CAREERS 2019: Irish companies have thousands of vacancies for skilled engineers

Jamie Heaslip, Isabella Wusu aged 6, Dr. Ruth Freeman, Director of Strategy and Communications, Science Foundation Ireland, Caroline Spillane, Director General of Engineers Ireland and Private Frank Foran. Pic: Maxwell Photography

In what is set to be a significant turnaround for the fortunes of engineering graduates — whose profession was battered by the 2008 recession — the coming year will see more than 6,000 jobs created in the sector according to the latest survey by Engineers Ireland.

The findings indicated that a whopping 89% of the engineering employers surveyed believed their financial position would improve in 2019, despite the ongoing Brexit challenges and a recent decline in consumer sentiment across a number of sectors.

Observed the organisation’s Director General, Caroline Spillane: “We’ve talked to companies who employ a lot of engineers, and we asked them about their views on what lies ahead for 2019.

"What we’re hearing is that more and more companies are intending to employ more engineers over 2019.

"In 2018, these companies would have been positive but now they’re even more positive about their intentions to employ engineers in 2019.

“We estimate that more than 6,000 new jobs for the engineering sector next year,” she said, adding that a whole range of engineering organisations and companies across consulting engineering, construction, manufacturing and other key industries had prospered in 2018, and were even more confident about their prospects for 2019.

The biggest barrier to growth was once again perceived to be a shortage of engineers with the right skills — and most companies expect this situation to worsen in the coming year: “We strongly urge more young people, particularly young women, to consider a career in engineering and the fantastic and expanding opportunities that exist in the sector,” Ms Spillane said.

We would say to young people thinking about their CAO choices, to consider engineering because there’s a very buoyant market for engineers now and we don’t see any reason for that to change in the short to medium term.

“Employers are telling us about the skills they need, and these are the skills that engineering degrees instil in young people — problem-solving, a creative mindset, an ability to be a good team player and have good, effective professional communications skills.

"Employers were also talking about the future skill-set that would be required for young people entering engineering courses at third level", she said, adding "however that engineering students were already developing many of these skills because they were already part of their courses — data analytics, robotics and design for example."

However, she warned, the number of students moving into third-level engineering and technology sectors needed to increase significantly to meet employers’ future needs for graduates.

Demand for rigorously trained and innovative engineers is now buoyant — their skills are fundamental to the country’s economic growth and development.

Ireland needs a steady supply of engineers, with the necessary skill set, to boost local economies, create new jobs, facilitate sustainable development and meet the ambitions outlined in Project Ireland 2040.

And, although engineering is a broad profession, many colleges had now introduced a general first year so that young people could get an understanding of the various disciplines involved in engineering, from civil and structural engineering to biomedical engineering: “Companies are looking for engineers right across the board,” said Ms Spillane.

Caroline Spillane
Caroline Spillane

“For example — in the area of civil and building engineers there is a very significant shortfall of civil and building engineers in the construction sector and people going into these courses are very sought after.

“There is demand right across the board — in the life sciences sector, for example, companies are looking for mechanical, manufacturing, chemical and electrical engineers, and in IT there is a demand for electrical and electronic engineering graduates.”

Because of the type of training engineers receive, she said, their skills were very adaptable to growth sectors like IT and the Life Sciences where technology was changing fast.

“Engineers are acquiring skills through their courses that are more future-proofed than other courses might be, because of their exposure to cutting-edge technology, data analytics, robotics, augmented reality and machine learning which are all things that will be part of our daily lives.”

There was still a lower level of uptake of this profession by female students, Ms Spillane said, adding that it was crucial to encourage girls to think about engineering as a career.

“There have been many very positive developments in the uptake of STEM subjects by girls at Junior Cert and Leaving Cert, and we are seeing girls interested in some engineering courses such as biomedical and chemical engineering.”

According to Engineers Ireland, girls made up the majority of students taking higher-level science and mathematics in the Junior Cert in 2017.

The organisation said similarly encouraging trends had been noted in the Leaving Certificate, so the challenge now for the entire profession and for engineering education nationally, from primary to third level, was to build on this to convert girls’ burgeoning interest in STEM subjects into more female engineers.

Put simply, Ms Spillane observed, an engineer was a problem solver and a designer who had good skills around communication and teamwork — these were all skills girls had to the same level as boys, she added.

Women remained an untapped resource in the engineering sector, according to Engineers Ireland.

Just 16% of engineering graduates are women, with the overall ratio currently just one woman to eight men in the engineering profession.

Yet, the organisation points out, most of society’s biggest challenges will require interdisciplinary solutions and the combined mind-power of women and men working together.

“There is a need for a much larger and more diverse workforce and it has never been more important to inspire and encourage more young people, especially women, to study engineering at third level and to choose a career in engineering,” said Engineers Ireland in a recent statement.

A survey of Engineers Ireland members found that 86% of engineers believe that parents, teachers and career guidance counsellors could do more to break down the societal barriers to girls studying engineering-related subjects.

The Engineers Ireland study suggests that around 6,014 engineering jobs will be created in 2019.

Its finding showed that 59% of organisations expected to hire experienced Civil and Building Engineers next year, 39% would be looking for Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineers and 35% for Electrical and Electronic Engineers (35%).

Engineering organisations are also now taking measures to address the skills challenges they face, the survey found, with 66% investing in upskilling or reskilling current employees, and 64% collaborating with education institutions.

However, the study showed, comparatively few have been participating in outreach awareness programmes (7%) or specifically targeting female talent (23%).

Ms Spillane urged second-level students who considering engineering as one of their CAO choices, to link in with the Engineers Ireland STEPS youth-focused education outreach programme which will be supported by Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) over 2019-2021 as part of TII’s corporate commitment to encourage young people to consider a career in engineering.

The STEPS programme, which is also funded by Science Foundation Ireland and the Department of Education and Skills, is the only national full-time STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) outreach programme with a focus on engineering.

STEPS aims to encourage and educate future generations of engineers by supporting industry and community leaders to engage with primary and second-level school pupils through a number of hands-on workshops and programmes.

These include the nationwide Engineers Week, which runs from March 2nd to 8th next — last year more than 850 scheduled events took place with more than 75,000 participants, as part of Engineers’ Week.

Other initiatives include Engineering Your Future (immersive experience for transition year students) and the Young Engineers Award.

In partnership with the Irish Girl Guides, the STEPS team has also developed Engineering Badges for Girl Guides and Brownies.

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