The year ahead in Engineering: what we can expect from 2019

08.01.2019

A year characterised by constant change, 2018 has been turbulent, to say the least. As engineering firms grapple with the uncertainties born from a volatile geopolitical climate and fast-shifting societal trends, meeting demand and tackling issues regarding environmental and infrastructural change will not be without challenge in the coming year.

Nevertheless, the pace at which technology is being developed and adopted is testimony to the resilience of the engineering industry; evolution of the factory floor and the coming industrial revolution show promise for the new year.

However, faced with a significant skills shortage that won’t resolve itself and the potential disruption that our impending EU exit could have on supply chains, 2019 is set to be an eventful year:

Driving sustainability

Engineers have historically held the role of harnessing emergent science and technology to improve the environment, and as governments around the world push for more stringent regulations on emission control, companies in this sector are working to develop efficient solutions and employ production-ready technologies to meet these requirements.

Already, the last two years have seen the rise of electrification and driverless technology, with the UK government’s Plug-In Car Grant putting more than 167,000 plug-in EVs on the roads since January 2011 up to autumn 2018.

In 2019, building up expertise in this area will continue to be a key priority for UK engineers: after all, it’s not just the cars themselves that need manufacturing. With the UK government’s commitment to ban solely petrol and diesel car sales by 2040, civil engineers will have to work fast to meet the infrastructural demands of EV technology. Transport, energy and communications networks will need to converge in order to deliver a strategy that meets the evolving needs of a growing population.

Creating a connected world

Talking of infrastructural change, 2019 will continue to see a focus on the development of ‘Smart Cities’ – a concept which BSI defines as involving the 'effective integration of physical, digital and human systems in the built environment to deliver a sustainable, prosperous and inclusive future for its citizens'.

In a world plagued by climate change, population growth and mass migration to cities, civil engineers are building the foundations of the future. Capitalising on advances in sensor technology and the subsequent rise of big data, engineers will continue to rethink and revolutionise the way our cities operate in order to tackle challenges such as pollution and congestion.

Examples of this can be seen in cities like San Diego, where a $30m investment was given by GE start-up Current to deploy what it called the world's largest smart city IoT sensor platform. While we are unlikely to see overnight global change, software firms and civil engineers alike will have their focus firmly fixed on creating energy-efficient infrastructural solutions that promote increased safety.

Training for digital skills

According to the IET’s Skills In Demand in Industry report, 55% of organisations in the sector cited the shortage of engineering and technical skills in the market as a significant challenge in 2017: 12 months on and it’s clear to see this issue remains a persistent challenge for the industry.

While just over half of all companies questioned were actively recruiting, increased adoption of advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, VR/AR and robotics is forcing firms to prioritise continuous professional development (CPD) to ensure all existing staff are fully equipped with the skills they need to perform their responsibilities.

In 2019, firms who are actively committed to the training and development of their staff will likely be those who succeed in attracting a diverse pool of high-potential talent. Following on from the trends we have seen in 2018, companies will opt for a blended approach to learning, combining face-to-face training and digital solutions offering more flexibility such as virtual classrooms and e-learning programmes.

Moving forward from Brexit

Naturally, it’s hard to discuss plans for innovation in the industry without addressing the elephant in the room. To say that the uncertainty that industry companies have experienced since the outcome of the EU referendum has been a challenge would be an understatement.

With only four months until the UK’s stated leaving date, the country faces the prospect of a second referendum, a no-deal scenario, a general election or a deal that has already divided the government. For engineering firms still awaiting an answer as to how our impending exit will impact the movement of goods across borders, frustration is the feeling that decision makers share irrespective of how they voted.

For sectors such as the automotive industry who rely on a complex web of pan-European supply chains and just-in-time manufacturing processes, clarity on these critical issues is long overdue. As a political storm continues to brew, we can only assume 2019 will be the year in which our future relationship with the EU is made clear – but it had better be sooner rather than later. It might still seem unlikely that we will crash out on a cliff-edge with no transition period, but firms in early 2019 will rightly still prepare for the worst.