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Viewpoint | Digital natives are an asset

Those who are passionate about our industry may struggle to understand why many young people from the so-called millennial generation are not attracted into a career that offers endless opportunities: to be involved in meaningful, challenging and exciting projects and make a positive difference in society.

Sorrella smith cropped

Sorrella smith cropped

Sorrella Smith

Data shows a current shortfall of around 69,000 engineers entering science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM)-related employment each year and it is estimated that in three years’ time, the UK will have a deficit of over 1M engineers. We are lacking (an understatement) female engineers, with women currently accounting for only 9% of the UK’s engineering workforce.

Immense industry-wide effort is being put into improving public perception and education around STEM-based careers, but fully understanding who we are trying to attract is fundamental to the message we communicate.

As a young engineer, I would like to offer an insight into how companies and the industry might address these challenges. I am a recent civil engineering graduate, female, passionate about our industry and crucially, a millennial or “digital native” (someone under 30 who has grown up immersed in technology and the internet).

The effort to communicate what an engineering career can offer must be clarified and tailored, not so much to gender or academic skillset, but to the behaviours of the digital native. This can only be done successfully by understanding their attitudes to work and recognising that their ability with technology can be an essential change-enabler in our industry.

Whether they are incessantly social media messaging or playing multi-user video games, millennials are a collaborative, communicative generation.

With few information barriers on the internet, future engineers are looking for corporate integrity and openness when deciding where to work. Given the speed with which an idea can be made a reality with digital tools, digital natives are likely to be innovators and will seek innovative employers.

Collaboration, transparency and innovation run parallel to the fundamental features of the industry’s digital engineering revolution. We must leverage this alignment between that which our industry is striving toward and what future engineers are looking for.

The digital skills our industry needs to deliver the transformation discussed in the ICE’s recent State of the Nation report may be a departure from a traditional engineering background and a contributing factor to the skills shortage, but it makes digital natives critical in bridging the skills gap and driving our digital transformation.

It is exciting to be embarking on a career where, even with limited industry experience, a digital native can offer so much to the industry already. This is the message that needs to be communicated to future engineers if we are to attract and retain talent into our industry.

While young engineers have much to learn from those with more experience, the industry must embrace the opportunity to learn from those just entering it, who have an affinity with digital technology, to help drive the digital revolution.

● Sorrella Smith is an assistant digital engineer, at Laing O’Rourke and one of the ICE President’s apprentices for 2016/17



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