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Future manufacturing engineers must be creative automation experts, survey finds

Professional Engineering

84% of respondents to the IMechE and IET survey ranked automation, robotics and mechatronics as the most important skills for manufacturing engineers in the next 10 years (Credit: Shutterstock)
84% of respondents to the IMechE and IET survey ranked automation, robotics and mechatronics as the most important skills for manufacturing engineers in the next 10 years (Credit: Shutterstock)

Future manufacturing engineers will need to complement deep knowledge of automation and robotics with advanced communication skills and creativity to keep up with the pace of change in the next 10 years, a survey has found.

With humanity facing huge global challenges – such as maintaining reliable energy supplies and feeding a potential population of 10bn people – engineers will need to hone key skills to ‘survive and thrive’, according to the report by the IMechE and the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET).

The Future Manufacturing Engineer was based on a survey of 346 IMechE and IET members aged between 18 and over 75-years-old.

Of those who responded, 84% ranked automation, robotics and mechatronics as the most important skills for manufacturing engineers in the next 10 years, followed by artificial intelligence on 69%.  

“This finding may… help to allay some fears that mass automation of manufacturing processes will reduce the number of jobs in the sector,” the report said. “Given the rapid pace of change in technology, engineers will have to upskill/ retrain multiple times throughout their careers. Creating a diverse education market to deliver such upskilling and retraining will be required, at scale.”

When asked about the importance of non-engineering competencies for future manufacturing engineers, the surveyed members ranked communication skills, creativity and design as the top assets. As one respondent said: “Future engineers will be part of a cohesive team where interpersonal skills will be paramount to ensure an efficient outcome.”

Of the strictly engineering knowledge and skills, lean principles and sustainable manufacturing were ranked third on 65%.

“The impact of net zero targets, now enshrined in law, carries massive implications for manufacturers and something which future manufacturing engineers want to embrace,” the report said. “As manufacturers come to terms with the impacts of Brexit, the Covid pandemic and future shocks and disruptions on their liquidity, their workers, customers and suppliers, sustainable resource-efficient manufacturing will be a prerequisite to building a resilient business.”

Responding to the findings, IMechE president Peter Flinn said: “The results confirm that we need to prepare for the rapid changes and major programmes of investment that will affect manufacturing industry. Organisations that educate and employ engineers and technicians must ensure that their current and future workforces keep pace with these developments.

“Professional engineering institutions can help training providers by working with them to evolve their curricula. We will also continue to provide cutting-edge continuous professional development opportunities for our members, and for the engineering profession as a whole.”

The report includes recommendations for recruitment, education and other relevant professional engineering institutions, including investing in people ‘to bring out their ideas, agility and contributions’, collaborating widely with others – especially non-engineers – to forecast change, and to support the global exchange of ideas for productive manufacturing.

Read and download the report here.


Get to grips with the future factory: sign up now for our Advanced Manufacturing briefings (19-23 July), part of the Engineering Futures series.

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

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