The Future of Engineering Is Digital, and So Is the Path to Staying Ahead of the Industry


The Future of Engineering Is Digital, and So Is the Path to Staying Ahead of the Industry

Automation Is Dominating

From artificial intelligence (AI) and autonomous vehicles to robotics and the Internet of Things (IoT), almost every branch of engineering has reaped the benefits of digital integration to some degree in the last decade, particularly in the form of process automation.

As technology, users and, most importantly, information continue to converge, the automation of design, analysis, manufacturing and even quality control processes represents an exciting and expanding opportunity to improve productivity and efficiency.

With the explosion of consumer AI in 2023 and the first Neuralink implant reported in January 2024, many stakeholders in these accelerating engineering and tech industries have been left wondering how to keep up—and not just with emerging technology. Recruiting and developing top talent while ensuring continued profitability remain two key concerns as we dive headfirst into the fourth industrial revolution.

The global economy has faced extreme uncertainty since 2020, and many companies permanently shut their doors as a result. Likewise, the labor market has faced a similar degree of uncertainty, resulting in complications for those looking for work and those looking to hire.

Finally, recent higher interest rates have made capital investments riskier. Purchasing cutting-edge technology is more difficult than ever to justify.

But despite all of this unpredictability, several corporations have not only survived but thrived during the pandemic. How? By making key strategic investments (both in technology and people) and adapting to the rapidly changing environment.

Impact of the “New Normal”

While digital solutions have (relatively) slowly come to dominate the engineering and consumer spaces over the course of decades, the 2020 pandemic galvanized the societal shift to remote/hybrid work and distance learning. Though the jury is still out regarding the future of remote work with several industry-leading companies calling employees back to the office in 2023, research has made one thing exceptionally clear: in general, workers appreciate the flexibility of being able to work remotely.

It’s been well-established that happier employees are more productive than their disengaged, burnt-out counterparts. It follows to reason that companies looking to attract and retain top talent will need to entice prospects with remote/hybrid options wherever possible.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this sentiment applies to education and professional development, too. A vast majority of students and academic leaders claim that online learning is equal or superior to in-person learning. Considering the relatively low cost, improved retention rate and flexible learning schedule (particularly for self-paced curriculums), remote learning is likely to remain the default choice for continued education, especially for working professionals.

Staying Ahead of the Industry

While we may not have a crystal ball to predict the future of engineering and manufacturing with absolute certainty, we can certainly make use of best practices when it comes to setting the pace with developing marketing trends. Tried-and-true strategies to help you remain competitive include:

  • Deeply understanding your customers and their changing environments and needs
  • Tracking technological, social and economic trends
  • Keeping a close eye on other industry players

But are these principles enough to remain an industry leader when the next disruptive technology or unprecedented event debuts?

Xerox, Nokia and Kodak. These were once household names and industry giants, only to be dethroned as a result of their unwillingness (or sluggishness) to adapt to changing technology, society and consumer interests. Kodak, in particular, was once the pinnacle of consumer and commercial film. It maintained over 145,000 employees in 1988. After failing to adapt to and capitalize on the invention of the digital camera, this number would rapidly fall through to the present day, where Kodak now employs a modest 4,200.

Likewise, many companies struggle—and in many cases fail—due to consistently high employee turnover. This results in increased hiring and training costs, loss of specialized company knowledge and reduced employee morale, all of which can decrease a company’s profitability. This is particularly true in engineering, where the loss of a key employee can have an extreme impact on day-to-day operations.

The solution here, however, is fortunately not so complex as adapting to a global crisis: Happy employees don’t quit.

Invest in Your Employees

Investing in employees, particularly in their professional development, is a mutually beneficial move with far-reaching impact. When they’re offered training opportunities, employees become more engaged and satisfied at work. On the flip side, acquiring new skills makes them more valuable to their employer. Everyone wins.

A survey of over 2,000 industry-based managers suggested that regularly offering professional development opportunities can increase employee retention by up to 34% and employee engagement by 15%.

Though adapting to the latest trend or emerging technology may feel like a logistical impossibility, investing in employee development is one of the simplest and most cost-effective strategies to improve profitability and ultimately future-proof your business.

Jacob Ames
About the Author

SolidProfessor Content Evangelist, vintage dirt bike enthusiast, and off-road unicyclist.