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August 12, 2009

Reprinted from Skulematters 2009 

By Murray Metcalfe (MIE 7T7) Professor, Globalization

Early in 2008 I joined a Task Force formed to respond to a question from the Dean: Given we are living in a time of much greater global interconnections between organizations, what does this means for the Faculty in terms of how we educate future engineers and how do these global issues relate to our research agenda?  

As the Task Force began exploring the dimensions of globalization and engineering, three themes clearly emerged in defining a global engineer. 

Theme 1:  Global Competition and Collaboration

A massive amount of attention is paid to jobs outsourced from North America to other countries, and that outsourcing now includes engineering and technical jobs. We learned from talking to representatives of Canadian high tech companies how engineering jobs move with the manufacturing. When acquiring companies in other locales like Malaysia or Taiwan, a Canadian company may find a whole set of engineering skills, such as optimizing for extremely low cost products, already in place. Whole industries, such as the manufacturing of heavy electrical equipment (including the engineering design work associated with that equipment) have largely picked up and de-camped to South America, as explained to us by a senior official at Brookfield Renewable Power. What about collaboration,  which includes any work done interactively by geographically disparate teams 24 hours a day? Is that something we can explicitly teach? 

Theme 2:  Environment, Sustainability, and Energy

This theme has come to permeate every aspect of engineering work. Environmental and sustainability issues once the domain of civil engineers — now are crucial in the chemical, mechanical, electrical, mining, and aerospace disciplines. Engineers across every field understand the stringent requirements now imposed on processes, manufacturing, product disposal, and many other areas. 

One alumnus explained the painstaking efforts required under the European Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive to track the origin of every component that goes into a circuit board assembly, even when components come from multiple manufacturers. Engineers are beginning to look at lifecycle and the emerging “cradle-to-cradle” design approaches. The energy consumption of products is also a crucial element of all engineering design. 

Theme 3:  Technology and Engineering in Global Development: Addressing the Issues  of the World’s Poor

Engineering-driven organizations have a crucial role to play in addressing this theme. In a speech delivered at the World Economic Forum in 2008, Bill Gates called for “creative capitalism” to address the problems of the world’s most in need. He called upon top corporations (including universities) to devote a portion of their top performers’ time to address issues of the world’s poorest citizens, and to do so in a way that integrates those efforts into the core of the organization. 

There have been successful projects in building low cost solutions for use in rugged settings, such as work on low cost LED lighting powered by solar cells to displace the use of kerosene lamps in developing settings. MIT’s NextLab has developed some fascinating prototypes including the adaptation of a cell phone with a camera running artificial intelligence software for use in screening for cervical cancer in remote African villages. There are many opportunities for technology “leapfrogging” in the developing world to avoid the problems created in the advanced economies. 

Moving Forward: Global Style

These themes of engineering and globalization continue to gain momentum in the Faculty. Dean Cristina Amon is committed to integrating a global perspective, and we have a core group of committed faculty actively addressing these topics. Moreover, we already have a broad range of work that spans borders based on international collaborations. When compared with other Engineering programs, we have an unusually diverse faculty and student body in terms of the countries and cultures represented. The Faculty  is ranked No. 10 worldwide in technical education and sits in the heart of an incredibly diverse city. 

Planned initiatives based on recommendations of the Globalization Task Force include new courses addressing globalization themes, integrating a global perspective into existing courses, including some of the core courses taken by all undergraduates, a proposed minor in Globalization, and visiting scholars and speakers, which includes the Globalization Speaker Series that began this term. 

Canada’s First Centre for Global Engineering  at U of T

Additionally, the Faculty has recently launched the Centre for Global Engineering (CGEN). It will have a student education and a research agenda and will link to globalization efforts within the Faculty and elsewhere at U of T. CGEN will also collaborate and partner with other academic institutions in Canada and overseas. 

How our Alumni can  Shape Global Engineering  for the 21st Century with  a U of T Flavour

We hope alumni will take an interest, and even better, get involved in these initiatives. The U of T global footprint is substantial, in terms of not only where alumni live (basically everywhere), but also in terms of the reach of the organizations for which they work or are involved in.

Our faculty, students, and alums are diverse. We can literally assemble a team complete with language and cultural skills to work anywhere. We hope to attract the alumni community into these undertakings, and create benefits for all involved. There is an opportunity to shape the global engineer of the 21st century with a U of T flavour!  

Murray Metcalfe (MIE 7T7) is the Faculty’s newly appointed Professor, Globalization and is an adjunct professor for MIE and CivE. He began his career at McKinsey & Company and then spent over 20 years in the venture capital industry. In the spring of 2008 he was a visiting scholar in the Department of International Development Engineering at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. He holds a MSc and PhD from Stanford University.

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