There’s little doubt that disruptive technologies are transforming the workplace. The question is, are our young engineers equipped to succeed in this new world?
According to Dhakshy Sooriyakumaran from The Foundation for Young Australians (FYA), forces of change like automation, globalisation and a move to flexible workplaces mean young engineers will increasingly rely on a ‘soft’ or enterprise skillset
, and will likely need to keep ‘re-skilling’ over the course of their professional lives.
“I think there's a lot to be done in the engineering space, particularly around equipping the next generation of engineers differently,” Sooriyakumaran says.
“I don't think young engineers today necessarily have a clear picture of that context that they're heading into and how to actually navigate that.”
A former civil engineer who worked in the hydrology sector, Sooriyakumaran now heads up FYA’s new social enterprise YLab. Sooriyakumaran will present ‘The Children of the Disruptive Technology Age: What can they expect from the workplace?’ at IPWEA’s International Public Works Conference,
As it becomes possible to automate more and more complex tasks, the roles humans play in the workplace are set to drastically change.
“A lot of the evidence points to quite dramatic automation within the period of the next five to ten years, which is quite alarming,” Sooriyakumaran says.
“Jobs that are repetitive and monotonous are certainly prone to automation and that impacts the engineering industry significantly. So, skills such as complex problem solving, critical thinking and creativity will be in higher demand.”
The statistics are stark; FYA estimates that seven in 10 young people are entering the labour market in a job that will be lost to automation, and about 60% of students are training in jobs that are going to be radically affected by automation.
“I think automation will not only change the number of opportunities available for work but also how work is done and the type of work we do,” Sooriyakumaran explains.
Disruptive technologies also mean that physically going to work may become a thing of the past for many young engineers – which could result in less secure employment.
“Flexible and platform-based work is becoming more prevalent and companies are choosing to operate remotely,” Sooriyakumaran says.
“You might be a freelancer, or part of a network of freelancers and get pieces of work and contracts as they come through, as opposed to having a secure, full-time employment position.
“There's some evidence to show that there's potentially a trend toward small, multi-disciplinary consultancies forming.”
Young engineers will also need to factor in ‘career management’ and lifelong learning.
“I think lifelong learning is core to the future that we're facing, where everyone is going to have to constantly be re-skilling. It's scary but there's a huge opportunity as well,” Sooriyakumaran says.
“Your career trajectory is not going to be linear – it’s more of a career lattice or jungle gym - you're going to be making it up as you go.”
Despite the challenges ahead, Sooriyakumaran says engineers’ aptness for complex problem solving puts them at a definite advantage.
“The world of complex problem solving is going to be one that employers desire, and I think that engineers are really well placed to look at complex problems because their training is quite rigorous in analysing and breaking down problems,” she says.
“That’s why engineers are in demand in other industries – because of their ability to grapple with problems.”
And, Sooriyakumaran says engineers have a huge opportunity to contribute to significant global challenges, such as climate change and the need for smarter infrastructure.
“Engineering plays a significant role is some of the biggest global challenges we face today. I don't necessarily feel that engineering education at the moment situates engineering in that context – that they are key drivers of the future, they are in the driver’s seat, they have a huge impact on what the future looks like and how humanity will fare against these kind of different threats that will become very real in the next decade,” she says.
“Driving this new, complex world will be both a challenge and a unique opportunity for engineers. I think there's going to be a real skill in navigating technical mastery and overall enterprising skillset. If you can do both, you're really well positioned to have a really interesting career.
Don’t miss Dhakshy Sooriyakumaran’s presentation ‘The Children of the Disruptive Technology Age: What can they expect from the workplace?’ at IPWEA’s International Public Works conference in Perth, 20-23 August.