‘Soft’ skills are often hard for engineers to learn, but they are increasingly significant contributors to professional success, say Engineers Australian National President Trish White and CEO Peter McIntyre.
When Engineers Australia recently asked employers what they value most in staff — and seek in new hires — the answer wasn’t technical skills.
The most common responses were emotional intelligence, creativity and innovation, communication and interpersonal skills, teamwork, cultural fit, a strong work ethic and a willingness to take initiative and responsibility.
As one employer put it: “Technical is the easiest — [engineers] are built that way … The hard part is the cultural and human stuff.”
With a turn towards increased automation, upcoming engineers and leaders need to have a more integrated, multidisciplinary and human-centred approach to their work.
Many employers are already looking for candidates to have tertiary study in software so they can keep pace with the automated nature of engineering solutions.
Others are seeking engineers who can demonstrate an understanding of how engineering solutions fit into wider human contexts and needs.
As another employer put it: “The tech side will become far more automated and sophisticated — what will still remain will be the ability to add the human factor to it, and the experience people have of the technical world.”
With greater automation, there’s likely to be a reduction in demand for engineers to perform routine technical work.
Another factor driving change is an increasingly ‘blended’ engineering landscape, in which engineers are expected to work in multidisciplinary teams.
When it comes to public infrastructure, stakeholder engagement and consultation is now a key part of the process. The days when you could simply design and construct are over.
Engineers in the infrastructure space need to not only conceptualise their work, but articulate it publicly and work with the community — not just talking, but listening and understanding.
Engineers Australia supports the importance of professional skills and expertise outside the technical arena.
The 16 competencies engineers need to demonstrate to achieve chartered status include stakeholder engagement, ethics and communication, as well as creativity, innovation and sustainability.
In 2004, Engineers Australia introduced the EngExec certification to recognise engineers who excel in leadership, and, in 2015, established the College of Leadership and Management to encourage, train and empower engineers to succeed in leadership roles and to promote the value of engineers as leaders.
Our training arm, Engineering Education Australia, also offers a wide range of courses in both technical and non-technical skills, providing courses open to all, as well as in-house training in partnership with employers.
As engineers who have gone on to become leaders, we strongly believe that non-technical skills can be improved through training, mentoring and practise — and we encourage members to grow their skills in all areas, not just technical ones.