As noted in a variety of professional reports, the water industry is currently experiencing a skills shortage due to many career engineers either leaving the profession or reaching retirement age. The question that remains is: What is being done at the tertiary level to fill this shortage? According to the National Committee on Water Engineering (2010), “The education of water engineers should be viewed as a process that initiates undergraduates into water engineering and then maintains and nurtures their skills and professionalism throughout the remainder of their career.” That is, tertiary study should be seen as the start of an engineer’s learning journey, with industry experience continuing the education process all the way to retirement.
To see how much emphasis universities place on water engineering education, an examination was performed on the weighting of courses offered in the area of water engineering within bachelor of civil engineering programs currently offered at tertiary institutions across Australia.
The courses counted under the heading of ‘water engineering’ included the well-recognised ones such as fluid mechanics, hydrology and hydraulics, as well as water and wastewater engineering. This did not include courses that may have incorporated an imbedded design component or special topic, due to difficulty in determining the component weighting. It is important to note that while Engineers Australia does not specify exact course content and structure, it does provide general guidelines, so it is up to the individual institutions to determine exactly what is taught.
From examining 27 undergraduate programs offered by Australian universities, it is clear they all offer the basic fluid mechanics and hydrology-based courses. Their exact content can vary, but they do aim to address the fundamental knowledge requirements essential to water engineering. Further analysis reveals a significant issue, which is that few, if any, other water or wastewater engineering courses are considered a core requirement.
A study of core courses currently undertaken by undergraduate engineering students across Australia reveals they experience only a small degree of exposure to water engineering courses. Consequently, upon graduation, they may be unfamiliar with the profession, which could lead to a severe skills shortage in the near future.Therefore, changes to educational programs will need to be considered.
Water engineering education, program design