Publication Details

Goldfinch, T. & Hollis, X. (2016). Current engineering education and training practices on Aboriginal cultural heritage. 27th Annual Conference of the Australasian Association for Engineering Education : AAEE 2016 (pp. 1-8). Canberra, Australia: Australasian Association for Engineering Education. 2016

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Australasian Association for Engineering Education


CONTEXT Previous research has highlighted the need for engineers to have some background knowledge of Indigenous Australian history, cultures and politics (Goldfinch, Ilango, Roland, and Willis, 2014; Leigh et al., 2015). This is particularly important where project engineers hold responsibility for developing or implementing Aboriginal cultural heritage management plans (Furry, 2015; Hartley, 2015) and compliance with relevant legislation (NSW Government, 2010; 2014). Engineering projects are often enabled, delayed, or significantly altered as a result of how sites and artefacts of significance are managed. At this stage, it is believed that engineers often negotiate these challenges with little to no training in Aboriginal cultural heritage.

PURPOSE This study sought to quantify recent engineering graduates' level of training received within industry, supplemented by what is being taught in tertiary education for negotiating Aboriginal cultural heritage.

APPROACH An online survey of engineering graduates was developed and distributed within Young Engineers Australia, student society, and Engineers Without Borders networks. The survey canvassed graduates' field and type of work, their experience with cultural heritage management and management plans, and the extent and type of education and training they have had in this area. Reconciliation action plans and Graduate Attribute statements of education providers and major engineering employers were also analysed to determine the extent of commitments to ongoing training of students and graduates.

RESULTS Survey results indicate that it is common for young engineers to encounter Aboriginal cultural heritage on engineering project sites. In addition, survey participants received little formal education on Aboriginal cultural heritage beyond high school, and reported low levels of confidence in dealing with such heritage matters. It is also clear that not enough is happening within engineering education to address this need.

CONCLUSIONS It appears that education and training is lagging behind legislated requirements for engineers and project managers. With the continued growth of Australia's population, large infrastructure projects will continue to impact on Aboriginal cultural heritage. Young engineers will need to be prepared to meet changing legal and societal expectations for the preservation of the nation's Aboriginal heritage.