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What if we treated engineering careers as circular?

Engineering team

When thinking about the career of an engineer, it’s natural to think of it as a linear journey; from university, to a graduate role, to gaining experience and perhaps even becoming professionally qualified. Knowledge is passed down to those who haven’t yet been indoctrinated into the status quo. But what if this wasn’t the only way to view career development?

Treating engineering careers as more circular would bring huge benefits; not just to engineers starting their careers, but to engineers throughout the industry and, in turn, to their employers and society overall. So, what would this look like?

We discussed the role of experience in tackling today’s global challenges with Professor Julie Bregulla, our Director of Innovation, and Emma Crichton, Head of Engineering at industry partner Engineers Without Borders UK.

What if the up-to-date education and open-mindedness of recently trained engineers was considered an asset to companies?

Value stems from more than experience; yet, we often overlook how much recently trained engineers can contribute, not just for their potential curiosity and open mindedness but also as the generation who will deal with the consequences of today’s decision making. Plus, with initiatives like STEMAZING as well as new engineering programmes with an ethical and environmental focus, we are slowly beginning to see more diverse graduates entering the industry. Embracing the ideas of recent graduates who have – or have been exposed to – a broader range of perspectives can help employers develop more socially and ethically sound solutions for the societies they serve. There is also strong evidence that diverse organisations exhibit greater growth and innovation, and make better business choices.

It is imperative that engineers relentlessly focus on solving global challenges such as poverty and climate change at an unprecedented pace. This combined with future changes in UK labour demand will see mass reskilling and the transition of around three million workers to a new occupation by 2030. The most recently educated will have been exposed to the latest trends and will be familiar with the most up to date technologies. This will be invaluable to companies as they strive to meet the needs of today. With only one graduate engineering role for every 185 vacancies across the UK, are employers valuing the less experienced engineers?

What if engineers contributed to wider communities from day one of their careers?

For any engineer, it’s important to understand the role their work plays in the real world – beyond the scope of a particular project, skill or task. For many, it often requires a conscious effort to consider not only what is being developed, but also why it is being developed and for whom as well as the wider implications of decisions for the planet.

This awareness is key and connecting to industries and communities and as soon as possible provides an insight to vital perspectives and needs. Developing competence within and beyond the engineering sector is also most important, making connections and appreciating the impact of engineers’ decisions.

In turn, providing better solutions to the problems that affect us locally can have a global impact. For example, in London alone, over 2.3 million people live below the poverty line, with 33% of adults having skipped meals so their children can eat. Engineers are working to lower living costs by developing sustainable and efficient ways to grow food locally, power homes, facilitate the widespread use of renewable energy, and optimise infrastructure. Each time one of these solutions is achieved, we move one step closer to meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

What if engineers began working on projects that make a real difference to their local communities, from as early as the first year of their education, to excel catering for the needs of the planet and people?

What if education was the foundation for how engineers remained relevant and increased their positive impact from Day 1 to Day 11,500* of their careers?

(*Based on 260 working days per year of a 45-year career post-graduation.)

The world is moving quickly and we’re beginning to use more interdisciplinary approaches to solve global challenges, blending different skillsets, technologies, and innovations. As such, engineers need to be prepared to continually learn throughout their careers. Both less experienced engineers and established professionals need to be open-minded and willing to listen to others across the industry.

As such, as well as teaching theoretical knowledge and industry practices, engineering education needs to prepare students to be agile, collaborative, and globally aware, so that they can adapt to changes as they come.

Every engineer needs to be aware that regardless of their experience, their knowledge will be limited if they don’t look for opportunities for continuous learning and if they aren’t willing to be guided by others – including those that have spent less time in the industry.

A truly collaborative approach will allow engineers to continually gain knowledge so they can deliver better solutions. Through problem-solving to the best of our collective ability, rather than as individuals or single-discipline teams, we’ll stand a much stronger chance of solving the increasingly urgent global challenges we’re facing.

What does this mean for you?

If you’re an engineering student, or considering becoming one, grab the opportunities to create positive change from the very first day of your career, including during your degree. Are you prepared to put your own ideas forward as well as listening to what others have to say, both across the industry and outside of it?

If you’re already an experienced engineer, reflect on when the last time an idea from less experienced team members was progressed. Embrace the fresh perspectives and invest in exploring new skills and fields!

If you’re an educator, building real-world input into engineering curricula is vital. What would change your perspective and challenge assumptions?


This article was originally posted by Engineers Without Borders UK. 

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