Engineers may be great problem-solvers, but these four problems are really exercising the sector in 2021.
The skills shortage
With technology growing faster than ever, there are 79,000 new engineering jobs expected to open up per year – and not nearly enough young engineers to fill them. The industry needs to invest in increasing diversity and filling educational gaps to create more new talent to funnel into these jobs.
Although engineers have been instrumental in the global response to COVID in terms of PPE manufacture, converting spaces into emergency hospitals, and other urgent projects, the pandemic may not have been good for the industry in the long term, as six in ten high schoolers say the logistical and economic impact of the pandemic will make it harder for them to go to university.
Young people also report more hesitancy around choosing a career, having seen how quickly many jobs can be lost to layoffs or furloughs. Part of the push to recruit more young engineers will have to be reassuring a generation who came of age during hard times that there is a stable, sustainable outlook for them.
That's going to mean more than a shift in recruitment rhetoric – the industry itself needs to take a longer outlook, anticipating issues like climate change that could cause future instability.
There's concern that both the logistics of Britain's departure from the EU (which has caused uncertainty for many immigrants) and the rhetoric around Brexit (which might make people uneasy about moving here) will shrink the talent pool for engineers, since in the past many skilled workers from other countries came here to work for UK companies.
It will also make existing supply chains and international collaborations more expensive and complex. It's likely that some companies that work with EU nations a lot will simply leave the country.
The Gender Gap
While the milestone of 1 million women in core STEM roles was cleared in 2019, women still make up only 10% of engineers. The progress so far shows the untapped potential of closing the gender gap as a way of resolving the skill shortage.
Diverse teams are more effective and better equipped to respond to an equally diverse market; the question is how to achieve that diversity. Initiatives to help young women get involved in STEM, such as Ada Lovelace Day – commemorated by a live event and social media campaign each year – are springing up in response.
Mentoring and recruitment programs are a key place to focus, because they can help get women engineers across the finish line and into a stable, promising career.