• Demand for talent in the infrastructure sector is growing but there is a lack of STEM-specialists and engineers to meet this need.
  • An increasingly multi-generational workforce expects a better work/life balance and more flexibility.
  • The engineering sector must address its "significant diversity gap".

The future demands smarter and more sustainable, resilient and innovative infrastructure solutions and we need a new generation of talent to deliver them.

The skills challenges are familiar and include training an interdisciplinary workforce, unleashing their imaginations and expertise to solve complex problems, anticipating which innovations will matter, attracting greater diversity and inclusion, and working much harder to tell the extraordinary and inspiring stories of our industry.

The competition for talent is intensifying with a widening engineering skills gap globally and many STEM specialists choosing to work in other sectors, such as finance and tech.

Here are four steps the engineering industry can take to address these trends and create the engineers of the future:

1. Inspire the next generation

By 2025, Millennials – individuals born between 1980 and 1996 – will comprise three-quarters of the global workforce, while young professionals from Generation Z – those born from 1997 onwards – are just entering the workplace.

For these great disruptors, change is part of their wiring and what they expect. They admire companies equipped to compete in the Fourth Industrial Revolution era and are committed to challenging the status quo.

They’re looking for a career with a strong sense of duty and purpose, and infrastructure, which delivers the promise of a better world, can give them that. Yet, as suggested in studies by the World Economic Forum and others, engineering and STEM-driven industries aren’t seen as the most open or accessible career choices for a lot of people.

As an industry, we need to work to better tell our story – making it human, impactful and authentic with examples that people can relate to their lives - and communicate it more widely. Typically, infrastructure tends to make headlines only when something goes wrong. By promoting the positive economic, environmental and social impacts of smart infrastructure, especially across social media, we can challenge existing views.

2. Be bold, brave and honest

The people who tell our story matter. Infrastructure’s next-generation workforce sees diversity as a core component for any forward-thinking organization, defining the concept more broadly to encompass tolerance, inclusiveness and belonging, respect and acknowledgement of individuals, and different ideas and ways of thinking.

But despite initiatives to increase diversity and inclusion within engineering and STEM-related fields, the global infrastructure sector is still experiencing a significant diversity gap. It’s time to push harder and think more radically to achieve the necessary progress required much more quickly.

We must challenge the sexist and outdated assumptions that still work to limit the ambitions of young people from more diverse backgrounds. We must draw on new faces and voices, people who can speak with authority and authenticity, and engage those whom we’re currently failing to reach.

We need to be bold, providing gender-blind application processes, flexible working initiatives and reverse mentoring, and tie reward packages to diversity results. If we want things to change, we can’t shy away from discussing these issues openly and together, revealing and addressing the unconscious biases that prevent fundamental change.

3. Be flexible

It’s always a gamble to make predictions, with new technologies, industries and job roles emerging all the time. But we do know some of the biggest, emerging trends set to reshape our working lives.

We’re already living and working longer than ever before. In The 100-Year Life, Gratton and Scott argue that future generations will experience multi-stage lives and look to their employers to help them seize new roles and opportunities at different ages.

In response, our industry must offer more dynamic and less linear career models – creating new, flexible routes to different projects, functions and disciplines, supply chains and sectors. Leadership and management practices will also need to become more fluid, evolving and changing with the development of each new project and team.

The demographic shift is making our workplaces more multi-generational. “All of whom,” PwC’s NextGen study states, "aspire to a new workplace paradigm that places higher priority on work/life balance and workplace flexibility.”

For some, this marks the end of the traditional “working day”, with tech-empowered employees pushing to shift their hours and work to the times that best suit their own approach and lives; and a transition to more community-based, shared workspaces that employees drop into and use as needed.

4. Value and support your people

The automation of routine tasks in infrastructure and other industries poses the question, what will humans do? Luckily, people will still matter as the very human skills of critical analysis, strategic thinking, problem-solving, communication and empathy become more valuable.

This will make it possible for different kinds of leaders and specialists to emerge, not just technical experts, but rather creative collaborators and, most importantly, committed listeners able to engage and secure the support of stakeholders to help solve complex infrastructure problems.

With disciplines converging, the future infrastructure industry will increasingly need to draw on the skills of people qualified in IT, communications, art and design, and life sciences, as well as help those already in the industry to refresh and build their skills as work demands.

In response, organizations must find new ways to assess the evolving competencies necessary to thrive in the new workplace, identifying not just someone’s technical ability but also their willingness to learn the new skills required for the jobs that do not yet exist.

Of course, not everything in the years ahead will be different. Financial stability and a secure job will still matter, for example. But, as the world transforms around us, change is not only coming, it’s expected. The infrastructure industry must be ready to secure the next-generation workforce it needs.