Like many sectors the engineering profession took a blow during the recent recession, but many disciplines are now bouncing back and look set to continue to do so in 2012. The upshot for engineering job seekers in 2012? Knock on the right industry sector doors and you'll be in demand. In the first of this two-part series we show you what areas are heating up this year.
Aerospace supply chain companies
Most people considering a career within the aerospace sector will automatically head for major players like BAE, Rolls Royce and Airbus – only to find themselves at the back of a queue of hopefuls all competing for the same jobs. But what many don’t realise is that for every massively oversubscribed key corporation there are scores of smaller companies literally begging for talent.
The North West Aerospace Alliance (NWAA) is a flagship organisation representing some 750 member companies and stakeholders involved in the North West England's aerospace cluster - its aim to promote careers particularly within aerospace supply chain companies namely through its Take Off In Aerospace campaign.
“The campaign was established in 2010 because many aerospace companies who make the parts for Rolls Royce etc. were reporting problems in attracting and retaining skilled young people in the industry,” explains Alison Ainsworth, NWAA's image and engagement coordinator.
“We train ‘ambassadors’ from aerospace companies and universities in the North West to work with young people at all educational levels to raise the profile of and job opportunities in less well known companies.”
Another incentive is the annual New Talent Award which is open to all students currently enrolled on a Bachelor's or Master's degree course at a North West university – with a £1000 prize for the best aerospace/defence related project.
The NWAA has also successfully encouraged smaller aerospace organisations to increase their number of apprenticeships and work experience opportunities.
“One of the areas where there’s a very big gap in terms of uptake is design-engineering so in 2012 we will also be concentrating on filling that,” says Ainsworth.
The BMT Group is predominantly a global maritime engineering consultancy but its work also covers a cross section of sectors including transport, energy and environment, and defence. The organisation recruits mechanical and electrical engineers, systems engineers, computer science grads, and maths and physics graduates from universities all around the world.
In the UK it also has very strong ties with universities such as Bath, Newcastle, Southampton and Strathclyde, with a particular emphasis on graduates studying naval architecture and ship science.
“Within maritime engineering we are increasingly interested in electrical engineers,” says BMT Defence Sector director, David Rainford, "particularly in the power and propulsion sector as there’s an increasing movement towards all electric ships as opposed to diesel.”
Multi-disciplinary organisations like BMT are also keen to promote the issue of transferrable skills. Rainford, who originally trained as an aeronautical engineer hasn’t actually practiced it since he joined BMT in 1985.
“I’ve been engaged in wind-tunnel testing for Formula 1 cars to working on military ships and submarines, to railways, bridges, and tunnels. I couldn’t have thought of a better or more exciting career.”
The last two years has seen a significant increase in the employment opportunities for electrical engineers in Western Europe and the US. Likewise salaries for electrical engineers have started climbing at rate that exceeds other disciplines. A major contributor to this about-turn is the energy business – currently worth six trillion dollars a year – one tenth of the world’s economic output.
“There’s no question that the way we produce, distribute, store and consume energy is changing dramatically,” explains Dr. Moshe Kam, president and ceo of the IEEE.
“For quite a few years the traditional area of power systems was progressing nicely but not dramatically - but all of a sudden we’re seeing an explosion in imagination and intellectual challenges. There’s a lot happening – wind energy, reclaiming from sea waves, deriving energy from outer space - which is giving electrical engineers who are innovative and willing to take risks in new ventures vast opportunities in this field.”
Another potential hotspot for electrical engineers is in the financial industry.
“One thing we have learned from the recent financial crisis is that you need to have employees that know what they are doing,” says Dr Kam. “Financial engineering in its true sense – forecasting and data analysis - is continually improving and electrical engineers who are well-versed in algorithms design and testing may find this a very rewarding career to work in.”
University courses in computer science are rocketing in popularity in the UK, and with many new courses being introduced more and more young people are drawn to this field as a career – particularly within the areas of reliability and safety.
AdaCore is a computer software company that provides open source software tools and expertise for mission, safety and security-critical software for the aviation, medical and military spheres. It is also one of the longest advocates of FLOSS (Freely Licensed Open Source Software). The company has recently acquired a number of government and European sponsored research projects and takes on PhD research students to assist – using its specially developed Ada programming language.
“Our philosophy is teaching programming the ‘right way’,” explains AdaCore marketing director Jamie Ayre. “When you’re dealing with ‘critical’ projects you can’t write reams of programs and then debug it after. The Ada programming language makes you think before you run your program and it’s restricted at language level, so even if you’re only writing one line of code a day you know that you won’t have to go back to debug it.”
Ayre believes firmly in installing good programming ethics within the student population as early as possible in their training. To this effect in 2010 Ada-Europe introduced the “Ada Way” annual student programming contest among student teams, whereby each team must have a university affiliation and be endorsed by an educator. The idea is to offer soon-to-be graduate job hunters a real opportunity to gain hands-on experience before taking up a career in software engineering.
“We’re seeing a rebirth of academic programmes that allow students to enter jobs with hardcore software skills and the ability to think outside of the box. Our programming competition aims to get students involved in building an application that requires lateral thinking as well as pure maths knowledge.”
As industries and economies progress worldwide, engineering has evolved significantly from its traditional foundations. Long-standing engineering roles in mechanical and electrical engineering are now making way for new demands in areas such as “clean” energy. The development of these new industries is generating an emerging set of engineering skills requirements and an evolved mind-set for engineers looking for new opportunities.
“The new technical and industry expertise required from engineers presents opportunities for graduates and those in the global workforce who can bring new skills and fresh thinking to the engineering world,” says Richard Hutchings, vice president of Engineering Services for Experis, a global leader in professional resourcing and project-based workforce solutions.
“Right now, US employers are finding it difficult to find the engineers with the right skills for their business. According to our most recent talent shortage survey, engineers ranked as third hardest job to fill in 2011.”
Experis works with employers to incorporate new and innovative recruitment strategies to attract and retain the engineers they need for business success.
“In 2012, employers need to be taking a long-term view of their staffing requirements to identify those transferrable skills within their businesses - to utilise existing talent and create the most valuable path of development for future workforces,” Hutchings concludes.