How to Prepare Engineering and Manufacturing Students for the Modern Workforce


How to Prepare Engineering and Manufacturing Students for the Modern Workforce

Picture the future of work. What do you see?

Factory floors and offices like those we have today? Or maybe something different? Maybe robots powered by artificial intelligence (AI). Or perhaps automated systems that run without human intervention.

No one can predict with certainty what will happen in the next few years, but one thing’s for sure: the world of work is changing. As an educator, it’s your job to prepare your engineering students for the job market of tomorrow.

Over the next two decades, tens of thousands of engineering positions will need to be filled. However, the supply of qualified and motivated engineering graduates is unlikely to meet this demand. This mismatch is only amplified by other industry challenges—new technology, an aging workforce, changing roles, and more.

The solution? A fresh approach to education, one that’s agile enough to keep up with our fast-moving industry. Here’s what you need to know.

The Engineering Job Market Is Changing

Industry 4.0 is transforming the engineering and manufacturing landscape. As a quick refresher, Industry 4.0 is the fourth industrial revolution, one powered by smart technology like AI, the Internet of Things (IoT), and augmented reality (AR).

These technologies are extremely efficient. They automate processes, enable faster data collection and analysis, and empower businesses to produce higher-quality goods at reduced costs. While they won’t replace human resources entirely, they will redefine the skills engineers need to thrive.

What does this mean for tomorrow’s engineering job market?

  • There is an expanding divide between the skills employers need and those job seekers have.
  • Educators and companies are spending more time and effort upskilling students and employees. Upskilling means equipping employees with new skills that are relevant to their changing job roles.
  • On-the-job training is also becoming more important. It allows new hires to gain practical experience and understand company-specific processes. Internships and co-op programs can help students gain real-world experience before they graduate.
  • Schools and universities will need to collaborate more closely with industry to ensure the topics covered in the curriculum are aligned with what’s needed in the real world.

Key Challenges

You want to give your students the best possible start in the industry. But in an environment defined by uncertainty and change, you face several major challenges.

Let’s explore five key hurdles educators like you must overcome to better equip students for the modern workforce.

1. Shifting Demographics

Two of the fastest-growing engineering fields—industrial and petroleum engineering—have a high proportion of older workers. About 25% of employees are 55 years or older.

As the workforce ages, more and more skilled workers retire, and when they do, they take with them years of institutional knowledge. Expertise in specific processes, systems, and technology is gone in an instant. New hires are brought in to fill the gap, but acquiring lost skills takes years.

This lag slows down projects, reduces productivity, and hinders innovation.

2. Talent Shortages

A high volume of retirees brings with it another challenge: a greater demand for skilled engineers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the need for engineering skills will grow by 13% from 2023 to 2031. However, supply is not keeping up, and the industry is grappling with a significant shortage of qualified and committed engineering candidates.

Research from the American Council of Engineering Companies found lack of talent is already impeding project delivery—not just in private companies but also public projects and initiatives. Infrastructure development and technological advancements are suffering as a consequence.

A Boston Consulting Group (BCG) survey revealed that 92% of global company leaders rank attracting and retaining talent among their top three priorities.

3. Changing Roles

Companies are implementing cost-cutting measures like “design to cost,” which lead to smaller, leaner, more efficient teams. As a result, team members are increasingly responsible for cross-disciplinary tasks, like project management and direct communication with clients. The skills they need stretch beyond the traditional scope of an engineer.

Graduates must be well-rounded workers to succeed in this environment. They need strong communication skills to prevent misunderstandings, errors, and dissatisfaction among clients.

4. Job Preferences

Younger workers want jobs with purpose beyond profit. They want to make a positive impact on their industry and the world. As a result, many are turning away from sectors like oil, energy, and manufacturing.

For example, the Energy Outlook Report found that 43% of workers want to leave the energy industry within the next five years. Young workers aged 25 to 29 are 25% more likely to want to leave compared to older workers.

In response, educators must highlight the opportunities these overlooked industries offer—and not just in terms of financial reward. Through career fairs, guest lectures from industry professionals, and hands-on projects, schools can showcase the potential for values-led innovation and disruption.

5. Misaligned Legislation

Legislative incentives do not support infrastructure and economic growth in the US. The national deficit is now over $34 trillion, and funds are increasingly directed toward geopolitical interests rather than domestic development. This means fewer resources are available for infrastructure and economic initiatives that could support and promote the engineering and manufacturing sectors.

Educators and industry leaders must advocate for policies that empower infrastructure growth and job creation. This includes lobbying for funding for educational programs, apprenticeships and industry partnerships.

The Next Steps for Educators

How can you overcome these challenges and ready your students for the modern workforce? Let’s explore two potential solutions.

Solution 1: Offer Micro-Degrees and Certifications

Micro-degrees and certifications are short, focused educational programs. They equip students with niche skills and knowledge in a particular area. Critically, students can complete them in a matter of months—a significant advantage over traditional four-year bachelor’s degrees.

These credentials are becoming more popular with both students and employers. A survey conducted by Collegis Education and UPCEA found that 95% of employers support employees earning micro-credentials. Over 70% said these credentials help fill skills gaps and improve workforce quality.

How can you leverage micro-degrees and certifications to support and uplift your students?

  • Integrate certifications into your curriculum. Give students access to industry-recognized certifications.
  • Promote ongoing learning. Cultivate a continuous improvement mindset. Encourage students to pursue education through micro-degrees and certifications—even after they graduate. Highlight how these can complement their primary studies and improve their job prospects today and in the future.
  • Collaborate with industry. Your students should not be wasting their time and money learning redundant skills and outdated theoretical knowledge. Instead, course content should mirror what’s needed in the real world. To achieve this, work with industry partners to identify the most valuable and applicable certifications.

SolidProfessor makes achieving these outcomes easy. Our forward-thinking certification paths leverage practical industry insight to bolster employability and workforce readiness.

Learn more about our certification paths here:

Solution 2: Conduct Mock Interviews

Mock interviews are another great way to better prepare your students for the challenges that lie ahead. They help them practice responding to questions—not just easy, yes-or-no questions but deeper, more insightful queries. The right answer to these questions can be the competitive edge they need to secure their dream role.

Mock interviews offer several benefits:

  • For one, they improve student confidence. Students become more comfortable speaking about their ideas, experiences, and knowledge. When it comes time to do the real thing, they’re better prepared to give answers that truly reflect what they’re capable of bringing to the table.
  • Second, it sharpens their communication skills. As we mentioned, communication is a critical “soft skill” employers are looking for. In the context of a job interview, a clear and concise way of communicating helps students articulate their perspectives. After all, even the most talented and qualified candidate won’t be hired if they can’t communicate their potential.
  • Finally, mock interviews identify weaknesses. A student might find it easy to talk about their technical skills, but when it comes to discussing their approach to teamwork and problem solving? Crickets. Mock interviews highlight these types of gaps and give students an opportunity to improve before it really counts.

What kinds of questions might you ask? Here are five ideas to get you started:

      1. Tell me about the most challenging engineering project you’ve worked on.

      2. Have you ever had an experience with a difficult client, employer, employee or colleague? How did you handle the situation?

      3. Explain a time you had to use logic to solve an engineering problem.

      4. What processes do you follow to catch any mistakes in your work?

      5. How do you stay current with the latest technology?

A Smart Tool to Prepare Your Students

In education, reinventing the wheel and rebuilding your approach to teaching just isn’t realistic. But small, sustainable tweaks to your curriculum can make big, lasting changes to your students’ career readiness.

That’s where SolidProfessor comes in. We offer extensive online courses and credentials built by engineers, for engineers. SolidProfessor’s engineering curriculum makes it easier than ever to ensure your students have the real-world skills and credentials employers are looking for.

Luke Morris
About the Author

SolidProfessor Product Marketing Manager and boardgame aficionado.