Advances in information technology, robotics and artificial intelligence are disrupting business models worldwide and triggering macro-economic shifts. As certain technologies mature and automation helps innovation flourish to bring cost savings, engineering talent needs to be trained and exposed to international experiences.
The profession has become global in nature over the years with major companies having presence in various countries to reach more markets and leverage local workforce for operational efficiencies. New-age skills also make a person receptive to world-class standards of safety and quality.
Coming years will see a core need for engineers who are able to work in a diverse, multi-national, multi-disciplinary environment that sparks innovation and creative thinking. It is a universally accepted fact that engineers with a multi-cultural exposure are able to overcome challenges with greater ease than those with just classical training. Indian students studying various streams of engineering should bear this in mind for career advancement.
Future engineers will need to have an open mindset and be prepared for the global job market. Knowing about different work cultures gives them an opportunity to learn how their peers in other countries perform and provides a competitive edge. A well-rounded and effective engineer is the one who complements core technical knowledge with cross-cultural competence.
While studying abroad, a student is exposed to new conversations and learnings. This improves communication skills and enhances capability to use different techniques for solving technical problems. Engineering breakthroughs are a result of hard work, dedication and exchange of ideas, much of which happens in various geographies.
At the same time, networking is of utmost importance. Studying abroad expands the professional and personal network of these young engineers and helps them bag jobs in multi-national corporations.
Employers generally look for sociable employees who can solve problems effectively beyond crunching numbers and filing reports. Students must learn to work with others through language barriers and cultural etiquette obstacles. Leveraging these skills can set you apart from others. Employers are rarely satisfied with engineers having classical backgrounds.
Cross-cultural experiences through an exchange programme during education can brighten career prospects substantially. In some countries like France, it is mandatory for all students to spend at least four months abroad either for internship or for taking courses in an educational institution before they are allowed to graduate with the title of an engineer.
Employers prefer those applicants who are willing to travel, have experience of doing so and can represent their brand in a positive manner. Learning a new language can also prove to be an asset. An engineer is someone who looks at problems, considers the risk and plots the best course of action. One should be open to learning new things, taking on new challenges, and solving problems in new and informative ways. The risks are low, but rewards are limitless.
The benefits of global cooperation in education, science and trade are too powerful to ignore. Many institutions are working to define and develop engineering-focused learning opportunities. Engineering programmes are raising the bar of quality education and placing more emphasis on critical thinking, communication and collaboration skills than ever before.
Due to global challenges and competition, job markets, companies and supply chains have become complex. Engineering services are often outsourced to countries that can provide the best value or the lowest cost. Thus companies require engineers with analytic skills, passion and inclination to understand the business context and adapt to changing conditions.
Future engineers should have inter-disciplinary skills, leadership skills and an eagerness for life-long learning. Due to these new requirements, the engineering education system too needs changes. Competent universities regularly upgrade syllabuses after getting feedback from students who go abroad on exchange programmes.
The new model must include science and engineering fundamentals, technical skills and specialisation, professional practice, humanities, soft skills and social sciences. Besides industry-academia linkages, institutions should impart outcome-based education in simple, flexible and effective way.
With scholarships and grants, the government too can encourage students to visit engineering institutes overseas and bring back key learnings to work on national priorities like sustainable energy solutions, low-cost but high-quality manufacturing, mass transit transportation, smart cities, water management, universal healthcare, mitigating natural calamities and waste disposable systems. This can lead to immense socio-economic benefits.
Practicing engineers and educators in India must proactively revamp engineering education to address socio-technological challenges. They should revisit engineering curriculum and related educational courses for rapid pace of change in an unpredictable world. The curriculum should be responsive to disparate learning styles to accommodate young students who are creative and productive.
As digitisation and automation increasingly take over the role of humans in repetitive, time-consuming functions across various industries, it is imperative to structurally reorient the engineering education paradigm.
The writer is Advisory Council Member at UN Centre for Space Science and Space Technology Education in Asia and Pacific (CSSTEAP).