Comment: What will future engineers look like?

What will future engineers look like, and how will they meet the demands of today and tomorrow’s society? asks John Kitchingman, MD, Euronorth, Dassault Systèmes.

Important innovations are on the horizon in a host of sectors – from energy to medicine and even transportation. Engineers will play a key role in reinventing these industries, particularly in the wake of the pandemic. However, they will not be like the engineers of the past.

The engineers, who will invent that future, will be a different breed of people than the engineers educated before. While they will still need to be problem solvers, successful future engineers will need heightened communication skills, the ability to work in teams, global knowledge, a good grasp of the impact of sustainability on innovation, and technical expertise to create futureproof products and services.

To prepare, organisations will need to upskill their current workforce. However, where do we start with upskilling current workforces and new entrants? In this piece, I will discuss what the engineer of the future will look like and how it can meet the demands of today and tomorrow’s society.

future engineers
Image: Dassault Systèmes

Engineering 4.0

When we think about engineering, traditionally we consider careers in the making of cars or mining but the scope for engineers has broadened massively over the last century. You will find engineers working within energy, food and drink, healthcare and even design engineers.

Engineering and manufacturing are one of the UK’s broadest sectors. Almost 5.7 million people work in engineering in the UK, accounting for just over 19 per cent of all UK employment. While some engineering-related industries are in decline, there is a still a sector-wide skills shortage which needs to be addressed.

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The demand for emerging technologies, as well as the technological advancements being made every day make a career in engineering a viable and everchanging one. Technical staff will be required to do so much more in the future, which means there will be an increase in the demand for different types of engineers.

Upping current skill sets

There are a number of forces at play, which means that current and future engineers have to be upskilled to meet the demands of today’s society. Alongside climate change, growing populations and increased urbanisation, consumers are also demanding more from society. Engineers have to keep up with the ever-changing demands whilst also prioritising safety, regulation requirements and considering the endurance and sustainability of materials.

Cloud computing is now the second most requested tech skill for 2021

Additionally, we’ve seen a surge in adoption of new technologies across industries, meaning engineers need to be trained to use these tools. During the height of the pandemic, the likes of cloud computing came out as the clear winner among digital transformation tools in 2020: recent findings from PWC identified that cloud spending rose 37 per cent to $29bn during the first quarter of 2020. Moreover, it is predicted that this trend will continue – cloud spending is estimated to rise 19 per cent for the full year.

As a result of this, cloud computing is now the second most requested tech skill for 2021 and as we’ve seen, this technology is reshaping the world of work – including the way we design and make products.

For example, there has been a massive increase in demand for smart products – from smart cars to the likes of Google Home and Alexa. These new smart products need to be consistently updated and upgraded throughout their life cycle. While this makes each product more sustainable by default, it requires a different approach to innovation, product design and software engineering. Engineers can now use the likes of virtual twin technology to simulate these innovations, which means engineers need the skills to work cohesively with new software. With tools as such growing in uptake, this skillset is now imperative to the role.

future engineers
Image: AdobeStock

Underpinning sustainability initiatives

With engineers operating across multiple sectors, their work now has some connection to the physical world and because of this, are increasingly concerned about the impact the products they make has on the planet. Because of the need for sustainability and environmental protection, we will likely see “green” technologies and solutions implemented in almost all areas of engineering to reduce emissions or source sustainable materials.

For example, civil and structural engineers are already considering alternative building materials that have the lowest negative impact on the environment possible. Architects are also exploring the most eco-friendly building designs possible to help build green structures and even environmental engineers are looking at alternative energy solutions such as wind, solar and other renewable energy sources to power our world.

Digital innovation has clearly demonstrated great potential for the future of engineers. As the world is on the brink of another great technological advancement post pandemic, businesses and education systems have a prime opportunity to ensure that our current and future workforce have the right skills to thrive within the sector. Not only is an engineer’s role crucial to all aspects of our life, but they play a key role in underpinning sustainability initiatives across these sectors. As the government continues to push forward with its green agenda, this will be even more prevalent than before. Our future is bright; we just need great minds to accelerate that pace of change.

John Kitchingman, MD, Euronorth, Dassault Systèmes