What are the most in-demand skills an engineer will need to learn for the future?
The future of technology has arrived and cemented its place in the professional workforce, prominently for engineers. No longer the next-big-thing, automation is now the reality; dominating most industries and transforming the ways we live, work, and study. It is estimated that 85 million jobs globally will be destroyed by 2025 due to mass automation integration.
Jobs disappearing due to technological advancement is not an uncommon occurrence. For example, automated systems saw the phasing out of switchboard operators. However, the ongoing growth of digital technologies and innovations is so robust that the job market is having trouble catching up. This phenomenon widens the skill gap and is jeopardizing a significant number of workers.
The World Economic Forum has stated that to keep up with the meteoric rise of new technologies, half the workforce will need reskilling and upskilling by 2025.
With 94% of businesses expecting their employees to develop new skills on the job themselves, the race for self-development is intense.
While engineering is considered one of the professions least affected by automation, the number of subdisciplines and interdisciplinary subjects is increasing.
Therefore, it is paramount to be on top of new market trends and constantly develop pertinent skills to secure your long-term employability.
This article features a comprehensive list of skills and actions that the modern engineer can take on board to ensure their career is future-proofed.
An engineering project is a complex combination of numerous problems in various fields. Thus, all engineers, ultimately, are problem solvers. Whether it is a math problem, client management challenges, or procurement and budgeting issues, it is an engineer’s responsibility to respond with the most optimized solutions. Ergo, the ability to analyses and synthesize problem-solving at all times is essential for this profession.
A study on skills and competencies in Industry 4.0 confirms that creativity, innovation, and critical thinking are amongst the most in-demand skills in the engineering profession.
Since each engineering project is different from another (no two bridges are built the same), an engineer must know how to employ their specialized knowledge in new ways. This is a creative process that requires one to approach the problem from different perspectives and come up with an effective and innovative solution.
For example, the outdated human assembly line is both risky and monotonous for the factory employees and costly for the business. This problem was tackled by the creation of the Programmable Logic Controller (PLC). As an industrial computer, PLCs centralize factory controls to create a safer, more productive plant process by reducing redundant human interaction. The innovation has then become an important gateway for future automation technologies.
In short, all engineers must have a creative mindset, besides an analytical one, to tackle unique and complex challenges.
Engineers have been always regarded as lifelong students as their career requirements are constantly evolving and transforming.
With new technologies constantly emerging, companies are placing an even higher emphasis on employees' personal development and their ability to acquire new skills on the job.
A study on skills set by engineering bodies as per Washington Accord found that teamwork and lifelong learning skills are the two most sought-after skills following communication.
The reality is modern companies can no longer afford to spend months or more to train or retrain employees. Instead, they need their employees ready to perform in a much shorter time.
The statistics of companies responding to shifting skill needs from four different countries below attest to this norm.
"Engineers do not build bridges. They do not build cars. They do not build roads. Engineers organize these things to happen, and the actual work is done by other people." - Professor James Trevelyan
More than just an applied scientist, engineers are moving toward the path of project manager and diversity leader. Engineers are now responsible for product and service development, client management, and financial outcomes. To execute quality work in these areas, engineers require not only solid technical and problem-solving skills but also soft skills such as communication, team collaboration, and coordination.
Due to the mass-collaborative nature, taking initiative, and knowing how to manage people and navigate an organization have become essential characteristics of the modern engineer. Globalization has opened the door to multicultural societies, and therefore, multicultural workforces. The present engineering team is more diverse and inclusive than ever before. With ongoing data from 15 countries supports the relationship between management diversity and the likelihood of financial outperformance, this will a staple trend in the future workforce.
To be an effective team member and leader, the modern engineer must demonstrate cross-cultural understanding and empathic communication skills, i.e. knowing how to deal with people from different cultures with different needs and habits.
Complex engineering projects involve dozens, if not hundreds, of diverse members. The multiracial work environment has created demands for appropriate linguistic (verbal and non-verbal) and conflict management skills in supervising and coordinating your subordinates.
Engineering projects depend on daily concise and accurate communication amongst team members, management, other departments, clients, contractors, and the public domain; all within a multinational environment.
With such diverse backgrounds, engineers must know how to translate technical knowledge into pertinent, engaging, easy-to-understand concepts and stories to achieve correct mutual understanding amongst stakeholders.
Ineffective communication leads to confusion and misunderstandings which result in wasted time and resources. For example, trying to explain the Internet of Things (IoT) to a member of the public with no technical background will require a different set of vocabulary and communication methods compare to your tech department.
Challenge yourself: Can you explain the concept of IoT or cloud storage to a non-technical person like your mom or dad?
Although this seems like the most obvious, the rapid growth of new technologies and agile development requires modern engineers to be on their feet constantly for upskilling.
Due to their unique nature, engineering projects always carry risks. All engineers, regardless of roles or fields, are legally, ethically, and morally responsible for risk management; this involves determining hazards, analyzing the associated risks, and implementing elimination/ management solutions.
Project risks are varied and can range from technical accidents, financial failures, legal ramifications, nature crises, and human error.
To reduce project risks, official bodies have published a wide range of engineering standards.
These are formal documents that set out mandatory specifications and procedures. The goal is to establish uniform engineering/ technical criteria, methodologies, and practices to ensure the safety and reliability of the project and its outputs. Standard can be international (ISO, IEC, ITU), regional, or national.
Researching standards and upholding them in a specific project is a major part of an engineering career.
Tip: The technical skills required by engineers are vast and varied. While the following list emphasizes the booming technologies of the future, please only use it as a starting point. The technology used in your job might be different as no engineering discipline or company is truly the same. The best way to secure your employability is to research relevant companies, take note of the most prominent technologies, then develop your skills within those fields.
The 4th industry revolution brings industrial automation into the spotlight. By 2027, its total market size will reach 370 billion USD. Industrial automation engineers are currently amongst the top in-demand disciplines. These engineers are responsible for the automation process in manufacturing plants; which replaces redundant human interaction and improves safety and productivity.
AI engineers construct algorithms to create machines with deep cognitive capabilities. They can perceive, learn, and improve similarly to a human.
These machines are used to perform autonomous tasks with high accuracy to achieve desirable goals.
It is currently taking the top spot in emerging jobs in America and Australia. Neural networks, deep learning, machine learning, and using open-source platform TensorFlow are the essential skills to break into the field of AI.
Process automation specialists and robotic engineers develop and implement Robotic Process Automation (RPA) solutions to automate software-based tasks done by humans within an existing workflow of the business (whereas industrial automation is about physical activities). For example, order fulfilment, bill of materials, transport waybill, inventory management.
The business goals for integrating RPA are to increase productivity and accuracy and reduce operating costs without having to develop complex machines' cognitive capabilities such as AI. The applications of RPA are vast (engineering, marketing, higher education, medical, HR) and it has been widely adopted as the key driver for the "future of work". UiPath (currently valued at more than 10 billion USD), Blue Prism, and Automation Anywhere are the three main players in this field.
Data has become the top valuable resource for most businesses globally. Therefore, data engineers are highly sought-after to build secure & efficient databases and manage the workflow of data. Whereas data scientists analyse and synthesise big data to find insights, the data engineer develop data infrastructures and tools that will be used to locate those insights. Some of the key tools for a data engineer are Apache Spark, Hadoop, Python, and Amazon Web Services.
Cloud technology continues to be the main gateway for companies to run their projects without the need for their own server. Cloud engineers develop, implement, and maintain a secure cloud computing system for the business' data storage, web servers, marketing automation, and business analytics. Amazon Web Service, Azure, and Google Big Query are regarded as the crucial skills for this profession.
With the growth of data technologies, demand for Cyber security engineers has soared the recent years and will continue into the future. These engineers build security programs and procedures to prevent cyber-crimes such as phishing, malware, viruses, and hacking which steal and disrupt business. These programs are applied across the organization's departments.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution brings significant transformations to the way we work and think. As modern engineers, it is crucial to be on top of new technologies and market trends to upskill yourself and stay employable.
Engineers that can demonstrate strong capability in critical & creative problem-solving, autonomy & self-development, leadership & cultural empathy, and risk management will flourish in the age of automation and digitalization. Engineers are on the path to become future diversity and sustainability leaders.
The ongoing innovation boom in artificial intelligence, big data, and virtual reality creates exciting and lucrative engineering roles. Modern engineers will need to be aware of and adapt to this ever-changing technology landscape to secure their long-term career success.
Ready to upskill and engineer your successful career? The Engineering Institute of Technology (EIT) is dedicated to ensuring that you receive a world-class education and gain skills that you can immediately implement in the workforce. Browse our engineering courses today.
Researches and reports mentioned:
Akyazi, T., Alvarez, I., Alberdi, E., Oyarbide-Zubillaga, A., Goti, A., & Bayon, F. (2020). Skills Needs of the Civil Engineering Sector in the European Union Countries: Current Situation and Future Trends. Applied Sciences, 10(20), 7226. https://doi.org/10.3390/app10207226
Chaka, C. (2020). Skills, competencies and literacies attributed to 4IR/Industry 4.0: Scoping review. IFLA Journal, 46(4), 369–399. https://doi.org/10.1177/0340035219896376
Kamaruzaman, M. F., Hamid, R., Mutalib, A. A., & Rasul, M. S. (2019). Comparison of Engineering Skills with IR 4.0 Skills. International Journal of Online and Biomedical Engineering (IJOE), 15(10), 15. https://doi.org/10.3991/ijoe.v15i10.10879
McKinsey & Company. (2020). Diversity wins. McKinsey & Company. https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/diversity-and-inclusion/diversity-wins-how-inclusion-matters
World Economic Forum. (2020). The Future of Jobs Report 2020. World Economic Forum. https://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Future_of_Jobs_2020.pdf
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