The most important future skills of all?




Future Skills Hub


The Green Edge is proud to be part of the launch of Enginuity’s new Future Skills Hub. We are certain it will prove be an invaluable resource for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) across the engineering and manufacturing sectors, both now and into the future. 

The invitation to partner with Enginuity, the charity dedicated to filling the UK’s engineering and manufacturing skills gaps, for the Hub was an easy one to accept. As close watchers of the green economy, posting and podcasting weekly on matters of sustainability, Net Zero and the skills we will need for it all, The Green Edge was already well aware of the huge contribution to be made by the engineering and manufacturing professions. And, since we regard many future engineering skills as being skills for sustainability, we were in. 

There is, of course, more to consider here than just sustainability. In particular, since the concept of the fourth industrial revolution was introduced back in 2015, much of the vision for future skills in the engineering and manufacturing sectors revolves around Industry 4.0. One of the main aims of the Hub is to guide its users through the – sometimes confusing – language that accompanies today’s big-picture concepts like Industry 4.0. We start that process with a focus on digitisation in the Hub’s first release. 

What does increased digitisation mean for the skills profiles of engineering and manufacturing firms of all sizes, up and down the land? Well, some aspects of digitisation are by no means new. Computer-aided design (CAD), for example has been around for over half a century and the associated skills are well understood. 

But there are other, newer digital technologies to master. Industry 4.0 relies on technologies such as Digital Twinning, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Machine-Learning (ML). Future skills for the engineering professions must include proficiency in these technologies: to design, make, implement, integrate, operate, maintain and, eventually, retire them. And some of these ‘new’ technologies may even demand new skills integrated into the ‘old’ ones – like Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality (VR/AR/MR) merging into the world of CAD to create immersive design experiences, for instance. 

So, we can readily see how many of the future skills for engineering and manufacturing align with the principles of Industry 4.0. We can emphasise digital literacy, skills to enable data-driven decision-making, expertise in automation and robotics, and specialisms in user-centric design and human-machine interaction. 

But many of these Industry 4.0 skills also sit in the intersection of the Venn diagram with Sustainability. Industry 4.0 promotes resource efficiency and collaborative supply chains which, viewed through the sustainability lens, facilitates conservation of materials and energy, sustainable sourcing, and circular economy principles like life cycle analysis. 

We should also remember that sustainability is not just about the environment – a point often missed with today’s tendency to focus on Climate Change and Net Zero. To be properly sustainable, any product, process, or system must also give more than a passing nod to the economic and social ‘pillars’ of sustainability.

Venn diagram from TGE illustrating the economic and social pillars of sustainability

For the most part, we may argue that economic viability is an engineer’s stock-in-trade anyway. But, while sustainability may well be ingrained in an individual’s world view, the social aspects of sustainable engineering and manufacturing may not necessarily be supported by the education they receive. 

Industry 4.0 does go some way toward helping here. For instance, its considerations of enhanced worker safety, well-being, and productivity through ergonomic work environments contributes to the social principles of sustainability and – we hope – fosters more socially responsible organisations. 

But there’s more, and it comes down to this: engineers need to integrate sustainability mindsets into the technical competences they exercise every day. This is true of everyone, of course. But, given the importance of the engineering profession to shaping a sustainable world, it might help to understand what those sustainable engineering mindsets might be. 

In our view, a good understanding of what constitutes a sustainable engineering mindset is provided by the Global Responsibility Competency Compass from Engineers Without Borders UK. The Engineering Council endorses the Compass and, in the joint white paper we published recently with Enginuity, we go a stage further to recommend that the Engineering Council should incorporate the Compass into its standards and educational frameworks. We believe that integrating technical competences with human capability frameworks in this way can cultivate professionals who excel in their specialisations while remaining regenerative, responsible, purposeful and inclusive. 

These are, perhaps, the most important future skills of all.

Sustainability mindsets for Engineering. Image: TGE adapted from EWB