Reprint from The Globe and Mail

By Pearl Sullivan, Dean of Engineering, University of Waterloo

Engineering and engineers are vital in Canada’s quest to be at the forefront of the technological revolution. There are immense opportunities for countries creating and delivering innovative solutions to address the complex challenges of our time. Sustained economic growth and shared prosperity will arise from dynamic ecosystems that enable rapid transition from research laboratories to the marketplace and are capable of influencing the global supply chain.

Researchers in Waterloo Engineering Anechoic Chamber

Waterloo Engineering’s anechoic chamber is part of the Centre for Intelligent Antenna and Radio Systems, where students, faculty and industry are conducting research that will lead to new wireless technologies.

The McKinsey Global Institute has identified 12 technologies expected to empower economic growth through the “capacity to disrupt.” Half of these disruptors are information and communications technologies (ICT) – an area where Canada is punching above its weight.  In a 2015 report on ICT readiness, the World Economic Forum moves Canada up six spots to 11th out of 143 economies. At 44 per cent, Canada boasts one of the highest percentages of workers employed in knowledge-intensive jobs and is ranked 14th worldwide.

Canada has become a significant global player due to our clusters of ICT expertise. For example, the University of Waterloo’s Faculty of Engineering is the largest engineering school in Canada and the institution has one of the highest concentrations of electrical and computer engineering and computer science researchers in North America, with a concentrated focus on ICT.

Our country’s critical mass of ICT experts is augmented by institutional investments into ICT infrastructure, research and academic programs. These engineering research centres prepare the country for the changing labour market and the next wave of emerging technologies, such as the Internet of Things.

ESSENTIAL TO GLOBAL COMPETITIVENESS

Engineers and engineering are essential to Canada’s competitiveness on the world stage. In the growing areas of personalized health care, cybersecurity, connected vehicles, sustainable infrastructure, distributed manufacturing and environmental management, all engineering disciplines have vital roles to play, including c-suite leadership. Medicine, for example, is now so advanced it requires engineering. Time magazine – recognizing the dire need for engineering research, especially into bioengineering, nanotechnology and Big Data – stated, “Today the physics of cancer are known: what remains is massive engineering.” America has begun the convergence of engineering with medical training.

Engineering, and the reason people choose to become engineers, is intrinsically rooted in its goal of improving the human condition.

With $60-trillion of infrastructure investment needed worldwide by 2030, there will be a massive need to build intelligent, sustainable and affordable infrastructure ranging from engineered solar projects, water recovery systems and sustainable building materials to reliable ICT platforms. Canada is a respected exporter of engineering solutions, but in this era of increasing agility and greater sophistication of engineering systems, highly skilled, cross-functional R&D talent will make the difference.

ENGINEERS ARE NATION BUILDERS

Yet research alone is not enough; it must translate into shared prosperity through new industry, opportunities and job creation. Fortunately, engineers as researchers, practitioners and innovators are enhancing Canada’s economy through entrepreneurship. Nearly 600 companies can claim a Waterloo engineer or engineering student as the founder.

Engineering has always played a significant role in nation building. Indeed, the future is in our hands.