Adapt or perish: IMechE-backed report reveals stark truth about skills

Professional Engineering

(Credit: Shutterstock)
(Credit: Shutterstock)

The growing trend towards multidisciplinary engineering teams was the top challenge identified in a new research study funded by HEFCE (now the Office for Students) and led by Loughborough University and Dr Caroline Walker on behalf of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

The research project was driven by the rapidly changing job market and the accelerating fourth industrial revolution. Engineers and key opinion formers across a range of engineering sectors were interviewed.

The aim of the research was to investigate the trends and drivers for engineers’ continuing professional development (CPD) in both technical and non-technical areas and to compare these to the current higher education training available in the UK.

 ‘In the future, all engineers will be multidisciplinary’ was a theme frequently voiced by participants across all sectors.  

Multi-skilled future

The trend towards multidisciplinary working creates the need for engineers to become ‘technically fluent’ in a wider range of areas, and emphasises collaboration and problem-solving skills. This means that, in order to develop a sustainable career, engineers will be required to have broader expertise and the ability to move between fields.  

Indeed, early-career engineers stated that they want to stay broad in their skill set in order to future-proof their careers. In tandem, there was a wider trend across all career levels to steer their career paths, with the vast majority considering funding their own professional development to shape their career.

Other key findings were:

Many future technical skills gaps were identified and, not surprisingly, these included coding, big-data analytics, modelling, artificial intelligence, robotics, and virtual and augmented reality. Surprising, however, were the widely varying views indicated by respondents as to the importance of these skill-sets. 

Fifty per cent of survey respondents reported that their employers were not prepared for the impacts of new advanced technologies, which suggests that companies are still struggling to understand the impact of the fourth industrial age. 

Early-career engineers observed that they left university without skills such as coding and augmented reality, and that their degrees were often out of sync with the future needs of the industry. 

Embracing life-long learning will clearly become a way of life for engineers at all career stages as new, disruptive technologies come into play. However, this research suggests that there is currently a mismatch between what higher education is delivering at masters level and what industry actually needs. 

Flexible learning

Key requirements identified for Industry 4.0-ready higher education training include flexibility, tailoring and a focus on business and ‘soft’ skills as well as technical subjects. Courses will also need to allow the flexibility for learning to be combined with work, so, unless universities evolve what they offer, they will become increasingly irrelevant as providers of advanced training, with industry looking elsewhere for CPD provision.

If you would like a copy of the full report, contact Dr Paul Rowley (email:

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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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