Cyber warriors and space explorers: the engineering jobs of the future

Author

Rebecca Burn-Callander Enterprise Editor

December 1, 2014

The UK’s next generation of engineers will find their talents in demand from these six fast-growing sectors over the next decade, new research reveals

The engineers of the future won’t be building bridges or designing aeroplanes; they will be snaring cyber criminals, 3D-printing new inventions, exploring the farthest reaches of the universe and feeding the hungry, according to a new report.

The Institution of Engineering and Technology has pinpointed the six sectors that are likely to create the biggest opportunities for the next generation of British engineers and technicians.

Building space probes, propulsion systems and launchers

The UK is already an important player in the global space industry. UK technology relating to satellite manufacture, engine design and space systems is exported across the world.

The Government has now set targets to quadruple revenues for the space sector over the next 16 years. “This is a move which will pave the way for a huge wave of new opportunities for UK engineers,” according to the IET report.

“As an industry that combines hi-tech manufacturing – the use of new materials, the miniaturisation of hardware, as well as the creation of sensors and applications that run on satellites – the business of space is tailor-made for engineers to make their mark.”

Whether we’re building widgets and infrastructure for space (upstream technologies) or developing services for the space industry (downstream technologies), the opportunity for UK engineers is vast. Up to 70,000 new roles could be created by 2030, the report claimed.

Next-generation robots

“The race is on to produce new breeds of robotics machines that can help us address many of the problems we face in the modern word,” the IET report said.

The biggest opportunity lies in automating manufacturing processes, it claimed. The UK car industry, for example, uses 622 robots per 10,000 workers, almost half the number of robots employed in Germany and Italy, according to data from the International Federation of Robots.

The global robotics market is worth €22bn (£17.5bn) and is set to grow to €62bn by 2020.

If the UK reaches its projected market share by 2025, the Government believes the industry will generate revenues of £75bn for the economy.

Skilled engineers are required for robotics research, and for working with robots in the field, the IET said.

The European Commission has forecast that 75,000 new jobs will be created in the field of robotics across Europe by 2020, alongside 30,000 new highly specialised robotics roles and 140,000 new placements in the robotics service industry.

The IET has isolated nine areas where the UK can lead the world in robotics: systems for the nuclear sector, including robots that can autonomously build, manage and decommission sites; deep mining in difficult areas; offshore energy generation; unmanned aircraft (or drones); robots for medical or social care; robots for manufacturing; systems to monitor and manage crops in the agricultural sector; intelligent vehicles – such as Google’s driverless cars; and energy infrastructure.

Battling cyber criminals

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Digital networks have become part of the basic fabric of everyday life. But as more services become automated, companies must protect their networks from system failures and cyber crime.

Cyber security breaches cost the UK economy £27bn per year and the Government estimates that the cyber security sector will be worth £3.4bn in 2017, up from £2.8bn in 2013.

UK engineers, skilled in materials science, electromagnetism and IT, will be in high demand, the IET has predicted, adding that the demand for cyber skills is set to grow 13pc per year until 2017.

“For the next generation of engineers, the growth of networked devices means that cyber security will become a critical element of their skills mix,” the IET report said.

The appetite for skilled cyber security workers is already growing apace in the UK, according to Alistair Cox, the chief executive of recruitment firm Hays. “Ten years ago, we couldn’t imagine recruiting for a cyber security engineer,” he told The Telegraph. “Now there is a huge shortage. There’s more opportunity than there is available talent.”

3D printing

3D Printer

Additive manufacturing – or 3D printing – has been hailed as a potential catalyst for a new industrial revolution.

Only a small fraction of commercial manufacturing currently relies on 3D printers, but the sector is growing fast. US industrial giant GE forecasts that 50pc of its products will involves some degree of 3D printing by 2020.

“The excitement around additive manufacturing comes from its potential to redefine nearly every element of the manufacturing process as we know it today,” the IET report said. “For this to be successful, engineers need to apply their skills and knowledge to the possibilities offered by the technology.”

The 3D printing industry is growing at a compound annual rate of 34.9pc. According to the Technology Strategy Board, it could be worth more than £64bn globally by 2020.

The key opportunities for UK engineers lie in four areas, the report added. These include: printing items locally to shorten supply chains and cutting logistics costs; honing the 3D printing technology to accommodate large-scale production; bringing new printing materials into play (you can already print items out of chocolate); and improving the quality of the finished printed product.

Decarbonised electricity

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As the energy sector moves further away from the so-called “dirty” sources, such as coal, oil and gas, and towards green and sustainable electricity generation, engineers will become crucial for developing low-carbon technologies, the IET report claimed.

The biggest opportunities for future UK engineers will lie in developing new ways of managing the electricity grid, controlling power consumption and solving the electricity conundrum of how to convert stored energy from a direct current to an alternating current.

Over the next two years, the UK Commission for Employment and Skills has forecast that 30,000 new skilled staff will be needed in the energy sector, representing a 4pc increase in jobs.

According to the European Commission, the UK is likely to become the world leader in the development of smart grid technologies, which could create an additional £5bn in exports.

SmartGrid GB, an industry body, has predicted that up to 9,000 new jobs will be created in this niche alone over the next decade.

“The electricity industry has been very unfashionable,” Simon Harrison of engineering consultancy Mott MacDonald commented in the IET report. “But that is now changing.”

Food security

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Global population growth is forcing world leaders to think carefully about how we are going to feed future generations. According to the United Nations, the world will need to increase food production by 60pc by 2050.

Engineers will be fundamental to the development of agricultural technologies (agri-tech) – ways of making farming more effective and sustainable.

Those skilled in genetics, nutrition, food and crop science, plant breeding and industrial or synthetic biology will be in high demand, the IET report said.

However, data scientists and engineers will also be crucial for improving the way farmers use land and natural resources by using satellite imagery, big data and meteorology to make better decisions.

The agri-tech sector is currently worth £4bn and employs 20,000 people in the UK, according to the Institute of Agricultural Engineering. However, the OECD estimates that the new “bio economy” will contribute £600bn in gross value added to European economies by 2030.

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