Inside the Changing Work Environment for Engineers

Published in WRAL TechWire Insider – June 23, 2017

By Joe Magno, NC COIN Executive Director

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – The number of engineering students graduating from North Carolina’s universities is continuing to grow and the work environment that those engineers will enter continues to change and evolve.

IEEE GlobalSpec recently conducted its third annual “Pulse of the Engineer” research survey. This online survey asked engineers and technical professionals in the industrial sector about the pace of engineering, work environment, competition, challenges, performance management and knowledge management practices.

Here are some of the findings it unearthed.

  • Engineers are still responsible for doing more, yet team size isn’t growing.

Senior engineers are retiring at an accelerated pace, creating a brain drain impacting all aspects of the supply chain from product creation though delivery.

Many estimates project that half of the engineering workforce will be eligible for retirement in the next few years. This knowledge drain is impacting the ability of organizations to keep pace.

Seventy percent of respondents noted that shortages of resources and specialized knowledge, along with budget and time constraints, are jeopardizing productivity, product quality and innovation.

Engineers are under significant pressure to work smarter, faster, and harder. Designs are becoming more complex at the same time that design cycles are shrinking and time-to-market pressures are increasing. At the top of a list of roadblocks to success, engineers face a shortage of resources and specialized knowledge.

  • Protecting and growing institutional knowledge is a challenge.

Forty-seven percent of respondents rate their satisfaction with their company’s talent and knowledge management process at five or less on a scale of ten with smaller companies indicating higher levels of satisfaction than larger ones. Only 51 percent of companies have formal knowledge management systems in place, and only 36 percent of companies have formal practices in place to preserve knowledge by leveraging senior-level and specialized experts.

The good news is two-thirds of engineers report that their company’s engineering workforce has increased or stayed the same. However, with engineers and technical professionals reaching retirement age, the loss of employees – even if replaced – will mean a loss of institutional knowledge at these companies.

Fifty-nine percent of our survey respondents said that knowledge/information loss was very important or extremely important as employees left the company. Yet only a third of companies have formal practices in place to preserve knowledge within their organization.

Companies must adopt creative strategies to retain the institutional knowledge that is walking out the door. It’s critical to have formal processes focused on identifying expertise that must be documented and transferred to the successors. They also must identify and preserve knowledge too often overlooked regarding relationships with partners and vendors.

  • Actionable Conclusions for Today’s Engineers

More than ever, today’s engineers need to maintain and advance their professional skills through resources like technical white papers, training provided by vendors and design help from partners and vendors. Learning never stops.

Access the 2017 Pulse of Engineering Survey and other research reports on IEEE GlobalSpec’s website.

Editor’s note: Joe Magno is Executive Director, the North Carolina Center of Innovation Network, which is a partner with WRAL TechWire.

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