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The 21st century engineer


26th June

Egyptian polymath, Imhotep is thought to be the earliest known architect, engineer and physician in history. Responsible for the design of the Pyramid of Djoser, Imhotep worked with basic tools to create his designs and inventions. Here Ian Humphries, Managing Director at Boulting Group, discusses how the role of engineering is changing and what is expected of the 21st century engineer.

In 2015, Engineering UK released a report stating that 39 per cent of engineering employers in the United Kingdom struggle to find candidates with any workplace experience. On top of this, 30 per cent reported weaknesses in the attitudes and aptitudes for working life among candidates. These problems relate directly back to a lack of up-to-date education in the engineering field.

One method of improving engineering education and setting students up for the global workplace, is to replicate real-life situations in the classroom. Engineering is an extremely practical, project-based subject in the real world and there is good scope to replicate this in the classroom.

At Boulting Group, apprentices are given the unique opportunity to work alongside experienced engineers on electrical, mechanical and project controls including design, planning and quantity surveying. By working with some of the largest blue-chip companies, apprentices can develop their skills across a range of sectors, including chemical, pharmaceutical, oil and gas and renewable energy.

Employing Generation Z

Born between 1994 and 2004, Generation Z is the most digitally connected generation to join the workforce yet. Generation Z isn't just accustomed to technology, it has never experienced a world without it. The question is, what will this influx of technically advanced candidates mean for industry?

Generation Z opens the doors to a huge talent pool for employers operating in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) industries. Making the most of their technological skills, this generation of engineers is likely to develop knowledge beyond traditional, hands-on engineering.

The next generation will be able to engage with highly complex software, cloud-based applications and smart devices, without feeling out of their depth. For STEM organisations, the impending arrival of these candidates may sound like a dream come true, but recruiting them looks to be no easy feat.

Despite growing competition on the jobs market, younger generations are increasingly particular when choosing their workplace, prioritising company culture and employee benefits over impressive starting salaries or sophisticated job titles.

In contrast to the long-term career habits of older generations, Generation Z is thought to believe three years is an appropriate amount of time to spend at their first job — a worrying statistic for companies hoping to grow fresh talent. To counteract these concerning figures, businesses in the engineering sector must understand the distinct requirements of Generation Z candidates.

Generation Z will form the next legion of civil, mechanical and electrical engineers, building smart infrastructures, manufacturing life-changing creations and embarking on new developments in the realms of robotics and artificial intelligence. They may already be accustomed to technology, but collaboration with a forward-thinking employer could truly unlock their potential.

Changing skillsets

Advances in technology not only affect the tools engineers use but also what they studied and projects they handle. In the mid-1800s, engineers fell into two groups. Military engineers tackled military projects such as building weapons and fortifications, while civil engineers handled everything else.

As technology advanced, civil engineers who dealt with locomotives and steam power broke off and became mechanical engineers, and those dealing with electricity became electrical engineers. Mining and metallurgical engineering were two other early branches that, along with mechanical, electrical and chemical made up the vast majority of engineers in 1929. Today there are at least 16 engineering disciplines, with more likely on the way following the introduction of Industry 4.0.

As technology expands, companies are having to adapt to fulfil a range of new demands. This has led to the development of a range of new digital skill sets, which encourage collaborative working and integrated project delivery.

A lot has changed since Imhotep operated as an engineer. Today, engineers are interacting with different technologies, whether it be smart devices or collaborative robots on a daily basis, meaning the skills that they need to master are rapidly expanding. For more information on Boulting Group’s apprenticeship, graduate and training programmes, get in touch on 01925 446000.

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