Engineering skills: 2016 to 2026

For many years, the engineering industry has been dealing with a shortage of skills. An ageing workforce and a lack of young people choosing to enter into the profession are two main contributors to the problem. At the same time, the skills that are needed within the industry are changing.

But what skills does the successful engineer of the future need?

Here are just a few trends in engineering that we believe will have an impact on future skill demands over the next decade.

Advanced materials

With companies striving for better, faster, stronger products and services to fend off the competition and keep up with consumer demand there are many opportunities available for engineers with advanced materials skills to work on the latest innovative materials.

In manufacturing, additive manufacturing carries huge opportunities as the sector evolves towards highly efficient logistics and large-scale manufacturing. In the automotive, aerospace and medical industries, among others, companies are increasingly using 3D printing technology and additive manufacturing for prototypes and some production parts, shrinking supply chains. The recent progress made with 3D printing is expected to continue to the point where entire houses will be bought 'off the shelf' and available to print. Those engineers who have the skills to work on advanced manufacturing techniques can expect to be in demand.

In similar vein, engineers with knowledge of complex lightweight materials are expected to continue to be in high demand. Aerospace and automotive companies are increasingly looking for ways to become more fuel efficient, whether through lower weight and higher temperature resistance aircrafts or through the development of porous polymers and new steel alloys that prove to be stronger and lighter than steel.

Connectivity and smart devices

As the demand for connectivity and smart devices increases, we see a shift from embedded to application technology and the skills associated with designing, implementing and managing these systems. This gap between traditional engineering skills and IT skills has been decreasing for some time now and we are increasingly seeing requests from engineering companies for candidates with skill sets from the technology sector which wouldn’t have been needed a generation ago. For example, automotive companies will require traditional engineering design capabilities combined with evolving telematics, network design/security and software.

Whilst opportunities will always remain for engineers with traditional skills, such as those within mechanical and electrical engineering, the ever-expanding influence of technology means engineers also have the chance to evolve their careers by learning new skills.

Robotics and automation

Today, robotic and automated solutions are widely used across many manufacturing and material handling environments but arguably, this is just the beginning. Robots and intelligent systems are two key examples of technological advancements within the Industry 4.0 era which will influence the evolving skill sets required in many sectors of engineering. Opportunities for employment within this field appear vast as employers operating in aerospace, healthcare, agriculture and transport increasingly look at new ways to introduce smart automated processes. It seems the demand for engineers who can design, program, commission, simulate and test automated machinery and processes can only increase.

Environment

For some time, there has been an increasing focus on engineering the solutions to environmental problems and this trend looks set to continue across numerous sectors. Whether it’s the creation of floating and underwater cities to solve the problem of inner-city crowding or the development of smart cities to better connect communities and vital services, innovative, sustainable and environmentally-friendly engineering solutions are needed to address key social and environmental issues.

We are already seeing an increasing numbers of jobs related to making products and services less harmful to the environment - from the rise of electric vehicles increasingly adopted by big car manufacturers, to the emergence of smart grids connecting smart meters, smart appliances and renewable energy resources. The future engineers of the world have a large task on their hands to solve global concerns surrounding the environment and they will need the passion, ingenuity and creativity to do it.

Final thoughts

Whilst the demand for engineers with traditional skills will continue, employers are increasingly looking for engineers that will take it upon themselves to learn new techniques and new technologically advanced pieces of equipment in order to perform their job to the best of their abilities. For any engineer, the ability to demonstrate that you know the current state of the engineering industry and that you can work effectively within it is of course beneficial to your future, however those who can anticipate the future problems and solutions can only expect to thrive above the crowds.

How do you see your role and the engineering sector changing in the future? Let us know by taking part in our Voice of the Workforce survey. The survey closes on Monday 14 November 2016.

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