The engineering sector continues to expand and grow. As the world advances, the global shortage of skills becomes more apparent, and engineers do not always have the most up-to-date digital skills.
Engineering organizations are investing heavily in digital technologies but according to recent reports and surveys, employers don’t have the expertise in-house and can’t recruit engineers who have the requisite breadth of digital skills.
As the shift from Industry 4.0 to Industry 5.0 comes swiftly, engineers need to constantly facilitate learning, adoption, and adaptation.
This article will discuss the digital skills that will enable engineers to develop their skill sets as engineering professionals, enhance their employability by developing digital skills in the context of their engineering specialism, and ensure that they have the digital skills to enable their activities to contribute to the betterment of society.
It is not only software engineers or data engineers that require digital skills but engineers from across all engineering disciplines from civil to electrical to mechanical engineering need to have digital skills to perform in today’s engineering environments.
In the United Kingdom, the Engineering Council has released the latest version of the Accreditation of Higher Education Programs (AHEP). AHEP4 as it has become known covers a wide range of topics central to engineering disciplines.
As well as traditional core professional and subject requirements for engineering, this document introduces challenges for the future such as sustainability, electronic data interchange (EDI), and cybersecurity.
In addition, there is an expectation that appropriate digital skills form part of the toolkit for engineers as they move towards chartered engineering status.
The Digital Skills & Job Platform 2023 Survey said the digital skills gap may be holding back the economy. Among those employers reporting a digital skills gap in their technical workforce, 49% said it harms productivity, 35% say it restricts growth, 35% say it harms innovation and 29% said it reduces their ability to deliver contracts.
There are varying levels of digital capability concerning digital skills in engineering, including:
In the ever-evolving landscape of engineering, the integration of digital skills has become not just a choice but a necessity. As industries worldwide undergo rapid digital transformation, engineers are faced with the imperative to adapt and thrive in a technologically advanced environment.
This journey unfolds across distinct levels of digital capability, each marking a crucial milestone in the development of skills that empower engineers to innovate and excel. Let’s look at some of the evolving digital skills.
Programming and Coding
Proficiency in languages such as Python, Java, or MATLAB for automation, data analysis, and software development is becoming increasingly useful.
For example, a mechanical engineer working on a complex structural analysis project needs to perform Finite Element Analysis to simulate the behavior of a mechanical component under various conditions.
The component has intricate geometries and requires a parametric study to analyze the effects of different design parameters.
The ability to analyze and interpret complex data sets is allowing engineers to make data-driven decisions to enhance engineering processes and outcomes.
Let’s say an electrical engineer is tasked with optimizing the performance of a regional power grid. The power grid has various sources of energy, including solar, wind, and traditional power plants.
The engineer’s goal is to analyze large datasets generated by the grid’s monitoring systems to optimize energy distribution, identify potential issues, and enhance overall efficiency.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML)
This involves the ability to understand and apply AI and ML algorithms to optimize systems, predict outcomes, and automate processes.
For example, a civil or structural engineer is responsible for managing the maintenance and safety of a large bridge.
The goal is to implement a predictive structural health monitoring system to anticipate potential issues and schedule maintenance proactively, ensuring the longevity and safety of the structure.
By integrating AI or ML into the structural health monitoring system, the engineer transforms the maintenance approach from reactive to proactive, enhancing the bridge’s safety and longevity through informed decision-making.
Digital Twin Technology
Utilizing digital replicas of physical systems will enable engineers to simulate, monitor, and analyze real-world performance, enabling predictive maintenance and design improvements.
Let’s say an industrial automation engineer is tasked with improving the efficiency of a complex manufacturing facility that produces intricate electronic components. The goal is to minimize downtime, enhance production output, and ensure the highest quality of the final products.
Digital twin technology skills empower the industrial automation engineer to transform traditional manufacturing processes. By creating a virtual representation of the production environment, the engineer can monitor, analyze, and optimize operations in real-time, ultimately leading to a more efficient and resilient manufacturing system.
An understanding of the principles of cybersecurity will help protect sensitive engineering data and systems from potential threats.
For example, a renewable energy engineer is tasked with overseeing the implementation and management of a large-scale solar energy farm.
The objective is to ensure the secure and uninterrupted operation of the renewable energy infrastructure, safeguarding against potential cyber threats that could compromise the reliability and safety of the system.
The integration of cybersecurity skills enables the renewable energy engineer to address the evolving threat landscape and protect the critical infrastructure supporting the solar energy farm. By implementing robust cybersecurity measures, the engineer contributes to the long-term sustainability and reliability of the renewable energy system.
Internet of Things (IoT)
The integration of IoT devices and sensors will contribute to real-time monitoring, data collection, and control of engineering systems.
Let’s say an electronic engineer is tasked with developing and maintaining a network of connected devices for a smart city project.
The goal is to create a seamless and secure IoT ecosystem that enhances efficiency and connectivity while safeguarding against potential cyber threats.
The electronic engineer’s cybersecurity skills will play a pivotal role in establishing a secure and reliable IoT ecosystem. By integrating robust security measures throughout the development and deployment phases, the engineer contributes to the success of the smart city project while addressing the unique challenges posed by interconnected devices.
Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR/AR)
VR/AR applications would be useful for virtual prototyping, training simulations, and enhancing the visualization of complex engineering concepts.
For example, a structural engineer is leading a team responsible for designing a new high-rise building. The goal is to leverage VR and AR technologies to enhance the design and collaboration process, providing a more immersive and efficient approach to structural planning.
The structural engineer’s expertise in VR and AR technologies could transform the traditional design and construction processes. By creating immersive experiences, the engineer not only improves design precision but also enhances collaboration, communication, and safety throughout the entire structural engineering project.
Proficient use of cloud platforms for scalable storage, collaborative work, and accessing powerful computing resources.
Let’s say an electrical engineer is tasked with managing a diverse range of projects, including the development of smart grids and the integration of renewable energy sources into existing power systems. To enhance operational efficiency, collaboration, and data management, the engineer recognizes the need for cloud computing skills.
The electrical engineer’s adoption of cloud computing skills can transform the way electrical engineering projects are conceptualized, developed, and managed. The cloud becomes a central hub for collaboration, data storage, computation, and innovation, ultimately enhancing the engineer’s ability to navigate the complexities of modern electrical engineering projects.
Automation and Robotics
The implementation process of automation and robotics will enhance engineering processes to enhance efficiency and precision.
For example, a renewable energy engineer is tasked with optimizing the efficiency and maintenance of a large-scale solar farm. Recognizing the potential for increased performance through automation and robotics, the engineer decides to apply specialized skills in these areas.
The renewable energy engineer’s proficiency in automation and robotics transforms the solar farm’s operations. By automating monitoring, maintenance, and optimization processes, the engineer enhances the reliability, efficiency, and overall performance of the renewable energy system, contributing to a sustainable and technologically advanced energy solution.
Understanding the principles of blockchain for secure and transparent data management would be useful, particularly in areas like supply chain and project management.
Let’s say a mechanical engineer is tasked with ensuring the integrity and traceability of components in a sophisticated manufacturing facility. Recognizing the potential for increased transparency and security through blockchain technology, the engineer decided to apply specialized skills in this domain.
The mechanical engineer’s proficiency in blockchain technology transforms the manufacturing and maintenance processes. By leveraging the decentralized and tamper-resistant nature of blockchain, the engineer enhances transparency, security, and trust in the mechanical systems’ design, production, and lifecycle management.
H2: Mastering the Digital Frontier in Engineering
In the fast-evolving field of engineering, digital proficiency is not just a necessity but a catalyst for innovation. From foundational programming to cutting-edge technologies like AI and blockchain, engineers must continually enhance their skill sets. The repercussions of a digital skills gap are evident, impacting productivity and growth.
These digital skills, from programming to cybersecurity and automation, are transformative agents shaping how engineers approach challenges.
Mastery of these skills is not an option but a prerequisite for excellence. As Industry 5.0 approaches, engineers with digital acumen are the architects of an innovative future. The evolution continues, propelling engineering into uncharted realms where possibilities are limitless.