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Insights Is this generation of engineers best placed to tackle climate change?

Chris Mulligan | Strategic Growth Director

Sustainability, green buildings, net zero – over the last decade we’ve seen these terms turn from buzz words to business imperatives. Climate change is an issue we’re all aware of in the engineering industry and something most of us believe we can make a real difference to. Now is the time for us all to be thinking seriously about how we make more of an impact on the sustainability agenda.

As a judge for this year’s NCE Grad Awards, I’m pleased to see climate change as the challenge that has been set for applicants. Because I really do believe that this generation of engineers are better placed than any other to tackle climate change.

Why is that? Well, they have four big things working in their favour: passion, data & technology, diversity and a global framework.

The passion to make things happen

This generation is not only more personally invested in climate change, but believe they, and the companies they work for, have a responsibility to address it. AtkinsRéalis ’s Generation Z report found that 80% of young people believe current leaders haven’t done enough to protect the environment and feel it’s up to them to build a more sustainable future.

You only have to look at the news to see how this feeling of ‘it’s up to us’ is manifesting itself. With high profile young activists like Greta Thunberg leading the way, I can only see this movement continuing to grow in number and power over the coming years. This passion and fight for a more sustainable future is something the next generation will bring not only to their everyday lives, but to their work and workplaces.

The data and technology to do things differently

Another thing this generation has in their favour is the huge amount of technology and data available to them. They have automation and AI at their fingertips, allowing them to spend less time doing the basics and more time solving the big issues like climate change. Advances in technology will enable us to increase productivity in construction and make more efficient use of the existing capacity we have. It will also help us to make better decisions and innovative solutions to benefit our environment. This means engineering firms are investing in technology like never before and changing their cultures to be more agile and innovative; so this generation will enter a workforce ready and open to do things differently.

And let’s not forget that this generation has the skills to use this data and technology to understand the problem better and come up with new solutions. Engineering degrees increasingly incorporate subjects like data analysis and coding into their curriculum. And engineering firms are increasingly looking to hire people with these skills, even if they haven’t done a traditional engineering degree.

The diversity to come up with something new

It’s been a long journey (and one we’re still on today) but diversity in engineering is improving. At Atkins, we’ve seen our number of female graduates and apprentices jump to 31% and 26% respectively in 2018. What’s more, we’ve seen a real shift from the industry having to make the business case for diversity, to it being integrated into almost every engineering firm’s strategy.

I can only see diversity continuing to improve in the coming years, which means the next generation will bring a wider, and more varied, set of viewpoints to the table when we look to tackle problems like climate change. It’s about diversity of thinking as much as it is about diversity of people, and these new perspectives on an old problem can only yield better results.

Growing global political support

Finally, we are seeing much more global political collaboration and support for the sustainability agenda than we have ever seen before. Political leadership and government policy is a critical factor in creating the conditions for industry change. Further, there are increasingly organised global sustainability initiatives, such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals. This ‘blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all’ provides clear focus areas for the next generation, with many businesses, including Atkins, aligning their sustainability strategy to the UN’s. Initiatives such as these will drive improved collaboration and better outcomes for the environment.

With these four things combined, the next generation has everything they need to change the tide of climate change. Together, we can find the solutions we’ve long been searching for. If you’re one of these bright, young engineers with great ideas on how we could tackle climate change, apply for the NCE Grad Awards – change starts here!