Where is engineering going in the future?

In 2004, the National Academy of Engineering produced “The Engineer of 2020: Visions of Engineering in the New Century”. In this report, they discussed how they saw engineering changing in the future and what skills and knowledge a successful engineer would need in 2020.

Now, with just three years to go, we look at all the changes that have happened recently and predict where engineering will go in the future. In order to gain valuable insight into the UK engineering industry, we spoke with Alistair Marshall, Business Manager at Progressive, part of the SThree Group.

The recent growth in engineering

The Global Engineering Report 2016 predicts a 3% global growth in 2017 but how likely is this to happen? To predict where engineering might go in the future, it’s important to understand how it’s grown in the last couple of years.

The UK engineering industry was thriving and demand for skilled employees was high in 2015. New skills were required by workers in order to keep up with the technological advancements that were being made. Overall though, the industry was growing (by about 3%), with some disciplines growing faster than others. For example, space was one of the fastest to grow with an average growth rate of 7.5%.

In the last few years, growth has remained steady, primarily as a result of the reshoring that’s taken place. Whereas in the past offshoring was common, we’re now seeing a lot of the work being brought back into the UK.

Along with space, one of the sectors that’s seen the biggest area of growth is automation. More processes are being automated, from the picking and packing in a warehouse to the building of cars, and so much more. By automating processes, businesses can expect them to be completed quicker and more cost-effectively.

One of the issues that’s plagued engineering for a few years now is the inability to meet the demand for skilled workers. This is partly because less people are getting into engineering, and also because technology is moving at a rapid pace and we need as many people as possible if we’re to keep up.

Changing skills within engineering

The National Academy of Engineering predicted that by 2020, engineers would need to meet a number of requirements, including:

  • Strong analytical skills
  • Practical ingenuity
  • Creativity
  • Good communication skills
  • Business and management knowledge
  • High ethical standards
  • Professionalism
  • Agility
  • Resilience
  • Flexibility
  • The pursuit of lifelong learning

Technology will have inevitably played a part in how the skillset of engineers has changed. And there’s no denying that engineers need to be multi-skilled and those who are able to demonstrate their skills are rewarded accordingly.

But why the need for professionals with multiple areas of expertise?

In short, it’s because there’s a lack of available talent in the industry. Research by Engineering UK has found that 2.65 million engineering jobs will need to be filled by 2024, based on the number of new positions that will become available and the number of professionals leaving engineering.

With automation becoming such a key focus in engineering, professionals with skills in the technology area are highly sought after. There’s also a great demand for control systems engineers and people with experience in micro-electronics.

Currently within the UK, recruitment companies are expanding their search to include international talent abroad in order to get the work done. However, political uncertainty may potentially make this more difficult moving forward which is why many businesses are calling for the education system to be adjusted. This will ensure that more people are aware of engineering as a career and will be able to develop the skills necessary for success.

New discipline predictions

We don’t predict there will be many, if any, new disciplines emerging in the next few years, simply because automation will continue to be the main focus.

That being said, the Internet of Things (IoT) has been pretty big in the last few years and people are discovering how they can use that to their advantage. This has led to an increased use of radio-frequency identification (RFID) and introduction of more wireless and smart devices.

New technology in RFID will allow companies to save time and minimise manual labour. It also helps businesses get a clear view of their business, which improves their forecasting and accountability. And now that RFID is becoming more commonplace, it’s becoming cheaper and more readily available, so companies of all sizes are able to take advantage of it.

We predict that in the future, staff will have monitoring devices that measure their health and location. This is currently being used on oil rigs as a safety measure, allowing employers to be aware of their employee’s whereabouts at all times.

Products are becoming more sophisticated – for example, Apple watches, smart kitchen appliances, apps to control your home heating… the list goes on. All of these things require embedded software and electronics.

Lean processes have also started to be introduced more frequently. This involves trimming unnecessary tasks from processes and making it as smooth and efficient as possible.

What does the future of engineering look like?

After speaking to Alistair, it’s clear we’re in for some big changes. The UK is at the forefront in engineering, particularly in the marine and defence and automotive sectors. So expect growth and a very positive future in the years to come.

If you’re currently looking for opportunities within engineering, or are seeking to hire the best talent for a role, contact us today.

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