What engineering skills do you need for a digital future?
Problem-solving. Critical thinking. Maths. Science.
These are the key attributes and abilities that form the basis of a talented engineer; they are the building blocks upon which students can develop their skills and explore their chosen specialisms. However, while the principles of engineering will always remain, the skill-set required of an engineer in 2026 will look vastly different to that of a professional in the same sector only twenty years ago.
As technology continues to evolve at an unprecedented pace and digital transformation sweeps across our very infrastructure, the requirements of engineering roles will shift to reflect the changing face of society. But what skills can we expect to see grow in popularity in this brave new world?
As organisations grow increasingly reliant on digital technology, they inevitably become vulnerable to the fast-rising threat of cyber-crime. If they had a surplus of talented security engineers, these organisations could mitigate the risk of a data breach to a certain extent. Unfortunately, the industry faces a global shortage of systems engineers equipped to protect their IT infrastructure from reputation-shattering cyber-attacks.
By 2021, it’s estimated that there will be as many as 3.5 million unfilled positions: if hackers continue to ramp up their activity and their access to malicious tools and methods grows, this will be bad news for any organisation who lack the skills to protect their network. If we are to keep a-pace in a cyber-arms race, we desperately need talent in this specialist area.
Robotics and Automation
While the rise of AI and automation is often dubbed the harbinger of doom and destroyer of jobs, the arrival of such technology to the market has so far shown signs of potential job creation, particularly within the field of engineering. From artificial intelligence and automation to additive manufacturing, cutting-edge roles tools still need to be designed, developed and tested to suit the needs of the modern factory.
The more demand there is for systems fuelled by AI, the more in-demand the engineers who have the skills to build those systems will be. Perhaps in the distant future, the software might be completely autonomous and write itself, but for now, the concept of telling a machine to build you a fully functioning car is simply beyond the capabilities of even the most advanced AI.
Automated systems and cognitive computing may assist us to speed up the manufacturing process and reduce errors in production, but skilled mechanical engineers will be at the helm of the development and management of these tools for the foreseeable future. Getting to grips with AI, robotics and automation sooner rather than later will see these mechanical engineers become invaluable as the industry evolves.
Virtual Reality may have garnered the lion’s share of media attention with recent developments pushing the boundaries of video games and learning solutions, but it’s Augmented Reality (AR) that is proving its potential as a powerful tool for engineering design.
Thanks to recent developments in this technology, AR is already proving revolutionary for engineers by allowing them to design a product directly in the environment it is intended for. Rather than working on a scaled down version, engineers can quickly design additional parts to existing machines without drawings or models to guide them, overlaying 3D digital data onto real-world environments.
As well as improving accuracy, driving efficiency and reducing timescales, AR enables engineering firms to effectively communicate their designs to potential clients. The same goes for civil engineers, who can help the public to understand the benefit of their proposed infrastructural project by showing them the finished result in Augmented Reality.
As we stand on the cusp of the fourth industrial revolution, the next generation of engineering talent is needed to lead our country to new heights. Whilst the demand for traditional skills is unlikely to drop, employers in this fast-moving sector are increasingly searching for talented engineers who take it upon themselves to capitalise on the raft of new digital tools in order to improve their individual and organisational performance.