On October 30, Engineers Ireland hosted a one-day conference focused on Irish engineering education in an international context and within the framework of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), and Dr Diarmuid Ó Briain provides an overview of its presentations.

The event was launched by Marguerite Sayers, president of Engineers Ireland. During her launch speech, she made a general point, with some levity, that artificial intelligence and automation would replace 94 per cent of accountants; however, it would only displace two per cent of engineers.

Fully computerisable

Researching this point, Frey and Osborne (2013) ranked a large set of jobs based on the probability that they were fully computerisable (1) or not at all computerisable (0) and a scale of probability per job between 0 and 1.

Many engineering roles were in fact closer to 0 while traditional book-keeping type accounts did tend towards 1. Worryingly, however, many engineering technician roles also tended towards (1).

Overall, the report estimates that 47 per cent of jobs are at risk of automation; however, since then, numerous other studies have emerged, challenging these assertions and arrive at very different conclusions.

Examples include a University of Mannheim report which suggests that only nine per cent of jobs are exposed to automation and an OECD report that proposes the exposed jobs figure is actually 14 per cent, with a further 32 per cent of jobs at risk or will suffer significant change as a result of automation.

After Sayers' opening remarks, William Beausang, assistant secretary general, Department of Education and Skills set the scene for the day’s conference by outlining the national perspective.

William Beausang, Department of Education and Skills.

New Technological University (TU) sector

He described various government policies that underpin engineering education as well as the reasons for these. He developed on the specific policies that support the new Technological University (TU) sector and described the expectation that this sector will become a key driver of the Human Capital Initiative project to increase capacity in skills-focused programmes designed to meet priority skills needs of the future economy.

Beausang’s talk was an ideal foundation for the day as it laid out the big picture from both the economic and government perspectives.

Professor Mike Murphy, TU Dublin, followed with a presentation on the work of the European Society for Engineering Education and the UK/Ireland Engineering Education Research Network. He discussed the requirement for third level lecturers, in engineering, to embrace the pedagogy element of their roles as well as the engineering element.

He suggested that many lecturers are good engineers, but not necessarily good lecturers and he urged the consideration of a necessary postgraduate certificate in teaching and learning for all lecturers in all engineering faculties, as it is in TU Dublin.

He also promoted the adoption of frameworks for curriculum planning and outcome-based assessment like Conceive Design Implement Operate (CDIO) for engineering departments.

Rapid transformation

He mentioned the rapid transformation occurring in engineering education in China today and in particular the Tsinghua University which is receiving very high levels of financial investment, that even dwarf the investment being made at many US universities, in their drive to become the world’s No 1 university.

Finally, he linked engineering education and societal impact and spoke of a need to incorporate societal impact within engineering curricula.

“If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video must be worth 1.8 million.” McQuivey, de Lussanet and Wilkos, 2008

Kevin Rudden, European Federation of Engineering Consultancy Associations (EFCA) introduced the audience to agile management and its role in future engineering, particularly consulting engineering.

His talk moved to the law of small teams, the law of the network and the law of the customer as elements of Agile Management. This led on to a journey through the EFCA Future trends in the consulting engineering industry report (Boiet et al, 2019). As part of this, Kevin used Goldcorp, a poorly preforming mining company, as an example. Goldcorp turned to Wikinomics, the use of mass collaboration in a business environment, to turn their fortunes around. Finally, the presentation considered disruption in the industry, the importance of data as the fuel of the future company and he mentioned Wunsun, a Chinese company, who 3D print houses at $5,000 each.

The final speaker of the morning was Ulrika Lindstrand of the Swedish Association of Graduate Engineers (Sveriges Ingenjörer).

She spoke of a Swedish initiative called Study Friday, a collaboration between the engineering bodies and the third level institutes, colleges and universities to designate Friday as a day for continuing professional development (CPD).

Incorporate working graduates within their programmes

In the proposal third level colleges incorporate working graduates within their programmes on a planned basis. This has the potential for knock-on benefits like interaction between under-graduates and experienced engineers with field experience.

Ulrika Lindstrand, Swedish Association of Graduate Engineers (Sveriges Ingenjörer).

She suggested that course modularisation will be required to make this proposal feasible, such modules forming the basis of a degree for the modern student.

Additionally, these modules can also form the basis for Study Friday engineers as top-up CPD units. Sveriges Ingenjörer have shared the proposal with both the Swedish ministers for education and innovation who were both highly complementary of the initiative but also highlighted the need for buy in from the finance minister.

Morning coffee was an opportunity for attendees to mingle and discuss the mornings topics. This was followed by pitches from four interesting research projects focused on engineering education.

Creative Engine (https://creative-engine.org/), a project from Dublin City University was described by Kelvin Martins.

This project considers creativity leading to innovation as prerequisites for the generation and sustaining of competitive advantage. However, if value is to be derived from innovation, then the innovation must be structured. The project team has written an article for this issue of the Engineers Journal, available here.

Darren Carty, TU Dublin described the 'Professional Roles and Employability of Future Engineers (PREFER)' project that is being conducted in partnership with TU Delft.

Engineering skills mismatch

This project is looking at engineering skills mismatch and identified that Ireland is 28th out of 28th, yes last, in terms of skills mismatch and has held this position, consistently, over a number of years.

The project, through a survey across Europe, identified that while there is agreement on the importance of transversal skills for engineers, employers have observed significant gaps between expectations and reality.

The project is building a framework of professional roles for future engineers and the implementation of dedicated skills education in engineering curricula to match students to these roles around three main themes:

  • Product leadership
  • Operational excellence
  • Customer intimacy

It was identified that engineering students, in general, consider their future working in engineering design roles and that a reality check is required, students must understand that as engineers they will be required to work closely with customers and these customers may not be engineers themselves.

It is therefore essential that, as part of their training, engineering students acquire skills associated with people networking, clear communication as well as what is considered hard engineering skills.

Critical thinking education

CRITHINKEDU (https://researchrepository.ucd.ie/handle/10197/10449), is a pan-European project with a view to critical thinking education for university teachers that was powerfully delivered by Professor Aoife Ahern of University College Dublin.

The project was influenced by the ideas of Facione (2007) on critical thinking. His definitions suggest that, while all engineering programmes advertise that graduates will be critical thinkers, it is problem solving that is being described, not critical thinking. Critical thinking is not the same as problem solving.

Prof Ahern continued by describing critical thinking in engineering across two key areas, core skills which engineers appear comfortable with and dispositions which she claimed that they are not.

A major output from the project is a course programme on critical thinking education for university teachers: from conception to delivery (CRITHINKEDU, 2018).

The final project pitch was the A-STEP 2030 (www.astep2030.eu) project described by Una Beagon, TU Dublin.

Panel discussion of EU-funded research projects focusing on engineering education.

This project attempts to understand what is necessary to attract diverse talent towards the engineering professions of 2030. It considers aligning the values of people with the skills required for future engineering.

Specific attention to sources of missed talent to the profession is considered, gender, socially diverse groups and mature students to name a few.

It also analyses the current treatment of the UN SDGs within engineering programmes today, with a view to the skills and competencies that will be required in future programmes incorporating SDG goals. Beagon has written an article for this issue of the Engineers Journal, available here.

Panel discussion

After lunch, Damien Owens, Engineers Ireland registrar, presented the various inputs into the Engineers Ireland Chartered Engineer, Associate Engineer and Engineering Technician Regulations.

The Washington, Sydney and Dublin accords, the European Federation of National Engineering Associations (FEANI), the Bologna Process, the Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) were detailed. Owens also shared the process for the ongoing review of the regulations, citing that the last review was back in 2014.

Maria Kyne, Limerick Institute of Technology, presented her PhD topic on the alignment of the programmatic review process and the Engineers Ireland accreditation of engineering programmes. She discussed:

  • Significant overlaps on programme outcomes (up to 90 per cent identified in her study)
  • The need for closer alignment on process
  • Co-ordination between Gatekeepers (Engineers Ireland, QQI, registrars and heads of departments)

Kyne has written an article for this issue of the Engineers Journal, available here.


Kyne’s research aroused significant debate over the remainder of the day and was a central theme to some of the afternoon workshops.

In all, the afternoon session included nine breakout workshop groups on topics given topics such as future engineering programme outcomes, accreditation and programmatic review alignment, quality assurance and reporting.

Conference delegates broke out into nine workshop groups to deliberate to future of Engineers Ireland’s accreditation.

The conference was a worthwhile opportunity for academics in engineering to take a step out of the lecture theatre and consider the big picture in terms of future skills, standards and mobility. How will academia adjust to meet future demands?

Dr Richard Manton, Engineers Ireland deputy registrar and policy officer thanked the attendees for their valuable contribution to the day’s work and suggested that progress could continue through the Engineers Ireland Academic Society, a special interest group for engineers who lecture and conduct research in third-level institutions.


1.) Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne. The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are jobs to computerisation?. Oxford Martin School. University of Oxford. September 17, 2013.
2.) James L McQuivey, Michelle de Lussanet and Dan Wilkos. How Video Will Take Over The World: What The Rise Of OmniVideo Means For Consumer Product Strategy Professionals. June 17, 2008.
3.) Maurizio Boi, Christophe Castaing, Maximilian Grauvogl, Nikola Matić, Kevin Rudden, Jan Van der Putten and Eleonora Smargiassi. Future trends in the consulting engineering industry. 9 May 2019. ISBN: 9789075085068.
4.) Peter A Facione. Critical thinking: What it is and why it counts. Insight assessment 2007, no. 1 (2011): 1-23.
CRITHINKEDU Project. The CRITHINKEDU European course on critical thinking education for university teachers: from conception to delivery. 22 May 2018.

Author: Dr Diarmuid Ó Briain is a Chartered Engineer and Fellow of Engineers Ireland. He is a telecommunications engineer and currently a lecturer at the Department of Aerospace, Mechnical and Electronics (AME) at the Institute of Technology, Carlow. He started his career as a technician in the Communications and Information Services Corps of the Defence Forces where he served three tours with the UN force in Lebanon. On leaving the Defence Forces in 1996 he worked as an engineer and engineering manager in USRobotics, 3Com, UTStarcom and as chief technical officer in Ripplecom. In 2015 he took a role lecturing at the College of Engineering, Makerere University in Uganda where he was a founding member of the netLabs!UG Research Centre there.