As the judges are pouring over submissions, we’re all curious as to how they are evaluating them. It won’t be long before we know the answer, but as the awards create a buzz around finding the best examples of engineering practice, I’m keen to talk about “profession” and what it means to the engineer.
In their book ‘The Future of the Professions’, Richard and Daniel Susskind set out two possible futures of the professions. One where technology helps professionals deliver what they always have, but in smarter and faster ways, and another where technology takes over and the nature of the work changes, and ‘professionals’ become obsolete. It seemed to me their starting assumption was that professional institutions like ours typically act to save their future by putting more and more effort into protecting the boundaries of who has access to expert knowledge in order to practice as a ’professional’. This attitude of an elitist club is what the Susskinds relied on for their proposition, I felt.
Seven years on from publication, the digital transformation that has been taking place in design and construction is phenomenal, yes, and the provocations in the book are still real, but I see ‘profession’ very differently. Being professional, is not only delivering advice and expertise, it is also being part of a professional community of diverse abilities and experience, experts and new practitioners, all people who are learning and challenging one another to do better.
Collectively, the more liberally we share the more we learn. We can harness technology, but we’re a long way from technology taking over this human thirst for doing better than last time. Nothing could be more important than having communities which enable engineers to reach for the best skills in their field and broaden their outlook. Discussion and sharing brings about stronger, more robust, more embedded, more inspiring ideas and excellence in practice. We are social beings. We love to connect with both like-minded people and those who bring different ideas and experiences. This is what being a professional is all about.
To do better work than last time, we need to know where is the best example of what has been achieved to date? Now, looking around us and learning is one thing. Arguably much harder is how we pass on our experiences and knowledge, and this is where we need our community, our Institution, and we need to celebrate those people who go out of their way to do that.
Being passionate about your work is perhaps the most infectious way of inspiring others, and if you entered your work to the Awards, you can feel proud of taking that step, and please do it again and again. I hope, however, that the judges are looking for more than a great project which pushes the boundaries of what is possible – new methods, materials, new ways of working. I hope they are looking for people who have created the paths, put in place the steps, and shared their vision for a future which makes abundant and consistent use of their innovative work, across many different projects and in many places.
The winner may have contributed to new codes of practice, new teaching materials, or in other ways enabled others to learn from them. Let’s not forget also the enormous power of learning from mistakes. CROSS is now an established programme for sharing lessons learned, and it needed a visionary push to create it, and the skill to implement it, promote and continuously strengthen it. Maybe there is a submission which has the seeds of a scalable idea like this.
For those teams who have created the entries which will inspire us all, I hope you all do brilliantly, and I hope you continue to pursue ways of spreading the word, enabling everyone to access your great ideas, and that we all keep learning.