Engineers yesterday and today – from technical tinkerers to multi-talented experts

Technical expertise is essential for engineers. But this is no longer everything. Whoever wants to stand ground today on the labour market must also be a teamworker, marketing specialist, customer consultant and project planner. The return is a secure job.

The working environment for engineers has become much more complex. Pure specialist knowledge is often not enough.

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Students and people starting out on their career are today faced with new and often contradictory requirements: short course times with stays abroad, soft skills, business skills and good marks in key technical subjects. But not everything that engineers have to be capable of is needed from the first day. While basic technical knowledge is required at the career start, other skills are becoming increasingly important in the long term, which are hardly measurable objectively. These skills, however, are often only acquired “on the job”.

Therefore, it is important to understand technology not as an isolated discipline, but as a solution embedded in different contexts. Engineers of today are more than technical tinkerers, because the working environment has become much more complex. They are managers who develop solutions according to customer requirements as part of the team, develop market-oriented thinking and take social contexts into account. While the task previously consisted of developing new technical components, devices and equipment, it now includes designing, implementing and integrating complex hardware and software systems.

Diverse skills are a must

Pure specialist knowledge gained through study is often not enough for this. Basic knowledge in method and system expertise for the entire value chain are now also required – starting from the business idea through to realisation, distribution, operation and on to the disposal of devices, equipment and systems of technical applications. Business acumen, methods of system and project management, basic company management skills and process-oriented action in broader contexts are also becoming important. The ZVEI provides universities with the study module “'Integrated business process management” as a supplement to their curricula. This helps to teach skills over and above technological expertise by linking theoretical principles with knowledge relevant to practice.

Teamplay is required

There are many day-to-day demands on engineers in cooperation with other departments: budgeting of projects with the Finance Department, scheduling with the project management or collaboration with the Sales Department, with the focus on the competitive situation, pricing or quality assurance with suppliers. Of course, no one expects all this knowledge to be acquired at university. He or she must nevertheless be aware of the importance of these issues, in order later to be able to work with other departments as a team. They must therefore be able to present their results comprehensibly to experts from other fields, as well as to correctly evaluate the contributions of finance, research, service, patent or sales departments to the overall success.

Students are however often uncertain what knowledge of extraneous areas future employers expect or what other additional qualifications outside their field of study will further their career. There is no lack of clear and corresponding statements from the world of business, but rather a lack of knowledge and implementation of the results in the academic area. It would therefore be preferable for these findings to be quickly taken into account in teaching and their significance conveyed to students, as is the normal practice in research and scientific literature.

Outlook into a bright future

With increasing competence, the already good career prospects of engineers will be even better in the future. This was confirmed in a survey of the ZVEI in the electrical industry. Increasingly, engineers are working on interfaces between science and business. The ZVEI supports this development to transfer knowledge from research and development even faster into innovations and thereby strengthen the industrial location of Germany. It does not take a clairvoyant to dare to predict that in the future, electrical engineers will occupy even more key positions in business – right up to the top floor.

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