A knack for creativity and design, coupled with specialist skills in automation, robotics and mechatronics are now the suite of skills ranked highest to fulfil new and emerging manufacturing engineering roles, according to a report from the IET and IMech.
The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) have championed the interests of manufacturing engineers for decades. Looking to the future, the two institutions came together at the end of 2020 to explore how major change within the sector may impact manufacturing engineering roles.
IET Design and Production Sector Executive Committee Chair, Jeremy Hadall, says: “We wanted to find out what the future manufacturing engineer might look like and what key skills engineers will need to survive and thrive”.
Working with colleagues from IMechE’s Manufacturing Industries Division (MID), the project team drew up a list of relevant questions, posting these online and promoting the survey to members via email and social media.
“We wanted to know which competencies they believe will be most important,” adds IMechE MID Chair, Martin Cross. “Also, where manufacturing engineers can make the most significant contribution to finding answers to some of humanity’s greatest global challenges.”
The survey went out with a passionate call to action from IET Sector Deputy Chair, David Wright: “Manufacturing will be different in the future. There will be different products manufactured in different ways utilising different processes and technologies to provide those products in greater variety at lower volumes, with shorter lead times for more local consumption.
“Sure, there will still be a need for large, centralised manufacturing facilities for certain products in certain areas, with all of the challenges (and fun) that those provide, but I’m almost certain that we will also see more local manufacturing, whether that’s 3D printing of personalised medicines or the production of Small Modular Reactors to provide reliable, safe and cost-effective energy; the rise of the mega city will have a profound impact on the means of production, and therefore the skills needed by the manufacturing engineer of the future”.
Five grand challenges
Wright’s powerful narrative showcased five global grand challenges where manufacturing engineers can make a significant contribution to securing sustainable solutions:
- Food – how do we feed a planet of 10bn people by 2050?
- Health – how do we meet global health and well-being needs?
- Energy – how do we generate and distribute enough energy to sustain cities and their communities?
- Circular Economy – how do we make best use of resources?
- Transport – how do we move people and goods?
The survey, using the tagline ‘The Future Manufacturing Engineer’ launched in late November 2020 and generated 346 completed responses. These came from a cross section of age groups, and from different levels of seniority, with the most common job descriptions being Senior Engineer and Consultant.
This report presents a snapshot as to what engineers are thinking and feeling about where manufacturing engineering is currently and how it will evolve in the future years. Analysis of the results, led by IMechE’s Carly Nettleford, reveals some surprising answers.
Skills in automation, robotics and mechatronics are thought to be the most important for manufacturing engineers (84%) in the next 10 years.
These skills were followed by artificial intelligence (69%) and sustainable, lean, resource-efficient, manufacturing (65%). Communication skills, creativity, and design thinking rank as the top three non-engineering competencies of ‘highest importance’ for future manufacturing engineers.
Energy, transport, and the circular economy were perceived as the top three global grand challenge areas where manufacturing engineers can make the most significant contribution.
Pace of change
When it came to possible scenarios on the pace of change, barely 32% feel major change in manufacturing roles and skills will occur in the next five years, with some 56% thinking change will be minor during the same timeframe.
This is in some ways a little surprising given the emphasis currently being placed on the need to ‘build back better’ by industry and government in the aftermath of Brexit and the pandemic. The survey results show a clear pathway for the industry’s skills needs over the next 10 years, paving way for the adaptation and creation of appropriate vocational learning and training for engineers at all levels to help combat the increasing skills gap.
The report details recommendations for recruitment, education and other relevant professional engineering institutions which include investing in people to bring out their ideas, agility, and contributions, collaborating widely with others, especially non-engineers, to detect change coming and to support the UK sector embracing and exchanging ideas with others across the world to ensure productive manufacturing for all stakeholders.
“These results confirm that we need to prepare for the rapid changes and major programmes of investment that will affect manufacturing industry,” says Cross. “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 too,” adds Hadall. “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.”
The feedback received from the survey is helping to inform the forward programming and manufacturing priorities of both institutions and creating several opportunities for further IET/ IMechE collaboration.
Download the full report here.
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Images courtesy of IMECHE/IET