Brian Wilkinson of Gattaca – parent company of recruiter Matchtech – discusses the narrowing gap between the skillsets needed for engineering and IT
Working for an international recruitment specialist focusing on engineering and technology skills, I see first-hand how the demands of employers are changing in line with the ever-evolving technological landscape.
Innovations that were once confined to the imaginings of science fiction writers – driverless cars, drones and devices which control your domestic heating, lighting, entertainment systems and much else remotely – are now a reality. But they are only possible due to the ambition, innovation and investment of companies who are willing to push the boundaries of science, engineering and technology.
The gap between traditional engineering skills and IT skills has been decreasing for some time now and we are increasingly managing requests from engineering companies for candidates with skill sets from the technology sector which wouldn’t have been needed a generation ago. 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.
One major industry where we are seeing a convergence of engineering and technology skill sets is defence. The switch from embedded to application technology can be seen within the development of weapon systems, vehicle control and mission management systems. A good example of the effect of changing technology on skills is BAE Systems’ Falcon project. Falcon is a battlefield communication system, capable of sharing voice, data and video between front line troops and mission control across a secure network. The software skill demands of the project cross between the need for engineering architecture understanding (the complex hardware electronics in the field) and higher level application/data base development (where the data is secured and analysed).
Another traditional advanced engineering sector which is now demanding more technology skills is automotive. Car controls and safety systems have transformed from valves, levers and hydraulics to being managed and operated by complex electronic systems. Autonomous cars are now a reality and despite the likely consumer confidence impact of the recent Tesla accident, Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) are pushing forward with automation and connectivity projects. These will change the automotive landscape in terms of increased driving safety, mobile device connectivity, powertrain efficiency and more diversely, the monetisation of the vehicle and driver data generated. To bring these technologies to life, automotive companies will require traditional engineering design capabilities combined with evolving telematics, network design/security and software development capabilities.
We’re experiencing similar demand for software skills in the converging Engineering and IT space with Siemens Rail Automation – in a similar way to the BAE project, Siemens has a number of automated rail projects relating to signalling systems and rolling stock that require developers with higher level software development experience to develop the graphical interfaces that manage and display data. As well as the higher level Java and .Net development skills these individuals need to come from an engineering background to understand the architecture of the hardware generating the data.
Converging engineering and technology skill sets are also being applied in the renewable energy market, where wind turbines are being fitted with sensors, which enable the pitch and yaw of the blades to be controlled remotely in response to weather conditions.
So what does that skills market look like in the future?
Well, opportunities will always remain for engineers with traditional skills, such as those within mechanical and electrical engineering, but the ever-expanding influence of communication technology means that some engineers will also have the chance to evolve their careers in the skill convergence space.
Engineering is such a diverse industry that there will always be a need for engineers with niche skills and those with more generalist skills which can be transferred between sectors. Young people considering engineering as a career have more choice than ever in finding a role that will stimulate and reward them in equal measure.