Stop the skills shortage, secure Gen Z’s support.
To understand the next generation of Civil Engineers, we need to understand the simple truth – ‘one size fits none.’ Gone are the days of ‘typical’ engineering profiles and a demographically homogenous workforce. Stop trying to neatly package ‘civil engineers’ and instead be open-minded.
So, how exactly can current employers achieve this broadminded outlook?
First, we need to appreciate the ‘Gen Z’ mindset.
According to Indeed’s Career Guide, Generation Z expect technology to be used daily, but despite this, they really value face-to-face interaction, with 75% preferring work feedback in-person. Don’t mistake this statistic as contradictory or confusing – what it reveals is that the digital age and social contact are not mutually exclusive. Capitalize on this by finding a balance between the two.
Further unpacking the generation’s mentality divulges their entrepreneurial tendencies, since 58% of Gen Z have ambitions of owning their own business, while 14% already do!
In workplace culture, Gen Z respect supportive managers, with little tolerance for authoritarian leaders. Almost a third of Gen Z respondents in a survey published by Workforce Institute[i] stated that they would stay longer with, and work harder for, a company with encouraging management. Gen Z value flexibility, while prioritizing stability. They are competitive and are used to getting regular feedback on how they can improve both direct results of their educational upbringing.
Lastly - as change agents and activists - Gen Z seek jobs where they can contribute to a positive outcome.
Some are quick to label Gen Z ‘snowflakes’, but why do they feel so passionately?
Due to the age of the internet, Gen Z have been raised with an unprecedented awareness of social turmoil, something they have been immersed in constantly. Psychologists have termed this phenomena ‘News Overload’ and have blamed it for increased anxiety and anger in today’s society.[ii]
Why should industry leaders care so much?
Generation Z needs support and encouragement to view Civil Engineering as a positive, influential, and rewarding career, because they alone hold the capacity to close the skills shortage currently endemic in engineering.
Recognising the radical change required by the industry, ICE launched Engineering Rebellion in late 2021.
What is Engineering Rebellion?
Commissioned by Emma-Jane Houghton, commercial director for the UK’s new hospital scheme, the study seeks to identify the future of civil engineering. In doing so, it predicts how to attract new and diverse talent.[iii]
Engineering Rebellion recognized six interweaving strategic trends shaping the engineering and infrastructure world:
- Climate concerns.
- Digital transformation.
- Flatlining production.
- Increasing complexity.
- Future workforce competition and diversity demands.
- Quality over quantity.
Climate concerns mean that sustainability and net zero targets will take precedence on projects, while digital transformation demands engineers to be adaptable to new processes and system changes. Prospective engineers should expect constant upskilling and training on the job, meaning a positive attitude to learning and development is desirable in prospective employees. To meet increasing complexity, engineers will need to master skills rapidly and work productively.
Therefore, we can expect engineers to represent a wider and more diverse demographic, representing a truly competitive field of professionals. We can also presume that value will be the key driver in new projects, requiring systems-thinking at each stage in a project’s lifecycle.
How can current leadership and stakeholders foster and maximise this industry shift?
The key recommendation of ICE’s Engineering Rebellion is to ‘think differently’ – focusing on the big picture as much as the individual. Hence, why it makes sense to think about attracting ‘Gen Z’ as an entirety, recognising their main motivations rather than individual skills, to attract a wide range of talent. Ultimately, encouraging civil engineers to work successfully in multidisciplinary and forward-thinking teams will help to deliver beneficial outcomes.
The future of engineering has new priorities to consider. For instance, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) present both moral and technical issues to be settled.
Tellingly, Houghton’s report concluded that attempting to define ‘the future civil engineer’ is futile, given the industry’s ever-diversifying state. Instead, we should be focusing on flexibility and how to acquire the best talent and value from future recruits across varied disciplines.
The future in a nutshell? Collaboration.