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Engineering skills aren’t really changing but job titles are

Yves Urban, Head of Temporary Employment at SThree, North Germany, with a special focus on the global energy sector, asks whether changing traditional job titles could attract more people to the engineering industry.

Engineering Job Titles Change

Humankind stands perilously close to a climate cliff edge. Doom-mongering or stark reality – call it what you will, but we know the race to reach net zero is most certainly on. And without engineers we cannot get there. They are critical to global decarbonisation; involved in so many aspects of achieving net zero targets. According to the International Energy Agency’s Net Zero By 2050 roadmap, the green transition will create 30 million jobs by 2030 (14 million from new activities and investment in clean energy and another 16 million workers needed for everything from energy-efficient construction to electric and fuel cell vehicles).

Yet we still have a problem: there are not enough of these specialists. Fewer young people are choosing to study engineering and it also continues to be a white male-dominated field, crying out for more diversity. Highly skilled engineers with years of experience are also worried they are going to become redundant in future – afraid that they don’t have the right skills for tomorrow’s roles. In many cases, these fears are discouraging potential candidates from applying for jobs in the clean energy sector.

It’s time to throw out the job titles

Here at SThree, we are taking an important step, which is already having an impact. It’s time to throw out the job titles traditionally used to market engineering roles and rebrand. The power of a few choice words can make or break almost anything in life. And rebranding job titles in the clean energy sector, so that these monikers better reflect the work engineers will be doing for a more sustainable world, will attract more people (of all ages) to these jobs.

We know that Gen Z and Millennials are prioritising purpose-driven careers, but older workers also want to be part of a greener future, although their motivations are different. Younger candidates choose these types of roles because they want to stop climate change and influence their own future, while older people want to create a good future for their children but are also attracted to the prestige of a more exciting engineering job. Engineers experienced in oil and gas, for example, know that the future lies in hydrogen. And here in Germany, we are already experiencing much higher response rates to adverts that include the word ‘renewables’ in the title (as well as the first line of the job spec).

But whether a job is labelled as ‘environmental engineer’ or ‘mechanical engineer (renewables)’, when potential recruits search on Google, LinkedIn or other job boards, the title must inspire people to click and explore further. Most candidates will only click on roles that sound interesting – where they see a future and can make a difference. They will cruise job sites rather than recruitment websites, so the title must stand out.

So, what about the impact of changing these names?

1. Making pride personal

In terms of the prestige attached to these roles and titles, for older professionals, it isn’t about how the job title looks on their CV, it’s about the pride these roles can bring to their personal lives. Their family and friends tend to be far less interested in their jobs and careers if they only know them as an engineer. But if these people can talk about the latest renewables project they’re working on, it’s seen as an upgrade. So this sense of pride outside of work is really important too.

2. Hire for mindset, train for skills

There is another outcome from changing these job titles. It will likely affect the quality of candidates. Alongside seasoned specialists, we expect to see more people applying with less experience or those just starting out in their career. But we expect more employers to look to hire for mindset and train for skills. If a candidate is the right cultural fit for a company’s values and goals, it is worth a lot. You can train a person, but you can’t train their mindset. Of course, to attract candidates with the right mindset they need to apply for these roles, so is it time for companies to make sure adverts speak to a wider candidate audience too? As a job seeker, you shouldn’t be scared of applying for a role, even if you only match 70-75% of a job description. You would still be a good fit. Most employers know they won’t get a candidate with 100% of the required and desired skills, but a lot of potential candidates, especially more inexperienced workers, don’t realise this.

Reskilling rather than upskilling

If job titles can change, what does the future hold for the skillsets of engineers? The global survey of STEM workers by SThree, ‘How the STEM World Evolves’, shows that 52% of respondents do not think they can progress much further in their current career without upskilling. A third of STEM professionals (34%) are also worried they might lose their job or contract due to automation and AI.

While we are witnessing another evolution of the engineering industry, with tech advances like AI and robotics creeping into the workplace, in the renewable energy sector the skills needed for engineering roles will not change much in the next decade. So, all those engineers out there who are worried they aren’t fit for purpose for these new roles can relax. The skills they have today will be just as relevant in 10 years’ time.

Fast forward to 2033, and we expect engineering skillsets to be around 90% the same – even for the green energy jobs that don’t quite exist yet. At universities, engineering course titles are changing to reflect the future these graduates will be part of. But that is really as far as it goes. The substance of what they study is mostly the same today as it was 20 years ago, and this won’t change. While engineering is an industry that’s always adapting, an engineer for bionics is still a mechanical engineer, so what they learn at university is really no different; the roots of mechanics stay the same. The same goes for a mechanical engineer working with coal. They will need to adapt their knowledge to work with hydrogen but so much about the role will still be the same, and there are so few natural gas engineers out there anyway. Now is the time to inspire and encourage the confidence of our existing engineers or we are in danger of losing a vital mass of specialists at a time when we need them most.

What’s in a name?

With the millions of roles we need to fill for the road to net zero, we shouldn’t let the trappings of the past be a drag on the future. But is there a limit to how far we can push it with rebranding? ‘Ambassador of Buzz’ might work as a job title for a communications role or ‘Digital Prophet’ in the tech world. In engineering, professionals are conservative people, looking for serious jobs with serious organisations, so if you make the titles too fancy or funny, there is a risk these candidates won’t apply. But we still believe it is time to step outside the box and get creative.

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