The Nobel Laureate Robert Solow described in 1957 how technological change, which germinates new ideas, products and solutions, and thereby enhances productivity, is inextricably linked with the economic growth that improves our standard of living. This change contributes to over 80% of the growth in the OECD economies of North America.
However, technological change also contributes to “creative destruction”. It disrupts industries, destroys jobs in certain sectors and creates new demand in nascent fields, which require different skills. Consequently, better educated workers are favoured, tasks that were previously performed by less skilled workers become automated, and the demand for innovative thinkers increases.
Engineers play a pivotal role in this continual disruption and reshaping of our economy. As educators, we know that change need not be a runaway train. Hence, we work as best as we are able to prevent a mismatch between the anticipated demand for new expertise and what our graduates are able to supply.
Our engineering graduates must be able to ride the waves of disruption. They cannot be hobbled by deficiencies in their education and training in the face of relentless technological change. Therefore, we continually adjust the engineering curricula to safeguard our graduates from being submerged by disruption.
However, enhancing our graduates’ employability by educating them only to address and foster innovation is insufficient. We strive to imbue engineers with an ethical compass, one that encourages them to improve our human condition. There are more contributions to our standard of living than aspiring for affluent comfort. Our graduates must also realize how the evolution of technology interacts with our economy and society.
New technologies have profound and synergistic implications for family structures, work relations, settlement patterns, economic and political power configurations, and on behaviour patterns and value systems. Technical change evolves attitudes and values, which in turn have a major impact on the course and momentum of change itself.
At McMaster, we are preparing our engineering graduates to address grand challenges. They will drive breakthroughs in information technologies, invent new robust and ecologically responsible materials, develop biomedical and therapeutic devices and technologies, improve environment protection, create carbon neutral energy solutions, and upgrade our infrastructure.
Our aspiration is to imbue them with imagination, compassion and fortitude. Why? Because, we believe in the prosperity of the whole, the well being of our economy and society, and our personal and cultural freedoms.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead