The Skills That Will Define the Future of Engineering in the Energy Sector


The Skills That Will Define the Future of Engineering in the Energy Sector The demand for e...

Matt Nicholson

By Matt Nicholson

The Skills That Will Define the Future of Engineering in the Energy Sector

The demand for engineers with the right skills and experience continues to grow globally. For example, a recent report from EngineeringUK states that vacancies for 'green engineering' roles have increased 55% over the last five years. A combination of a growing demand for energy, consumer demand growth post-pandemic and the increasing pressure of the climate crisis is pushing innovation in a wide range of industries.

The energy industry is rapidly transforming towards clean and sustainable energy sources. The growing demand for renewable energy and innovative solutions to meet global energy needs has created an exciting landscape for engineers looking to make a difference.

In the interim, traditional energy sources and materials such as plastic and chemicals used globally are still needed. Engineers that can support the evolution of these industries to become greener and more cost-efficient are in high demand. The whole supply chain requires highly skilled individuals ready to take on the challenges of a changing world.

While every industry has specialisations and career paths, shared skills and personal attributes define a great engineer.

There are two core types of skills: Hard and Soft skills.

Hard skills directly affect what an engineer does - using equipment and software, vehicle licences, and experiences that make them proficient at specific tasks.

Soft skills affect how an engineer works – engagement in solving problems, the ability to communicate with clients, stakeholders, and colleagues, thinking proactively, and a drive towards self-improvement.

Developing both is important for any job, but developing soft skills makes an engineer highly adaptable, employable, and more likely to succeed. This blog looks at ten soft skills, how an engineer can improve them, and how they're being applied to the engineering industry.

1. Problem-Solving Skills

Engineering is inherently about solving problems, and this is especially true in the energy sector. Engineers must be able to identify the root causes of issues, devise effective solutions, and prevent future occurrences of similar problems. To develop strong problem-solving skills, engineers should:

  • Acquire technical knowledge through training, conferences, workshops, and coursework.
  • Seek opportunities to solve problems in new situations, such as volunteering for new projects or working with different teams.
  • Practice solving problems using role-playing, professional practice books, or other resources.
  • Observe and learn from colleagues with excellent problem-solving abilities.

2. Communication Skills

Effective communication is crucial in engineering, as engineers must collaborate with various stakeholders, such as teammates, clients, or other departments. To improve communication skills, engineers can:

  • Avoid interrupting others while they speak, allowing them to complete their thoughts.
  • Practice paraphrasing to show understanding and active listening.
  • Demonstrate interest and attention during conversations to assure stakeholders they're heard.
  • Learn to convey complex ideas in simple terms for easy understanding by non-technical audiences.

3. Creativity and Innovation Skills

The energy sector is constantly evolving, and engineers must be able to think creatively and innovatively to tackle new challenges and develop cutting-edge solutions. Enhancing creativity and innovation skills can be achieved through the following:

  • Seeking daily inspiration from books, music, or video and audio content.
  • Creating something daily, such as writing articles, drawing, or developing skills and practising with tools or techniques.
  • Taking breaks to recharge and gain new perspectives.
  • Embracing risk-taking and exploring unconventional approaches to problem-solving.

4. Emotional Intelligence Skills

Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage one's emotions and those of others. Engineers with high emotional intelligence are better equipped to handle professional relationships, interpersonal communications, and self-motivation. To improve emotional intelligence, engineers should:

  • Work on self-awareness by reflecting on their reactions to events and emotions.
  • Learn to manage emotions, especially during stressful situations.
  • Develop empathy by actively listening and understanding others' perspectives.
  • Practice effective communication and conflict resolution techniques to build rapport and trust with colleagues.

5. Technical Knowledge and Expertise

Engineers must deeply understand the latest technologies, industry trends, and regulations as the energy sector becomes more complex and diverse. To expand technical knowledge, engineers can:

  • Stay updated on the latest industry news, research, and advancements.
  • Attend training sessions, workshops, and conferences to learn from experts.
  • Pursue additional certifications or coursework in specialised areas.
  • Collaborate with colleagues and mentorship programs to share knowledge and learn from others.

6. Project Management Skills

Project management is a critical skill in the energy sector, as engineers often need to oversee complex projects with tight schedules and budgets. To enhance project management skills, engineers should:

  • Develop a systematic approach to planning, organising, and executing projects.
  • Understand and utilise project management methodologies, tools, and best practices.
  • Learn to prioritise tasks, delegate responsibilities, and manage resources efficiently.
  • Cultivate strong communication and leadership skills to motivate and guide project teams.

7. Adaptability and Flexibility

The energy industry is continually changing, and engineers must be able to adapt to new technologies, regulations, and market trends. To cultivate adaptability and flexibility, engineers can:

  • Embrace a growth mindset, viewing challenges as opportunities for learning and improvement.
  • Develop resilience and the ability to bounce back from setbacks or failures.
  • Stay informed about industry trends and be open to new ideas and approaches.
  • Seek diverse experiences, projects, and collaborations to broaden their skillset and perspectives.

8. Cross-Functional Collaboration

Engineers in the energy sector often work with professionals from various disciplines, such as business, finance, legal, and environmental. To excel in cross-functional collaboration, engineers should:

  • Develop a broad understanding of different functional areas and their interdependencies.
  • Cultivate strong interpersonal and communication skills to work effectively with diverse teams.
  • Be open to different perspectives and approaches, valuing the contributions of all team members.
  • Embrace a collaborative mindset, focusing on shared goals and collective success.

9. Sustainability and Environmental Awareness

Engineers in the energy sector must be conscious of the environmental impact of their work and strive to develop sustainable solutions. To enhance sustainability and environmental awareness, engineers can:

  • Stay informed about environmental regulations, best practices, and emerging technologies.
  • Pursue additional training or certifications in sustainability, renewable energy, or environmental management.
  • Integrate sustainability principles and practices into their work, such as energy efficiency, waste reduction, or resource conservation.
  • Advocate for sustainable and environmentally responsible decision-making within their organisations.

10. Global Perspective and Cultural Competence

The energy industry is a global field, and engineers must be able to work effectively with colleagues, clients, and partners from diverse cultural backgrounds. To develop a global perspective and cultural competence, engineers should:

  • Learn about different cultures, customs, and communication styles.
  • Develop cultural sensitivity and empathy to facilitate effective collaboration with diverse teams.
  • Pursue international experiences, such as study abroad programs, internships, or professional exchanges.
  • Embrace a mindset of curiosity, openness, and respect for different perspectives and ideas.

How engineering skills are adapting to emerging industries

The energy industry is a multidisciplinary field with many avenues for an engineer to follow. Many skills learned during a technical engineering degree or career are transferrable to the emerging energy industry.

There are also skills gaps in newer markets. While solar and wind technology has existed for some time, technologies such as carbon capture and storage (CSS) and large-scale lithium battery energy storage are still in relative infancy. Companies in these areas are finding and training engineers with comparable backgrounds that can transfer across more quickly.

Mechanical engineers, for example, use their knowledge of thermodynamics, heat dissipation, and fluid mechanics to improve the designs of wind turbines. The technology behind offshore wind is also improving, with engineers constantly looking to build bigger and more efficient turbines on open water.

Electrical engineers have the broad skills needed in the energy sector, particularly around battery storage, where electrical engineering, power management and electrical design are highly sought after. The battery sector is exciting because modern batteries' technology spans power storage, onshore and offshore support for unreliable energy sources, and the booming electric vehicle market.

The traditional feedstock industries of oil and gas are also looking to evolve, with increasing pressure to decarbonise and move away from fossil fuels. One particular growing sector is in carbon capture and storage, where new and experimental projects are drawing on the expertise of drilling engineers and mechanical engineers to safely transport and store carbon byproducts from petrochemicals and fossil fuels. With global climate targets, government regulations, and public perception shaping the industry's future, more and more companies are investing in CCS solutions, where engineering is at the forefront of the research and development of the technology.

Developing your engineering skills

The first step in developing engineering skills is to focus on the fundamentals of engineering. This includes developing a solid understanding of mathematics, physics, and engineering principles. Once you have a solid foundation, you can focus on developing more specialised skills specific to your area of interest.

The most common route into engineering for new entrants is mechanical engineering qualifications through college or university, to bachelor's level. For some disciplines, a master's or equivalent is expected, particularly for senior roles or research positions.

One of the most effective ways to improve your engineering skills is by seeking resources to help you learn and grow. Various resources are available to engineers, including online courses, books, and professional development opportunities. Online courses offer the flexibility to learn on your schedule and at your own pace, while books provide a more in-depth understanding of specific topics. Professional development opportunities, such as conferences and workshops, offer the chance to network with other engineers and learn from experts in the field.

Mentorship is also a great way to develop skills and experience. Finding a mentor with expertise in your area of interest can be invaluable. They can provide guidance and advice on navigating the industry and insight into what skills are most important for success. Additionally, working alongside experienced engineers can provide hands-on experience and help you develop practical skills that are difficult to learn from textbooks or online courses. Internships and apprenticeships for young people are great ways to expand knowledge and skills valuable in the industry, learning on the job.

Finally, it is crucial to stay up-to-date with the latest trends and technologies in engineering. The renewable and alternative energy markets are in a period of growth and development, with new technology, regulation, and practices developing very quickly. Continual learning is essential for success. This can be accomplished by reading industry publications, attending conferences and workshops, or participating in online forums and discussions. Following mechanical engineering news sites on LinkedIn, regional industry websites, and networking at events are great ways to find opportunities to learn new skills, grow a network of like-minded professionals, and learn about new career opportunities.

Conclusion – NES Fircroft supports engineers every step of the way

The engineering sector is in an exciting period of growth, with new technology driving new projects. An ever-increasing demand for skilled engineers means there are opportunities to start or continue an exciting career. But the right soft skills, beyond technical knowledge, are also vital for success, and knowing how to identify gaps in skills, continually learn and develop, and stay on top of developments is key to unlocking the real potential of a career in engineering.

NES Fircroft has extensive energy industry experience spanning over 50 years. During that time, we've supported thousands of innovative and cutting-edge projects as they powered the progression of the energy industry.

We understand that the industry is evolving, and the new generation of engineers needs to be mobile, innovative, and technology-focused and work across an organisation to ensure that knowledge is shared and a competitive advantage is gained.

Today's energy landscape is decarbonising, with once-deemed "futuristic solutions" now becoming mainstream use. We will support your business through this energy transition.

If you want an opportunity within Alternative Energy, check out our latest opportunities.

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