex’ industries. Economic complexity measures the knowledge embedded in a country based on the products that it exports, and countries with high economic complexity are able to combine knowledge in unique ways to produce complex products.

From there, Gamble went on to explore three key challenges facing the engineering workforce in the digital age: Industry 4.0, global adaptation of advanced technologies, and automation.

The three areas will see significant change across the engineering workforce and global expectations. In particular, they will challenge us to maintain a skilled workforce, embrace and adapt to automation, and incorporate data analytics and computer science.

However, at the same time, new digital technologies, their accompanying new business models, and opportunities in increasingly complex and interdependent global value chains will open a range of new economic possibilities and opportunities.

Gamble touched on a range of possibilities to overcome challenges facing the industry, ranging from creating a modern city to attract and keep skilled workers to the bridging of computer science and engineering.

While we can expect to see increased automation and use of robots in workplaces, this will enable firms to hire more workers to maintain technology and free up time for additional technological developments.

Following the presentation, discussion largely focused on opportunities already available to South Australia. The Australian Space Agency, advanced food manufacturing industry and renewables sectors all position the state to take advantage of the Industrial Revolution.

Guests also explored how we can prepare the future engineering workforce to take advantage of these changes, bringing up the need to ensure engineering graduates have the necessary skills and knowledge in a rapidly changing industry.

The lunch was also attended by South Australia Institute of Public Works Engineering Australasia (IPWEA) President, Rod Ellis, presenting the opportunity to announce Engineers Australia’s partnership with the local IPWEA group.

Engineers Australia looks forward to working with IPWEA to identify CPD opportunities and advance the engineering profession for local members.

Image: Hamish Gamble presenting at the Boardroom Lunch event