The Future Engineer
The Engineer of 2020—The keys to success for future engineers
Educating the Engineer of 2020—How engineering education will have to change
Grand Challenges for Engineering—The top picks for an upgraded future
The Vision for Civil Engineering in 2025—The aspirational vision for a new civil engineer
The National Academy of Engineering asks an important question: Does it serve “the nation well to permit the engineering profession and engineering education to lag technology and society? Rather, should the engineering profession anticipate needed advances and prepare for a future where it will provide more benefit to humankind? Likewise, should engineering education evolve to do the same?”
The NAE report The Engineer of 2020 paints a picture of a dynamically changing and evolving world. In 2020, technological innovation will continue its rapid pace; the world will be intensely interconnected; those involved with technology will need to be multidisciplinary; and social, cultural, political, and economic forces will impact technological innovation. Ever-shorter product development cycles through innovation will help drive society’s economic growth, and remarkable opportunities will arise through new developments in nanotechnology, logistics, biotechnology, and high-performance computing.
The successful future engineer will need strong analytical skills, practical ingenuity, creativity, good communication skills, business and management knowledge, leadership, high ethical standards, professionalism, dynamism, agility, resilience, flexibility, and the pursuit of lifelong learning, the report says.
To prepare the engineer of 2020 for that challenging future, the NAE undertook an in-depth study of how engineering education would have to change. Among the several recommendations:
- The bachelor’s degree should be considered a pre-engineering or “engineer in training” degree.
- The master’s degree should become the recognized engineering “professional” degree.
- Institutions should take advantage of flexible accreditation criteria in developing curricula and expose students to the essence of engineering early in their undergraduate experience.
- University education should produce engineers who can both define and solve problems.
- Institutions must teach students how to be lifelong learners.
- Engineering undergraduate programs should introduce interdisciplinary learning and use case studies of both engineering successes and failures as a learning tool.
What are the great problems that future engineers will need to solve? The NAE received input from 40 countries in a major visioning exercise to highlight what areas of engineering will have great potential for improving mankind’s quality of life. To address these Grand Challenges for Engineering, it will take a engineering professionals with both a breadth and depth of knowledge, strong leadership, and a dedication to the public good. Fourteen challenges were identified:
- Make solar energy economical
- Provide energy from fusion
- Develop carbon sequestration methods
- Manage the nitrogen cycle
- Provide access to clean water
- Restore and improve urban infrastructure
- Advance health informatics
- Engineer better medicines
- Reverse-engineer the brain
- Prevent nuclear terror
- Secure cyberspace
- Enhance virtual reality
- Advance personalized learning
- Engineer the tools of scientific discovery
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) organized a gathering of thought leaders from diverse backgrounds and countries—civil engineers, engineers from other disciplines, architects, educators, and other leaders—to ask: What will the civil engineering world be like in 2025? What aspirational role will civil engineers play in that radically transformed world?
The answer professes a new role for the civil engineers of tomorrow, reflecting a new level of leadership and professionalism. Civil engineers would be entrusted by society to achieve a sustainable world and raise the global quality of life. To earn that confidence, civil engineers, as a body of professionals, would exhibit a mastery in five key areas:
- Planners, designers, constructors, and operators
- Stewards of the environment
- Innovators and integrators of technology
- Managers of risk
- Leaders in public policy
As the civil engineering profession moves towards the goals of Vision 2025, the make-up of the engineering team may change as well. The professional engineer of the future will be the clear leader of projects, integrate technology and resources, and spearhead the interface with the owner and the public—but there may be fewer professional engineers on individual project teams. With the ever increasing sophistication of engineering software, many of the routine engineering tasks in future projects will not require a professional engineer. That work can be performed well and economically by unlicensed individuals under the responsible charge of new engineer leaders—a strategic allocation of engineering graduates, degreed technologists, and technicians.