Global Engineering Capability Review


Strengthen the evidence base and focus on quality not quantity

This report shows the breadth and diversity of engineering strengths and weaknesses around the world, highlighting that each country will have to identify its own priority engineering capability gaps and develop nuanced responses. This does not mean merely increasing the number of engineers, but also investigating the barriers that inhibit safe and innovative engineering practice. Interventions could look similar to those already outlined, but this will depend on the specific needs of each country.

We have identified several common challenges faced by countries as they work to enhance their engineering capacity. In this section, we outline these challenges as well as solutions that governments, the private sector, international funders and the global engineering community could implement to address them.

Strengthen the evidence base

Many countries struggle to collect and report accurate data on a variety of indicators that could support safe and innovative engineering.

1. Enhance data collection and reporting accuracy

Few low-income countries have accurate data from a singular, reliable source that identifies their total number of engineers. When labour force surveys are conducted, some countries struggle to report an accurate representation of their workforce due to a number of factors, including resource constraints.

Governments can improve their data collection and reporting techniques to get a more accurate understanding of their engineering workforce by:

Engaging with international organisations to implement best practices. International organisations like the ILO can provide guidance to national governments on how to develop, administer and analyse labour force surveys based on international best-practice. In 2015 the ILO launched a Labour Force Survey Pilot Programme in collaboration with the national statistical offices of 10 countries around the world, including lower-income countries such as Namibia and Cameroon. [112] The Pilot Programme provided assistance and training to the personnel designing and conducting the surveys and sought to encourage participating countries to adopt best practices in methodology to enhance the quality and global comparability of their statistics. [113]

Leveraging technology to increase efficacy and reach. National governments can invest in new technologies to improve their data collection capabilities in labour force surveys. The Danish Labour Force Survey collects data on individuals rather than households, in contrast to the majority of countries in Europe. [114] In 2016 the survey’s methodology was updated to incorporate the option of data collection through online interviews. [115] This shift towards the use of digital technologies boosts efficiency and enables more comprehensive surveying of the population and country as a whole.

2. Address alignment issues

Currently, there is misalignment within and across countries on how to categorise an ‘engineer’. As the role of an engineer continues to expand and diversify, it is becoming increasingly important to develop a more robust categorisation of the term ‘engineer’ and the skills this role requires.

Governments and international organisations can do this by:

Using labour force surveys to disaggregate data on engineers. Countries can design labour force surveys to collect more granular data by occupation, for example by differentiating by ‘type’ of engineer (civil, chemical, mechanical etc.) According to a report on agriculture in the UK by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the definition of an ‘operator’ in the UK farming industry was reworked in 2018 and the occupation reclassified. Previously, many operators had been inaccurately recorded as processors, however this change allows for the more accurate categorisation of operators as wholesalers, traders or retailers. [116]

Developing a global engineering skills taxonomy. Using the most current definitions of engineering activities / skills, the engineering community can leverage technology to assess which engineering skills are needed in specific industries and roles. Nesta – a UK-based organisation that seeks to promote innovation through programmes, investment and partnerships – developed the first publicly available, data-driven skills taxonomy for the UK. [117] The taxonomy illustrates the skills needed by workers in each profession in the UK, including multiple types of engineer, and provides a framework to measure skills shortages. Nesta identified 10,500 skills that featured in 41 million job adverts between 2012 and 2017 and used machine-learning technology to examine them and establish the skills needed for each job. The more frequently a pair of skills featured in the same job advert, the more likely they were to end up in the same branch of the taxonomy and thus to be associated with a particular profession. As the work of engineers continues to expand into new industries, a skills taxonomy can be used to identify the skills needed in each field of work.

Focus on quality, not quantity

Countries often face problems not in producing engineers (in many instances there are plenty of unemployed or underemployed engineers) but in producing high-quality engineers who are able to conduct the work required of them.

1. Provide opportunities for collaboration

A lack of integration between academia and the private sector has been consistently cited as a challenge to delivering effective and relevant engineering education from the perspective of professors, students and industry organisations.

International funders, private-sector organisations and the engineering community can provide more opportunities for collaboration by:

Developing working partnerships that benefit both parties. Large organisations can collaborate with academic institutions to develop academic research that addresses challenges within the industry or supports organisational goals. In 2018 the Faculty of Electronics and the Faculty of Computer Science at the Universiti Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia (UTM) collaborated with Sena Traffic Systems (STS), an industry player in the smart traffic systems market. The partnership focused on bringing together university students and industry employees to work collaboratively on a real-world problem and to exchange ideas in order to develop practical traffic solutions. Both the university and STS are keen to expand the scope of their collaboration to engage UTM professors with STS engineers. [118]

Sponsoring exchange programmes for academics to gain work experience in the private sector. Organisations in the engineering sector can develop work-shadowing and internship programmes for engineering students to provide them with real-world industry exposure. The main funding body for engineering and physical sciences research in the United Kingdom – the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) – offers Industrial Cooperative Awards in Science & Technology (CASE) studentships. These programmes involve a PhD student undertaking research training experience in an industrial organisation. [119]

2. Develop a more hands-on and interdisciplinary engineering curriculum

In many countries, engineering students have few opportunities to apply theoretical concepts learned in the classroom. Similarly, they often do not take courses outside of their engineering degree, limiting opportunities to develop other important skills.

The global engineering community can help governments develop engineering curricula focused on project-based learning and provide opportunities for students to take classes outside of their major by:

Developing and sharing engineering education best practices. The global engineering community can provide guidance on how to develop and implement effective engineering curricula. In 2000 the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) partnered with three Swedish universities to form the Conceive Design Implement Operate (CDIO) Initiative. [120] CDIO is an international scheme to reform engineering education, with over 120 other institutions participating. [121] The CDIO syllabus maintains the traditional focus on technical engineering knowledge, while also incorporating the development of personal and professional skills, and product- and system-building skills, into the framework. [122]

Creating alternative education models. National governments can invest in new engineering or technical colleges that emphasise a novel hands-on approach to engineering education. The Olin College of Engineering, founded in 1997 in Needham, Massachusetts, offers an alternative engineering curriculum, focused primarily on experiential learning and multidisciplinary education. [123] There is a focus on practical work and project- based learning, both in the university setting and in industry, with students witnessing real-world applications of engineering concepts before being formally introduced to the underlying theory. Olin’s hands-on approach is catching on, with new schools adopting its experiential method, such as NMITE in the UK. [124]

3. Enhance on-the-job training opportunities

Experts consistently noted that organisations will have to provide greater training and development opportunities for employed engineers to supplement their education.

Private-sector organisations and governments can work together to develop the skills of both recent graduates and more experienced engineers by:

Creating opportunities for ongoing professional development. National engineering associations can offer engineers programmes designed to enhance the technical and soft skills needed for career progression. The Engineers Training Center of the Jordan Engineers Association offers over 250 training programmes to enhance professional development. [125] These programmes cover topics from specialised engineering to contracts, administration and accounting.

Offering graduate schemes to those with little experience. Industry-specific organisations can develop graduate schemes that enhance the skills of recent graduates through real-world experience. Mott MacDonald is an engineering and development consultancy that offers engineering graduate placements to those with less than 12 months of work experience. [126] Recent graduates are offered jobs in civil, electrical and software engineering and are enrolled in a three-year Accelerate Your Future programme to enhance their professional development and skill sets.

4. Develop professional certifications and standards

Many countries still lack professional certifications and standards for engineers. This acts as an impediment to hiring and can lead to increased competition for jobs (for example, engineers competing with technicians for the same job). Similarly, a lack of standards can raise questions about the efficacy and safety of engineering practices.

Governments, international organisations and the global engineering community can work together to develop a set of national professional certifications or standards by:

Encouraging transnational collaboration to develop accreditations of engineering qualifications. The engineering community can support regional and international efforts to establish transboundary accreditation schemes of engineering qualifications. Across Africa, there are various sub- regional initiatives and bodies established for co-operation in engineering regulation and the accreditation of engineering qualifications. For example, the African and Malagasy Council for Higher Education (CAMES) recognises and accredits degrees awarded in all Francophone African countries, and the Engineering Regulation Boards of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda signed a Mutual Recognition Agreement in which each country agreed to recognise all engineering degrees accredited in the others. [127] These initiatives enable greater labour mobility among engineers within the continent and can be expanded to incorporate other African countries.

Enhancing safety standards in engineering-intensive industries. National governments can implement stricter regulations on safety standards in engineering intensive industries. In Saudi Arabia, the National Strategic Program for Occupational Safety and Health requires that businesses implement an occupational safety and health strategy. However, an official from the Ministry of Labour and Social Development noted an absence of health and safety precaution implementation across businesses. [128] As a result, the Ministry introduced a resolution in 2018 detailing prescriptive safety measures to which employers must adhere. Employers operating in medium- and high-risk environments, such as construction, building and manufacturing, must comply with a greater number of safety requirements. [129]