A new report by Lloyd's Register Foundation, in collaboration with the Royal Society for the Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) warns that automation, AI, and the imperative of decarbonisation is leading to profound changes in the engineering sector, and ‘merely adding new skills into existing practices’ will not be sufficient to fill skills gaps and prevent job insecurity.
The “Skills needed for the Safe Adoption of Emerging Technologies in Engineering” report says that manual and operational engineering roles are most vulnerable to automation and AI. These roles are also often lower paid and occupied by those with fewer qualifications.
The report says that analysis and evaluation are set to become more valuable skills within engineering, whilst people who can spot promising business opportunities to add value, and incorporate new technologies are likely to thrive best in the future. However, the safe and effective adoption of these technologies will require new skills that are currently largely lacking from the engineering sector and from much of the engineering employment pipeline.
Tim Slingsby, Director of Skills and Education at Lloyd’s Register Foundation, said: “There is a very acute need to address skills shortages in the engineering sector. This shortfall is going to get worse if employers and educators do not account for the evolving skills needs bought about by new technologies. Moreover, we recognise that many of these technologies have the potential to reduce risk. If the skills shortage is not addressed, we will miss out on opportunities to enhance the safety of the world's critical infrastructure and the people who build, design and operate it.
“This report provides real, actionable insights into how the international community can resolve skill shortages in the global engineering sector. It will prove a valuable asset to organisations that share our mission of making the world a safer place. Our recommendations provide guidance that will allow the engineering industry, educators, and policymakers to ensure engineering skills and education can support technological innovation.”
Summary of recommendations
For policymakers, schools, and colleges:
- Safety related components of digital, technical, and transferable skills should be embedded in school curricula – rather than being seen as optional.
- Greater efforts are required to recruit more computing teachers.
- School pupils should be exposed to not only a broader range of disciplines for longer, but also to the practice of combining multiple disciplines.
- Greater investment in transferrable ‘meta-skills’ such as interpersonal and problem-solving skills.
For further and higher education providers, local and national policymakers:
- Professional training should embrace agile and lifelong forms of learning – including initiatives such as skills passports, digital badging and Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs).
- Ensure improved access to upskilling opportunities, especially among underrepresented groups. This entails improved outreach, tailored design and making workplaces more inclusive.
For employers and the engineering sector:
- Too often safety is framed as an individual responsibility. Safety skills development should rest at an organisational level, recognising the role of culture in determining safety behaviours and incentivising in-house development of skills.
- Improve incentives for safety training, for example by making it more accessible and desirable to individuals and organisations.
- Build learning and organisational cultures which are open to challenge and agile to change – and ensure safety concerns can be voiced freely.