Engineering Tomorrow's Workforce

Change is the new norm. Electric and natural gas vehicles are on the rise. Renewable energy is no longer a rookie in the industry. Cities are becoming smarter. To keep pace with these frequent technological changes, companies, utilities and municipalities must adapt how traditional processes are addressed. But who will lead the charge?

Game-Changers. Next-Generation Engineers.

Amidst the flurry of new technology, customers are often left to decipher which technology to choose, how to implement it and how to evaluate its effects on business. A new breed has risen as an advocate for customers to succeed in this changing market: the next-generation engineer. Not to be confused with the latest graduation class entering the workforce, next-generation engineers are adaptive, business-savvy professionals who are embedded with their clients to see the big picture firsthand.

Abderrahmane (Abder) Elandaloussi, an electrical engineer at Burns & McDonnell, followed the next-generation engineer philosophy to California with a project for Southern California Edison. Dedicated to an innovative distribution project that only a handful of utilities have taken past the pilot stage, Elandaloussi has found himself developing skills he never anticipated. 

“Right now, I’m dealing with statistics, and I never thought I’d use statistics to this extent in my life,” Elandaloussi says. “But here I am looking at complex models to analyze the system and results, and I really enjoy it.”

Stay Hungry. Stay Flexible. 

That ability to cherish challenges and embrace change is an important characteristic of a next-generation engineer. 

“It’s not a linear learning path anymore,” says Jenny Macy, an electrical engineer at Burns & McDonnell. But as manager of the Networks, Integration & Automation department in Denver, which has grown with changing technology since she was hired eight years ago, Macy strives to hire next-generation engineers who can adapt. 

“Engineers in our group need to learn as they go,” Macy says. “It’s a balance between being comfortable in not knowing everything but also doing the due diligence to learn as much as possible.”

Matt Olson, project director for the Networks, Integration & Automation department, agrees with Macy. 

“An engineer’s capacity to learn is now more important than what you know, especially right out of college,” Olson says. “We’re moving past the days of having an engineer specialize in one area of a discipline their entire career. Now is the time for cross-trained and cross-functional engineers.”

Often the full understanding of an industry can come together like pieces of a puzzle — the picture will always appear disjointed and confusing until all is in place. For the next-generation engineer, those pieces don’t appear simply from hands-on experience in one area. To have a broad understanding of an entire industry and each moving part, next-generation engineers take the discipline of self-directed learning to a new level, applying knowledge outside of the engineering norm, such as coding, statistics and interpersonal communications. 

“We want to expose next-generation engineers to a variety of skill sets and focus areas,” Olson says. “We are adamant about instilling the confidence and comfort for a new engineer to lean on experience and peers to find answers for customers — even outside current knowledge base.”

But that drive must come from the engineers themselves. 

“It all comes down to the individual,” Elandaloussi says. “Don’t be complacent. Don’t get comfortable. The minute you get comfortable is the minute you are being left behind — and it’s also the minute you cannot keep your customer ahead of the competition.”

Goodbye, Normalcy. Hello, Originality.

The need to keep moving forward is also essential for companies, utilities and municipalities across all industries nationwide. Even standardized areas can be optimized through innovation, but those solutions must be customized for each client. 

“Dynamic systems require a dynamic solution, a dynamic process and dynamic engineers who can adapt their skill sets to different types of projects, understand different types of pricing structures for utilities, and ascertain the necessary resources and assets to tackle any challenge that they may come across,” Elandaloussi says. “And, they must be able to move between these areas seamlessly.”

Next-generation engineers have the drive and big-picture scope to be highly efficient, accurate and produce quality deliverables. They can take a broad background of experience to identify the appropriate or ideal way to approach challenges because they know what the industry is doing now, the direction it is going, and the benefits and drawbacks of new ideas.

“We’ve adapted as technologies change, so we can offer value to our customers,” Macy says. “We don’t come in with one solution and say this is how to implement it. We help them adapt to change by showing in detail why a customized solution is better, why it will work and how it’s not a high-risk change to make — all to help customers stay ahead of the curve.”

The Next-Generation Engineer Formula

Next-generation engineers possess similar qualities to drive innovation. When developed and nurtured through immersion in the industry, hands-on experience and hard work, these game-changers can establish the tools necessary to benefit clients. 

  • Flexible and adaptable 
  • Communication skills
  • Knowledge of business operations and finance
  • Deep interest in the digital world
  • Ability to work in a team environment
  • Understanding of regulations and requirements throughout industries
  • Openness to new ideas, technologies and directions
  • Deep passion for the work and benefits for clients
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