7 key engineering lessons from Future Skills week

Jennifer Johnson, Joseph Flaig

These engineering skills will be vital when it comes to tackling tomorrow's challenges (Credit: Andy Potts/ Good Illustration Agency)
These engineering skills will be vital when it comes to tackling tomorrow's challenges (Credit: Andy Potts/ Good Illustration Agency)

The challenges of tomorrow have never been clearer. Climate change, pandemics and political upheaval have already changed how we live our lives, and will continue to do so over the coming decades.

Engineering is central to overcoming these challenges – but what skills will engineers need to tackle them? We set out to answer that question with Future Skills week, which examined some of the techniques, approaches and mindsets that engineers can adopt to stay ahead.  

We collected each piece into this handy round-up, highlighting important lessons from each of the articles and expert case studies.  

1. Creativity ‘needed like never before’ in race for net zero

The race for 'net zero' is speeding up, but efforts will only succeed if living standards are maintained for the general public. Creative solutions are needed.  

“People aren’t going to accept it if their electricity goes off, or they can’t have the level of personal mobility that they’re used to,” said David Nowell from Imperial College London. “We have to find a way of providing these things in a sustainable manner.” 

2. Communication skills will become make or break

Communication and collaboration have always been vital skills for engineers – but in tomorrow’s world, as the problems facing humanity become even more pressing, they will be of paramount importance.  

“People from different disciplines are going to be working together, and they have different passions and priorities,” said Professor Mohamed Abdel-Maguid from Canterbury Christ Church University. “If people don’t learn to embrace and understand this, what chance of a fruitful collaboration are you going to have?” 

3. Don’t be afraid to offer your skills

While we have a good understanding of many of the challenges facing humanity, paradigm-shifting events can still come out of the blue. When the Covid-19 pandemic struck last year, engineering post-grad Caitlin McCall knew her 3D printing skills could be useful, and she set about designing and producing face visors. When the time comes, don’t be afraid to offer up your engineering skills.  

4. User-centric and accessible design is more important than ever

Human-centred design might be most associated with software development, but it has its roots in industrial design, and it is becoming more important yet again for mechanical engineers. “User-centric design skills are now quite crucial,” said Professor Abdel-Maguid. “They have to be in the DNA of the engineer.”  

Large engineering projects must be accessible and inclusive to everyone, so Alexandra Mather from consultancy WSP is passionate about encouraging workforce diversity.  

“Because civil engineers are designing things for the population, which has a 50/50 gender split, the workforce designing these projects should also have a 50/50 split,” she said. “But that could also extend to every identity group – including different races, religions and disabilities.” 

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5. Coding can help prevent problems 

Imisi Joseph, a software verification engineer at Jaguar Land Rover, urged other engineers to learn how to code to help analyse data better and understand product performance. “If customer data was anonymised, we could anticipate problems with our features before they happen,” she said. “We can improve our warranty and quality." 

6. Programming is key to engineering communication

Programming is important for mechanical engineering students, even if they do not directly use it after graduation. Why? Because it allows them to communicate more effectively with tech-focused colleagues, a vital skill as more and more processes are automated.  

“Basic programming skills are a must-have at this day and age,” said mechanical engineer Murat Islam from John Crane. “Engineers will need programming skills for advanced document automation, design optimisation, automated modelling and product simulation.” 

7. The ‘holistic engineer’ will be in high demand

An over-emphasis on specific technical competencies – rather than a broader, more holistic approach – could serve to widen the skills gap. Educators should focus on equipping students with transferable abilities, as opposed to transient skills, said Professor Abdel-Maguid.  

“If you go back in history, the focus was on enduring and transferable skills – and transient skills were picked up,” he says. “Then, after the standardisation of the Industrial Revolution, the focus moved away from this holistic approach and towards specific, siloed jobs. We’re starting to miss that holistic engineer, the one that can tackle unfamiliar problems.”  

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Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.


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