Alex Manners

MIEAust

Senior Development Engineer

Tamworth Regional Council

Alex Manners is a Senior Development Engineer working for Tamworth Regional Council in Regional NSW. He has spent most of his career working in a variety of infrastructure roles within the water industry in Local Government, ranging from Water and Wastewater Treatment to Civil Construction.

Alex currently works in development engineering as a regulator and assessor for the design and construction civil infrastructure in and around Tamworth.

How long have you been a member of Engineers Australia?

I have been a member of Engineers Australia since 2012 and a local committee member since 2014, being the local committee chair for four of those years. I remain a committee member for the Northern Group, Newcastle. I also served as a Young Engineers Australia representative in 2014.

Why did you pursue a career in engineering?
I wasn’t that sure that I wanted to be an engineer when I left school, but engineering catered to my academic strengths in Science Technology Engineering and Maths (STEM). When I began to study, I became engaged in the way engineers create solutions to complex problems using maths and physics, and their ability to contribute to and shape the world we live in.

What do you see as the main benefits of participating on an Engineers Australia committee?
Australia is a large country and there are many challenges engineers face. In regional areas distance and isolation, developing and maintaining professional networks and accessing development are some of the hardest obstacles to overcome. Being a part of a regional committee gave me the opportunity to help do something about the barriers unique to regional areas and to do something for my profession.

Being an active member of my local committee put me in touch with a variety of members in a broad range of disciplines. Those professionals who shared my passion for engineering have been an invaluable resource throughout my growth as a young engineer.

How can Australian communities/people/society benefit from your work now and in the future?
As an engineer involved in infrastructure, I can expect the work I do to be in service for many years. This adds gravity to the decisions I make as they have the potential to impact members of the community daily for years to come. In turn, it also makes me consider the decisions of my predecessors and try to understand what their vision for the future was.

What is the most challenging or interesting project you’ve ever worked on?
The most difficult challenge I have had is my current role in development engineering. The number of stakeholders, who range from developers to Local Government asset owners, means the decisions I make have a broad impact and have the potential to place one or more stakeholders at a loss. It’s a balancing act of financial impacts, stakeholder relationships and quality of infrastructure, all bounded by a framework of legislation.

What do you see as one of the biggest issues facing the engineering profession?
One of the greatest challenges of our profession is the protection of our engineering standards and the value that is placed on their application, as well as the maintenance of trust in and respect for professional engineers themselves.

The recent failures in the housing sector which have impacted a great many people very publicly has had the potential to erode trust in and damage the reputation of engineers in Australia. Meeting and maintaining our standards and ensuring that their application and interpretation is consistent has always been a struggle, and these failures are examples of just how hard that is.

There will be temptation to increase regulation in our profession to promote accountability however this leave the door open for additional bureaucracy which is the enemy of progress and creativity. It makes these issues almost impossible to balance. How will we rebuild and maintain trust in our profession?

What excites you about the future of the profession or what opportunities do you see for the future?
The pace of change today in our hyper-connected world means our future is hard to predict and because of that I think there are an unimaginable number of opportunities not yet visible to us. Every day engineers are developing new tools, technologies, processes and infrastructure to tackle new and existing issues. We hear a lot of talk about the internet of things, machine learning and artificial intelligence, and the digital revolution. As exciting as each of these are, none of these can replace our creativity as engineers, and that is probably our biggest opportunity: to Create.

Who is your engineering hero?
My engineering hero is my grandfather. He worked as a scientist and engineer for the department of defence and holds a few patents to his name. As a child he would tell me of the impacts his achievements, made including the development of the X-Ray Diffraction Camera used to identify asbestos present in patients lungs, timers used on bombs for the Air Force to arm them a safe distance from the aircraft after they were deployed, and a glue to help clad steel tank tracks with much quieter tread giving our armed forces an advantage during the second world war. He helped solve simple problems that had such a large impact, and possibly saved many lives.

Image: courtesy of Alex Manners