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Upskilling Engineering Talent to Address Technology Megatrends

3 Mins read

We are at the cusp of a massive transformation that is reshaping the nature and type of work across several industries such as automotive, aviation, healthcare, manufacturing, and telecom. This is driven by key technology megatrends such as artificial intelligence, digital transformation, electrification, robotics, and wireless. Each of these technology megatrends are opening up new opportunities for growth. In order to develop products, solutions, and services that exploit these opportunities, organizations need the right talent at the right time. 

For instance, electrification is one megatrend that is driven by the need to address climate change and reduce carbon footprint. Electrification of transportation and mobility is driven by advances in battery technology, electric powertrain, advanced electronics, and software that manages all this. Today’s engineering talent working in mobility and transportation technology are experienced in internal combustion engine powertrain technology, with many mechanical engineers specializing in engine/transmission design and electrical/electronics/software engineers developing engine/transmission control hardware and software. Also, the electrical/electronic (E/E) architecture of today’s vehicles consists of dozens of individual controllers (ECUs) for each function (engine, braking, power windows, power steering, lighting, infotainment, etc) connected over a closed network without any interfaces to the external world. 

Battery and electric powertrain are new technologies that require upskilling of current talent along areas such as battery chemistry, motor design, power electronics, battery management and motor control systems. There is also a shift towards the “software-defined vehicle” where the E/E architecture would have only a handful of powerful domain controllers that are updatable over-the-air. This allows for control software to be developed and updated independently of the underlying hardware, which enables vehicle functions to be updated and evolved over time. All these changes mean that there is significant demand for skilled hardware and software engineers who can be rapidly redeployed for developing different functions over time. Finally, electric vehicles will have much fewer moving parts. This means that there will be overcapacity of mechanical engineers who need to be reskilled to stay relevant. 

Traditional engineering education has focused heavily on learning the core concepts and fundamental principles that are broadly applicable. Also, the latest emerging technologies and industry best practices typically take a decade or more to make their way into the curriculum, leaving the students unprepared for the industry. Additionally, the evaluation methodology primarily focuses on students’ ability to describe theoretical principles and analyze a given system, with limited opportunities for developing creativity and design thinking.  Industry has typically addressed this gap by having graduate training programs and intense on-the-job learning from senior engineers. 

With the advent of online learning through recorded lectures, there is no dearth of learning material focusing on theory and fundamentals. However, without applying the concepts on industry-relevant projects, learners are not fully ready to meet the needs of the industry. Moreover, when learning to apply new concepts to projects, learners also need mentoring and coaching to develop these new skills. Without constant support and coaching, learners typically lose momentum. Traditional engineering education has a support system comprising of engineering faculty, peers, and seniors. Online learning as we know it today provides minimal support and hence courses have low completion rates. 

In order to address all these gaps and to develop an adequate supply of talent for the future, it is crucial to combine the best of both the traditional engineering education and online learning into a hybrid model. Some of the key factors that critical for success of a hybrid model are:

  • Developing curriculum on latest technology in collaboration with industry experts
  • Focusing on application of fundamental concepts to industry-relevant projects
  • Moving beyond analysis towards developing design thinking
  • Becoming skilled in using industry-standard tools and processes
  • Creating a learning platform that fosters discussion and support from peers and mentors
  • Having access to well-equipped physical labs for hands-on learning
  • Providing career counseling and support for job seeking

Upskilling is particularly relevant for India given the large pool of existing and emerging engineering talent. With the right tools and approach to developing our talent pool, India can surge ahead in the global race and build a strong technological base that will underpin future growth of the country.