IET reveals next generation of STEM jobs

Posted on 5 Oct 2016 by Victoria Fitzgerald

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) has predicted some of the ground-breaking engineering jobs likely to emerge over the coming 50 years.

The report comes in response to the rise of industries like space travel, underwater property development, vertical farming and electronic skin production.

To coincide with the IET Engineering the Future Festival on Thursday October 6, the IET has worked with a team of leading futurologists to explore some of the exciting and essential roles that engineers will play in the future.

Here are some of the sectors expected to generate these types of roles over the next 50 years:

Aerospace engineering

A computer rendering of the ITS arriving at Mars. Image courtesy of SpaceX.
Engineers will be needed to build permanent bases on Mars – image courtesy of SpaceX.

According to futurologist Dr James Bellini: “A new breed of engineers will be needed over the next 50 years to design and build permanent bases on Mars with the development of technologies that will eventually allow us to live and work off the planet.”

Futurologist Dr Ian Pearson also predicts that the use of super-strong carbon-based materials will allow us to build incredibly tall ‘spaceport’ structures to enable more convenient space travel by 2045.

He added: “Some will be up to 30km high and may function as small cities in their own right, and engineers will be at the forefront of this.”

Luxury travel & underwater property development

Dr Ian Pearson also predicts that engineers will have a significant role to play in the luxury travel industry and in high status property development. The possible development of air ship cruises, elite underwater property developments and floating cities has the potential to bring about a host of new innovative engineering jobs.

Robot psychiatric engineering

Natwest UK SMES Robot Automation Technology Image - July August
Robots may start to develop problems of their own, creating the need for robot psychologists and psychiatrists.

Another prediction from Dr Ian Pearson is that robots and advanced artificial intelligence will start to develop problems of their own, creating the need for robot psychologists and psychiatrists, as well as guards to keep them under control.

He said: “As engineers make smarter machines, we’ll also add such capability to humans, with advanced exoskeletons and superhuman abilities. For example, engineers may even be able to develop Spiderman-style silk throwing capabilities for humans.”

Vertical farming

Futurologist Dr James Bellini highlights a new industry that will require highly innovative engineers to tackle the global challenge of providing food for the rapidly growing population.

Vertical farming will use large towers or the walls of buildings in urban centres to grow produce, as opposed to horizontal plains. Enormous underground farms using disused tunnels and other spaces are also likely to be prominent and will need engineers for design construction and maintenance.

Natural resources

PV solar panels from Lightsource Renewable Energy
Much of future engineering will be about how to extract renewable energy more efficiently and optimise its use.

According to Professor Noel Sharkey, as the world population grows and our natural resources diminish, much of engineering will be about how to extract renewable energy more efficiently and optimise its use.

Sharkey said: “There will be a need for new ways to find or create water supplies. We are already beginning to see robotics used to repair or minimise the damage caused by climate change. This will need to increase dramatically in the next 20 years and not just to develop repair technology but also to limit climate change impact.”

Electronic skin development

According to Dr Ian Pearson, wearable technology engineers will play a major part in designing health and fitness technology of the future. Instead of using smart watches and smart phones to monitor health and fitness, there will be a need for technology to be embedded into people’s skin to give a more accurate picture of their health.

Moving from tradition

In terms of the skills needed for the future generation of engineers, there will be a clear need to steer away from traditional single-skill qualifications and for a more holistic approach as technologies become more advanced.

Professor Noel Sharkey commented: “Much of what engineers learn about and do now is based around computing and automated machinery.

The IET Engineering the Future Festival takes place on Thursday 6 October at Savoy Place in central London. For more information and to book tickets, click here.

For more information about the IET’s Engineer a Better World Campaign, click here.

“In the longer term, engineers will need to be highly flexible and creative as they will be employed more for innovative design ideas and to create self-sufficient robotic technology. Some engineering jobs will require learning to team with collections of autonomous tools and robots and interfacing with artificial intelligence problem solvers and diagnosticians.”

IET vice president, Will Stewart, said: “Engineering and technology skills are currently hugely in demand and are central to a vast array of different careers.

“With the current engineering skills shortage in the UK, there is an urgent need to get more young people, particularly girls, interested in engineering and technology and as the IET Engineering the Future Festival will show, the exciting range of creative engineering jobs in engineering and technology will explode over the next 50 years.