Those students studying engineering today will surface to demands for their skills that are quite distinct from those that lay in wait for their counterparts a generation ago.
The next issue of engineering grads, says a new report from the UK’s Institution of Engineering and Technology, could take up professions in one of the six sectors it identifies as extending the biggest job opportunities for these newly minted professionals. And they’re all seriously cool.
Here, says the IET report, skills relating to the technology of satellite manufacture, engine design and space systems will be sought out.
“As an industry that combines high-tech manufacturing — the use of new materials, the miniaturization of hardware, as well as the creation of sensors and applications that run on satellites — the business of space is tailor-made for engineers to make their mark.”
Skilled robotics engineers are required for research and working with robots in the field, the IET says. The biggest demand will be in automating manufacturing processes, but there are six promising areas identified in all: systems for the nuclear sector, including robots that can autonomously build, manage and decommission sites; deep mining in difficult areas; offshore energy generation; unmanned aircraft (or drones); robots for medical or social care; robots for manufacturing; systems to monitor and manage crops in the agricultural sector; intelligent vehicles (such as Google’s driverless cars); and energy infrastructure.
“The race is on to produce new breeds of robotics machines that can help us address many of the problems we face in the modern word,” the IET report says.
Additive manufacturing — or 3D printing — is a sector on the serious move. The industry is growing at an annual rate of 34.9 percent and, says the UK’s innovation agency the Technology Strategy Board, it could be worth more than $116 billion globally by 2020. By that same year, General Electric predicts that the manufacture of 50 percent of its products will include some degree of 3D printing.
The report singles out four areas of potential: printing items locally to shorten supply chains and cutting logistics costs; honing the 3D printing technology to accommodate large-scale production; bringing new printing materials into play; and improving the quality of the finished printed product.
“The excitement around additive manufacturing comes from its potential to redefine nearly every element of the manufacturing process as we know it today,” the IET report says. “For this to be successful, engineers need to apply their skills and knowledge to the possibilities offered by the technology.”
The IET predicts that engineers who have cultivated skills in materials science, electromagnetism and IT will be in increasingly high demand.
“For the next generation of engineers,” the report says, “the growth of networked devices means that cyber security will become a critical element of their skills mix.”
New Energy Networks
As the energy sector continues to distance itself from non-renewable energy sources and to move toward green and sustainable electricity generation, engineers’ talents for developing low-carbon technologies will be desirable, says the IET report. It goes on to identify novel electricity grid management, power consumption control and a solution for converting stored energy from DC to AC as three biggies in this field.
“The electricity industry has been very unfashionable,” says the report. “But that is changing.”
The United Nations predicts that the world will need to increase food production by 60 percent by 2050. And engineers will be crucial to the development of the agricultural technologies to facilitate same.
Specifically, says the report, engineers skilled in genetics, nutrition, food and crop science, plant breeding, and industrial or synthetic biology will be called for. So, too, will data scientists and engineers with ideas for changing the way farmers use land and natural resources through satellite imagery, big data and meteorology.
Clearly, new-to-the-profession engineers are entering a world whose call for their talents extends well beyond the bridge building and airplane designing that characterized those that came before them. How exciting.