The Future of Engineering - Part 1
May and June are the time for graduations in the USA. My third son graduated from high school this month and will be pursuing a major in Aerospace Engineering. My oldest son is finishing his third year in Mining Engineering and my second son has started into a Mechanical Engineering major. Engineering education and the future of engineering is a frequent discussion topic around our home.
So what is the future of engineering?
Well, it is safe to say that a knowledge-based society like today's society will always need engineers. From that point of view the future of engineering is secure.
However, more troubling to many engineers at different points in their careers is the real or perceived lack of job security. In many Western nations there are industries that have seen downward pressure on employment demand for engineers due to technology outsourcing to emerging economies. But the story is not necessarily bright for engineers in emerging economies either. I spent 10 days in India in late 2011. India graduates a large number of engineers. However, it seems many Indian engineers are looking to take their engineering skills abroad because of insufficient demand inside the country.
If one cannot have a secure job then is engineering a good career choice?
It has been said that in today's world the only constant is change. It should be obvious to all engineers that an engineering education is no longer enough. With the rate of change in technology, engineers need to be re-trained over and again. I have heard that an engineer needs to be re-trained three times in his or her career.
I think we can stop at this point and draw a conclusion about the future of engineering:
An engineering education is not enough. An engineer needs to plan for continual self-education if he or she wishes to continue to practice in this rapidly changing career.
With this reality, engineers would be well advised to look for employers who have a track record of investing in their staff. But engineers should not depend completely on their employer. They should take some initiative to re-educate themselves.
Another thing I tell my oldest son (the Mining Engineering student) is not to pay so much attention to the monetary compensation of any job. By far what will matter most to an engineer's future is the experience they gain on the job. A highly compensated engineer that is not getting good experience has a higher chance of being out of a job some day. So we can now draw a second conclusion about the future of engineering:
Employers pay engineers in two ways - in salary and in experience. In the end the experience gained is what gives more secure employment prospects.
Recent decades have seen an increase in globalization trends. The BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) have economies that are growing faster than many of those in developed Western nations. They all have significant internal societal and political challenges. Nevertheless it is safe to say that globalization trends will increase and not decrease.
With the global scope of Applied Flow Technology (we have clients in 70+ countries) I have been fortunate to have traveled extensively internationally to work with clients. My engineering student sons mentioned earlier have been fortunate to have traveled with me on many occasions. Moreover, they have each lived abroad for a semester while in high school and learned a foreign language. The second language learned and increased global awareness will serve them well in the global marketplace.
A third conclusion about the future of engineering can be drawn:
Increases in globalization means engineers should think globally about their future. Engineers should pay attention to global trends and try to develop their skills such that they will be relevant not just to future domestic demands but also future global demands. This could include living abroad for a time period to gain improved understanding of other cultures and/or learning a second language.
Another obvious trend is that towards communication and networking. My sons and their generation are very comfortable with the virtual world of mobile access and social networking. It is clear that this will increasingly influence how engineering is performed. Bill Knoke talks about "the placeless society" (see The Hyperconnecting Corporation) and how this is transforming businesses. We can add this as a fourth conclusion about the future of engineering :
Mobile and remote networking will continue to change how engineering work is performed. Becoming more comfortable with remote, collaborative processes and tools will allow an engineer to better fit into future work processes.
Consider these trends as you plan your career. Next month we will continue the discussion on the future of engineering.
Hello Mr. Walters,
At first, Engineers need to learn life, need to know their world, need to know their God (of course for all people). They should improve their Morality. So, when they work for his/her country, or other countries, they have a Responsibility feel to their people, or other people. So, if they miss their jobs, it is not important. Because, their God help them.
[...] This article is the second in a two-part series on the future of engineering. Part 1 was discussed last month here. [...]