This spring, Engineers Canada released a report that explores the trends, issues and challenges facing the engineering profession. It's a document that all Canadians should care about, because the work that engineers do is fundamental to ensuring our economic, social and environmental quality of life.
The Engineering Profession Environmental Scan provides an interesting glimpse into how the profession has evolved – and how it must continue to adapt – in the face of rapidly changing technology, shifting demographics, globalization and the increasing importance of sustainability issues.
For decades, engineers tended to work in well-defined areas – they built bridges, designed industrial facilities or created new products. Engineers continue to do this work, but take a look at engineering programs at Canadian universities today and you'll find degree options in nanotechnology, software engineering, biomedical engineering and other fields that were unknown to earlier generations.
"Engineers must have competencies well beyond the technical. They need to be able to communicate the value of those technical solutions to individuals, organizations and policymakers." Kim Allen is CEO of Engineers Canada
Kim Allen, CEO of Engineers Canada, says that the changing economic landscape has also meant that the traditional landing grounds for engineers in consulting, industry or academia have broadened considerably, with engineers pursuing opportunities in many different fields and technical areas.
He notes that no matter what area engineers work in, it's increasingly important that their rigorous problem-solving and technical skills are complemented by skills in communication, leadership and business. "Engineers must have competencies well beyond the technical. They need to be able to communicate the value of those technical solutions to individuals, organizations and policymakers."
The value of the work of engineers is far-reaching, impacting every aspect of our lives, and is fundamental to the economic health of our country, says Sandro Perruzza, CEO of the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers. He's concerned by Canada's lagging investments in research and development compared to other developed countries – a point noted in the Engineers Canada report.
"The products [engineers] design and their innovations will ultimately increase GDP and raise our standard of living." Sandro Perruzza is CEO of the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers
Mr. Perruzza says that while some big companies can afford to invest in productivity improvements and innovation, Canada is a country of small and medium-sized enterprises, many of which don't have the capital to follow suit. Government investment in R&D is a way of helping these companies develop new and innovative products and services.
"This is the work of engineers," he says. "And the products they design and their innovations will ultimately increase GDP and raise our standard of living."
The Engineering Profession Environmental Scan highlights many other issues and trends that will shape the profession's evolution. These include the regulation of non-traditional areas of engineering practice, globalization, foreign credential assessment, ethics and ensuring ongoing training and professional development within industry.
"This report is meant to start a dialogue on the interlinked trends and issues that represent the broad concerns of the profession," says Mr. Allen. "The aim is to facilitate conversations to make sure the profession continues to stay relevant."
What major trends are influencing the engineering profession?
The Canadian workforce is getting older, and to meet future labour market needs the profession will need to continue diversifying by attracting more women and other under-represented groups.
Infrastructure renewal, climate change, water resource management, alternative energy sources – sustainability and environmental issues are increasingly front and centre.
There is an ongoing need to ensure students acquire technical skills as well as leadership, business and other complementary skills. Lifelong professional development is essential.
Multinational and collaborative projects mean that Canadian engineers are working abroad and non-Canadian engineers are offering services in Canada.
Many new fields of engineering are emerging; the profession is no longer defined by the traditional disciplines of chemical, civil, electrical and mechanical engineering.
This content was produced by Randall Anthony Communications, in partnership with The Globe and Mail's advertising department. The Globe's editorial department was not involved in its creation.