Covid-19 is forcing the engineering industry to focus on skills not normally associated with the profession.
Bruce Marks, adjunct associate professor at the University of Auckland's Faculty of Engineering, says the pandemic is accelerating the need for engineers to develop strong organisational, communication and inter-personal skills.
"Ability in these 'soft' skills is going to become more and more important in the future," he says. "I suppose when people think about engineering, they think (of students) using calculators and learning 'hard' technical skills like design."
Marks says while technical ability in engineers is "incredibly valuable" it is important not to be too narrow-minded when it comes to things like communication skills.
He says the impact of the pandemic is creating immediate and long-lasting change to the future of work for engineers, particularly around the management of complex projects where teams are often working in different locations.
Circumstances always change on projects, says Marks, and skills around communication and leadership enable these to be effectively managed. If not projects can end up with time and budget overruns and companies and organisations can go bankrupt.
Marks lectures post-graduate students studying for a Master of Enginnering Project Management at the university and draws on the experience of a long career managing major oil refinery and chemical plant projects around the world.
One of the last he worked on before returning to New Zealand was a Japanese-Dutch joint venture constructing a chemical plant in Singapore. As project director he oversaw a huge team of 500 engineers (spread through Europe, Japan and Singapore), a management team of 100 and a site workforce of 4500.
More than 15 million man-hours went into the three-year project which was completed within budget at just under NZ$1billion.
He says inter-personal and communications skills were one of the keys to the project's success: "As well as the usual management issues, there was the mix of dealing with different cultures and teams located around the world.
"I learnt that at the end of the day it is all about the collective wisdom of the team because no one person has all the answers to challenges that arise."
Marks says Covid has presented an opportunity for engineers to think about their career and what they want to do in the future.
"While it has led to an immediate need for remote management (as more people work from home and other locations) and team collaboration, it has also created an unpredictable environment for which companies need to be ready with ways to increase efficiencies."
How to manage projects in this kind of environmental change is the focus of the Master of Engineering Project Management.
The faculty has also introduced a range of postgraduate certificates including the Postgraduate Certificate in Earthquake Engineering which allows civil engineers the opportunity to upskill part-time over one year or take a brief career break and complete it in one semester.
There are also PhD opportunities and for those looking to transition into the corporate world, the faculty offers the Master of Engineering Management, often considered the 'MBA" for engineers.
With continued demand for automation and robotics in various industries, the faculty has introduced the new Master of Robotics and Automation to expand the capabilities of practicing engineers and to ensure organisations have people with the talent and skillsets to meet the future.
For more information go to: https://www.neverstop.ac.nz/engineering/postgraduate/