Digital transformation is happening at many engineering firms, but what are the skills that will power you ahead? As part of New Civil Engineer’s Elevate careers week, we look at how you can future-proof your skills.
If any sector of the civil engineering industry has been untouched by the digital revolution then it will not remain so for long. Major clients across the UK are putting a major focus on the way modern technology can improve their assets and processes.
Network Rail’s Digital Railway programme aims to harness the power of computing to make its infrastructure – such as signalling systems – more efficient.
Highways England’s Smart Motorway initiative involves opening up hard shoulders of major roads for normal driving with technology, monitoring congestion and adjusting the speed limit to keep traffic running.
Northern Ireland Water has used a boat drone to build an accurate model of a reservoir to help with volume calculations.
Digital technology is only going to become more common as a platform for improving the outputs from civils projects.
Mott MacDonald recruitment systems and projects manager Jemima Arnold says key skills needed to succeed in the digital civil engineering profession include numeracy, analytics, critical thinking and decisiveness.
Technical knowledge remains important. This includes knowledge of the programmes you are using and of the underlying engineering fundamentals.
‘People who learn digital have transferable skills but you can’t go into civil engineering without the technical professional skills and expertise,” says Richard Gelder, director at recruitment firm Hays Construction & Property.
How roles are changing
Arnold says an ability to interpret data is becoming increasingly important for those in digital engineering roles. Clients and consultants are fast moving beyond an appetite to collect data for its own sake and increasingly looking for people to give it meaning.
Being comfortable with visual scripting tools is a bonus for many roles in this area as they develop.
So-called softer skills are also coming into play as differentiators between those who can press all the right buttons on a screen and the people who will really make a difference to a project or organisation. These can include agility and diversity of thought and communication; self-belief; and creativity.
Predicting the future
It seems certain that consulting engineers will use digital tools more and more in their work over the foreseeable future. But the nature of this profession means it is difficult to know what specific programmes and requirements will emerge next.
“It’s difficult to predict,” says Arnold. “People need to be flexible and adaptable. Skills need to stay relevant, so people need to be agile and curious, to continuously learn and adapt to the pace of change.
“In the digital economy, work will no longer be restricted to one employer, job or team. It’s impossible to have all the skills needed but it is possible to demonstrate that you can learn new ones.”
Jobs using modern technology are becoming ever more mainstream in the civils sector. People can command good salaries where they are able to demonstrate niche and valuable skills.
Talent shortages remain a major hurdle for the industry. An Engineering UK report earlier this year revealed that more than 1M engineering jobs had to be filled across all disciplines in the decade to 2024, and the ICE has warned that major projects could be at risk.
People who can demonstrate a grasp of the principles of engineering and modern digital tools will be well set to take on jobs across the UK.
“There is a fantastic career in civil engineering for people interested in new technology,” says Gelder.