Virtually no aspect of modern life has been left untouched by technology — and the study of engineering is no different. In fact, you might even argue that the development of technology has completely changed not only how engineers are taught and trained, but the very nature of the work itself.
If you were to review engineering job postings from the last few years, it would quickly become clear that the line between engineering and IT has become rather blurred. Companies want to hire engineers who have skills in both engineering and technology, especially as the Internet of Things market heats up and the demand for connectivity in almost everything becomes more prevalent. Even outside of computer and electronics engineering we are seeing a demand for technical skills; for instance, most civil and construction engineers use programs like AutoCAD to perform tasks that were once done by hand. And in response to these changes, engineering education has had to evolve and revise its focus as well.
Meeting New Challenges
One of the most significant challenges facing engineering education programs today is the need to train engineers for current workforce demands. Simply put, companies are hiring individuals for jobs that just didn’t exist in the previous generation — or even a decade ago. For example, consider the following jobs that are now experiencing new levels of demand:
Control Systems Engineering. Engineers in control systems engineering use control theory to analyze, optimize, control, and design the complex and intertwined systems in everything from cars and aircraft to healthcare devices to manufacturing plants. They are the people who take the disparate parts created by other engineers and bring them together to ensure that they actually work. As the world becomes more complex, the need for individuals who can connect the dots will continue to grow.
Advanced Automotive Engineering. Automotive engineering is demanding more technology skills than ever before, thanks to the complex electronic systems that control every part of the vehicle. From systems that allow vehicles to communicate with other vehicles on the road to autonomous vehicles, the automotive industry is changing, and now is requiring a combination of traditional engineering skills with technological skills in telematics, software development, and network development and security.
IoT Engineering. Within the next three to five years, there are likely to be more than 50 billion connected devices. Consumers have come to expect connectivity from their devices, which means that companies must reassess their approach to product development — which also means challenging engineers to find ways to not only collect and analyze data, but to determine the best ways to link machines to create functions that are meaningful to users. In this effort, engineers are being forced to embrace new approaches to design, including design thinking, agile design, and new development and testing practices.
These are just a few of the new options for engineers that have been created by technology — and they are changing the way that engineering is taught at all levels.
Technology’s influence on education begins long before the university level. From kindergarten on, schools are placing a greater emphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) education, providing hands-on learning experiences to spur interest in the field.
At the higher levels, in particular the post-secondary and graduate levels, engineering has become less focused on foundational skills in math and science, and more geared toward teaching both the soft skills necessary for a successful career (communication, teamwork, etc.) and incorporating more of the modern technology that marks the profession. In short, while there will always be a place for and requirement to teach traditional engineering skills, such as mechanical and chemical engineering, changes in the technological landscape mean that engineering education is going to have to evolve to better combine all of the required skills for the new economy.
The rapid growth and infiltration of technology into our society is changing not only how engineers work, but also how they are being trained. Earning an advanced degree has always been important to climbing the career ladder, but it’s becoming even more important as technology overtakes the engineering industry. Without the advanced knowledge and understanding of how to incorporate technology into new ideas and designs, it’s likely that one will be left behind.