How do engineers of the future work?

For a long time, empty production halls were a symbol of the change in industrial production due to technological progress. But digital technologies, with their increasingly shorter innovation cycles, have no longer just taken over manual work that is easily automated. Trends such as robotics and artificial intelligence are competing more and more with people in more complex fields of activity. The working world of engineers is also not unaffected by the digital transformation.

©istock/Drazen

Industry transforms itself

Digitalisation, globalisation, individualisation and demographic change are the overriding trends that are changing the industry in the long term. Companies are challenged more than ever to secure their future success. It is up to them, supported by technical innovations, to realise new business models that take account of the changed requirements of customers and therefore create additional value.


industrial robot in a workshop

Machines and artificial intelligence provide new opportunities, but engineers will remain essential in the future.© istock.com/zssp 

The digital platform-based business models blur the boundaries between physical products and services. As physical products, services and the data processing that is required to implement the offer become more and more integrated, teams of experts with specialists in mechanical engineering, big data and cloud services are part of the future picture. For example, the extensive connectivity of modern automobiles allows the activation of additional functions after the vehicle has been delivered. The customer can adapt the vehicle to his needs during the usage phase and also book some features for certain temporary situations. In order to be able to use the considerable potential to increase sales, it is essential that the development of the offer and the corresponding hardware and software run in parallel. In particular, the interaction between representatives of the disciplines of mechanical engineering and information technology must be intensified so that their companies can successfully survive on the market.

The sequential approach, in which the engineer first develops a product that is as perfect as possible up to series production level, which is subsequently industrialised and expanded by a service portfolio, is already part of the past in many industries. If this collaboration model of interdisciplinary teams gets enabled by supporting digital technology, the changes go even further. More and more machines are able to relieve people of even complex tasks. In many areas of information processing, computers are simply superior to humans, for example in the mathematical optimization of models for production program planning or the design of component designs.


The engineer's profile changes

Experts agree that not only the work of the majority of engineers working in the design department will increasingly change. In many other traditional fields of engineering, such as production and maintenance, assembly and customer service, the change has already started. The automatic evaluation of sensor data of a vehicle already allows a comprehensive statement to be made about its condition - even from a distance. Statistical methods can also be used to optimize the maintenance timing and scope of machines automatically. The support provided by machines and artificial intelligence creates new opportunities: Engineers can now focus even more on the creation of creative solutions to problems, which is one of the core tasks of engineering. In our article on the changing world of work, we examine the question of why creativity will play a more important role in many professions in the future. In addition, the political, social and ecological sense of responsibility of engineers is also gaining importance. In the future, one of his most important tasks will be to identify risks associated with the use of certain technologies at an early stage and to prevent damage in this way.

Although machines relieve him of standard tasks, the engineer will remain indispensable in the future. However, a modification of the understanding of the role is unavoidable. The increased interdisciplinary exchange and more flexible collaboration models require a number of additional qualifications. Methods from software development such as Scrum are increasingly used in hardware development. In his future position as head of interdisciplinary project teams, the engineer will take on more coordinating tasks than today and will actively engage in customer contact. Accordingly, project management, personnel management and a general understanding of the organisation's business processes are gaining importance. The collaboration in often even globally distributed and correspondingly diverse teams demands a high amount of intercultural competence and flexibility from the engineer.


Managers and universities are challenged

Just as digital transformation changes all areas of of our daily lives, the new requirements of an engineer are not limited to new technical demands. The personality of the engineer is becoming more and more important. It is now up to the universities to include the changed requirements in the apprenticeship and up to the companies to successfully retain these specialists.


Experienced professional talking to a young engineer.

In the future, experienced experts will be needed less as technical experts than as coaches and mentors.©Image Source - stock.adobe.com

Well-founded knowledge of information technology has become an obligatory part of engineering degree courses. However, it is not a matter of competing with computer scientists in their field. Instead, the focus is on creating a common understanding as the basis for an efficient exchange of information. Compared to engineering, information technology is characterised by an even higher pace of innovation. The ability to acquire new technologies therefore becomes even more important for engineers. The universities are preparing prospective engineers for their new role by offering courses in integrated business models and business management basics. Interdisciplinary student projects and the increased level of internationality of the degree program contribute further. For experienced professionals, continuing professional education and on-the-job training are important, but young engineers have a decisive advantage: their generation has already grown up with the digital economy.

As you can read in our article on the digitalisation of the world of work, managers also have to reinterpret their role accordingly. In many cases in the future they will be required less as technical experts than as coaches and mentors. How well companies can understand this change in their organisation is becoming a decisive factor in their potential for success. In our article about the trends in global job seeking, you will learn the background to the requirements that alumni and experienced professionals place on their employers today. The challenge for companies is to retain the new engineers and to create the conditions for them to develop their professional and personal skills.


Creating the Digital Revolution

This much seems certain: The work environment of many engineers is facing an unexpected change. However, not only industry, but the entire society is being redesigned by the digital transformation. The changes therefore not only affect us in our capacity as working people, but also in all other areas of life. It is therefore even more important to play an active role in creating this change. We are not only looking for engineers, but also for commercial employees, who want to take on the challenges of the future with us. The Team of ARTS supports our customers from the aerospace, automotive and many other high-tech industries in using innovative digital technologies to ensure their long-term success. Working in our project teams gives you access to the advantages of the modern working world: diversified and challenging tasks with the opportunity for intercultural and interdisciplinary exchange.


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