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Workforce Blog: The Engineer of the Future

Workforce Blog: The Engineer of the Future

To build the bridge to a sustainable tomorrow, engineers will require a different mindset and skillset.
The daily headlines—here in Germany and around the world—are quite disturbing. Floods and wildfires threaten large parts of the Mediterranean region. People must be evacuated and often lose everything, sometimes even their lives.

Extreme weather conditions across Europe are increasing in both frequency and intensity, even in areas that have traditionally been relatively unaffected by climate events. There are examples all over the world of how climate is changing and how this change has a serious impact on large parts of the world population.

Climate change has become a major existential threat on a global level. How to react to this menace?

The need to adapt to climate change, to build more resilient infrastructures, has become evident. Adopting as societies a more sustainable, holistic mindset and, in parallel, advancing from a linear into a circular economy are other key elements of this global challenge. Who is going to achieve all of that?

Hard-to-Decarbonize Industries

ASME’s core competencies in renewable and alternative energy sources positions the organization to lead private industry toward achieving carbon neutrality goals.
While we all must carry the burden of making societies more sustainable—requiring long-term cultural shifts—the task of providing the technical solutions is fundamentally an engineering challenge. When looking at the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) it becomes obvious. Engineers are at the heart of the sustainability challenge.

This fact poses the question: Are today’s engineers equipped to meet that challenge? What about tomorrow’s? Until now, it was sufficient for engineers to design and build technical solutions that met performance specifications. Now, meeting sustainability standards has become a conditio sine qua non.

Engineers are of utmost importance in building the bridge to a sustainable future, but they will require a different mindset. Innovations must be more than efficient, cost-effective, and practical; now, they must be sustainable, too.

Additionally, with digitalization and the increasing use of AI, engineering roles will change. Engineers will be at the forefront of technical developments, and it will fall to them to explain, to advise, to persuade—and to inspire.

A talent for collaboration has always been part of the engineer’s toolset. Now, communication skills, the ability to work interdisciplinary, entrepreneurship, lifelong-learning, data literacy are all competencies that the engineer of the future will need in addition to a high-quality technical education. Developing this more comprehensive mindset and skillset is the new global imperative for every member of the engineering profession.

ASME and VDI acknowledge that engineering societies and associations must play a pivotal role in supporting the required transition. That’s why my organization is partnering with ASME under the auspices of the Engineering for Change (E4C) initiative to mobilize the next-generation workforce to champion sustainable innovation.

E4C Fellowships engage engineers and other technical professionals in research and impact projects addressing specific aspects of the SDGs. The results of their work are then made available through the E4C Solutions Library, where they can be accessed free of charge on the E4C.org digital platform.

The initial VDI-ASME collaboration, called “Decarbonization through Digitalization,” engaged four E4C Fellows—two German, two American—to research the application of new technologies to combat climate change.

Global challenges require global approaches. No country on Earth is immune to the effects of climate change, so the only way forward is to face it together by joining forces to work on practical solutions. Industry, academia, government, and NGOs/civil society organizations like ASME and VDI must unite in common cause. And it begins by building the engineering workforce that can innovate sustainable solutions.

Like ASME, VDI believes that a sustainable world is possible. We agree that engineers are the key to achieving that goal. Let’s continue along that path together.

Thomas Kiefer is coordinator for International Affairs, Strategy & Transformation at Verein Deutscher Ingenieure, or VDI, the Association of German Engineers. To learn more about the ASME Foundation’s workforce development and sustainability programs, visit asmefoundation.org.
 

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