On my way home from the office I have heard, on numerous occasions, fellow commuter-train riders lament about how their jobs are requiring them to do more and more with fewer people. It seems that this trend exists across the board, regardless of what profession you work in. Engineers are no exception.
A recent research report by IHS (www.ihs.com) states that 52% of engineers who responded to a survey said that the pace of engineering is constantly increasing and 57% said that they are required to do more with less. The report, called “2015 Pulse of Engineering: The Changing Work Environment for Engineers Today,” was based on a survey of 2,162 engineers and technical professionals in the industrial sector.
Engineers are also being called upon to multitask more. Forty-six percent of the respondents said that they are working on more projects now than two years ago. Sixty-nine percent of engineers are working on at least three projects concurrently, with 46% handling three to five projects at the same time. Perhaps some of the suggestions offered in our article on “Tips for the Multitasking Engineer” on pp. 65–67 are needed now more than ever.
In addition to doing more, engineers are under increasing time pressure to get their work done. In the IHS report, 70% of respondents agreed that there are more time-to-market pressures for design projects. When asked what single performance target engineers were most pressed to meet, the top three answers chosen were: launch date (24% of respondents), product quality (21%) and customer satisfaction (20%). Perhaps some of the increased time pressure stems from the perception that competition is heavier, since it is now on a global basis and is ever-present (24 hours a day, 7 days a week).
A concern that I have heard for a number of years now, is that the workforce is losing valuable knowledge through the loss of highly experienced employees. The IHS report reiterates this concern. It says that an increasing loss of employees to turnovers (including severance, quitting and dismissals) as well as to retirement, were strong factors in workforce changes in companies. And, 47% of engineers said that the loss of knowledge and information as employees left the company was very important or extremely important. Seventy-one percent of respondents agreed that a shortage of talent and specialized knowledge hurt their companies’ productivity or product quality.
This topic of the changing workforce was also addressed at the recent AIChE Spring Meeting and Global Congress on Process Safety (Austin, Tex., April 28). At a presentation titled “Changing Demographics: Preserving Safety and Increasing Performance,” Denise Brooks of Risktec Solutions Inc. (www.risktec.com) offered a solution to bringing knowledge and experience back into the workplace: to recruit and retain older workers. This was a refreshingly straightforward idea to hear, particularly since I learned from the presentation that the “older” employee is considered to be anyone above the age of 36, and so was likely relevant to most of the audience in the room.■