What skills will undergraduate engineers need for the digital economy?
Our world is in continuous evolution, and one of the fundamental drivers for change is digital transformation. As global economies transform, becoming more knowledge-based, new market and employment opportunities emerge, and with them the need to develop new skills. Universities and educational institutions face the challenge of needing to provide students with skills to get them ready for the so-called digital economy: Digital skills will be required for every career field, as an increasing percentage of the world GDP is represented by the digital economy, representing already over 15% of the global GDP.
“Innovation” is a word that we hear often, and is often mistaken: Innovation is not always about creating or inventing, it’s about using the latest technology to improve current ways. Emerging technologies have always been used with the purpose of improving the quality of life. The last hundred and twenty years have been marked by an amazing evolution that has resulted in an improvement of social and economic conditions, and an overall increase of life expectancy, for example.
But as the complexity and speed of new technology adoption is increasing, the most important aspect of technology success is the Human Capital. Not only are new technologies creating new sectors, but they are also disrupting existing sectors such as agriculture, energy, manufacturing, you name it. These technologies are driving the 4th Industrial Revolution. What are the main drivers of this? Autonomous robotics, IoT, system integration, augmented reality, cybersecurity, and big data, to name a few.
The skills required by this new economy are highly transferable and highly changeable. Due to quickly changing skill requirements, reskilling is now needed every 2.5 – 5 years; everyone needs to continue learning. What does this mean for current undergraduates? It means that getting a diploma or certificate is not the end anymore. Continued learning and development are the key; employers will not assess what a candidate knows anymore, but how fast they can learn.
What are the main skills required by the future job market of the digital economy?
While repetitive tasks will most likely not be needed anymore (as robots can take those on), there are certain core technical skills that will be required no matter the field of expertise, such as:
- Big data
- Data analysis
- Software development
- App and web development
- Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML)
- User experience (UX)
- Process automation
- Database and system administration
The talent shortage issue
Approximately 64% of CEOs believe technology will disrupt how they do business in the next 5 years, but the skill gap will be an issue in many regions. Many countries face a talent shortage that forces them to import talent, and thus, talent development will be one of the key factors to empower economic development. Learning 4.0 is upon us.
What can institutions do to address the talent shortage issue? We have already seen a rapid change and development in online education trends, which has been only accelerated by the global pandemic. However, one of the big challenges for engineering and scientific schools is the difficulty in providing students a real hands-on experience and approach to practical learning. The only way to solve this challenge is to be able to provide a full interactive lab experience, based on real hardware, remotely.
Technical skills will not be all you need
Technical knowledge will simply not be enough. There is a set of human-specific skills that are applicable to any scientific or industrial job, and that will be the underlying skills needed for every function, together with technology use. Such skills can be summarized in:
- Analytical thinking and innovation
- Active learning
- Creativity, originality, and initiative
- Critical thinking and analysis
- Complex problem-solving
- Leadership and social influence
- Emotional intelligence
- Reasoning and ideation
- People, culture, and organizational development
- Innovation management
In a world where everything could potentially be automated, unique human skills, which cannot be digitized or automated, will become extremely valuable and a key differentiator in talent search.