A significant green energy milestone was set for 2020, and (aside from a few exceptions) results have so far followed through. Engineers still have a lot of work to do, however, to contribute to future goals, given the number of challenges that they face in the labour market. Overall, there seems to be promising career potential for electrical and electronics engineers: they are among the key experts who will lead the transition to a climate-neutral Europe and a greener world.
In the global agenda to reduce carbon emissions by adopting renewables, much of Europe seems to be in a good place—or, at least, in a comparatively better one, as far as the rest of the world is concerned. However, the 2050 goals come with a caveat: they are achievable only if the rest of the worldwide participants do their fair share of decarbonisation.
Certain indicators point out that the rate at which we keep an eye on the global green dot is not sufficient. We will meet 2050 assured in the success of carbon emission reduction goals only by significant investments in new low-carbon technologies, renewable energies, as well as by improving the grid infrastructure and energy efficiency across resources. As a consequence, how will the future labour market in Europe change for engineers?
A map of Eneropa: a visionary representation of future Europe, according to the main renewable energy services sources (such as experts funded by the European Climate Foundation). Image Credit: Roadmap 2050.
Who Will Benefit the Most from the 2050 Objectives?
The answer to this question is not that simple, because of the wider policy implications of a greener Europe: there are many question marks in terms of what will draw funds early enough to catch the fast train to carbon neutrality.
According to the 2013 report prepared for the European Commission (‘Employment Effects of selected scenarios from the Energy roadmap 2050’), early investments in infrastructure cost less. The same report states that both companies and households should spend less on energy and more on investments. As a consequence, the energy sectors that produce the most investment goods will be the ones to benefit the most in the long run, when new equipment is deployed. Fossil fuel suppliers and several intensive energy users, on the other hand, will lose the most.
In terms of engineering jobs, the said report showcases that the majority of jobs for engineers would be changed (rather than created from scratch or inevitably lost). For their benefit, engineers should be prepared to accept role changes or mobility within the companies they work for. Geographical mobility is also a possibility to cover for the missing skills and talent, which could create the possibilities of job vacancies that can be filled from abroad.
Employment statistics graph, entitled ‘EU Job Creation’. (Graph covers 2010 through to and including 2030, and the number of jobs is expressed in the hundreds of thousands.) Image Credit: Roadmap 2050 Core Presentation.
Sectoral Changes to the Job Market
Of course, not all engineering fields brim with the same potential as those mentioned above. For the grid infrastructure, electrical engineers may play a less important role than construction engineers. Software engineers are looking at the brightest job prospects in the face of Europe 2050 goals as a result of investments made in improving both energy efficiency standards for mixed fuel grids as well as efficiency in EVs.
When dealing with long-term predictions, numbers can vary extensively. Nevertheless, suffice to say that some engineering fields will face an increase in employment opportunities. Sectors that produce energy-efficient equipment will maintain an upward trend, for example, whereas the prognosis for the power generation sector could go either way. The outcome depends much on the local choices made, particularly given the future upkeep requirements for renewables.
Large-scale investments in renewable energy systems (aka RES) equipment will create jobs in construction and engineering, while conventional fuel transport and energy-intensive manufacturing could see a job decrease due to higher energy costs. Fossil fuel production sectors (for example, coal mining) will offer fewer jobs due to the lower demand.
Skills Shortages in the Medium-voltage and Wind Energy Sectors
One sector that will see the greatest changes is the automotive industry, namely for EVs and hybrids. Due to changes in the business models and sophisticated technologies, the demand for high-skill level jobs will increase. In a nutshell, this means more research and technical jobs for electrical and software engineers, but it also means more managerial positions within the sector, particularly to support the increasing development of new technologies (for instance, new battery technologies).
Another fruitful area for engineers is the wind sector. Currently, the number of engineering graduates is insufficient to meet the needs of the offshore wind economy. (The most difficult positions to fill are: operation and maintenance; project management and aerodynamics: and computational and fluid dynamics engineering.) The problem is not limited solely to graduate level, either: after graduation, wind engineers require additional training, and this raises the investment bar for the companies that employ them.
Solaria, the southmost part of future Europe, which is using solar power for renewable energy systems. Image Credit: Roadmap 2050.
Building a Career in a Rewarding and Turbulent Field
Demand for jobs in oil, coal, and gas may decrease by 50% between now and 2050, with a quarter of a million jobs being lost due to decarbonisation. Conversely, through innovation in energy efficiency, clean technology, and new infrastructure, we will see the creation of up to 500,000 new jobs. With all the factors at play, it is hard to make more precise predictions, particularly on a regional level: the impact of the 2050 Roadmap will of course differ across countries, economies, and so on.
Therefore, while it is not possible to come up with a comprehensive list of all the occupations that will be in high demand in the next three decades, there are two important areas of engineering skills where demand is likely to grow:
New product design: Including highly-skilled researchers, engineers, and technicians (consider, for example, software engineering in smart grids and technologies)
Technology implementation: Which may be to a large extent filled by the retraining of existing candidates.
As there is a mismatch between supply and demand in engineering skills, the engineers who are most prepared to be geographically-mobile could benefit the most. Geographical and sectoral labour mobility is a key factor for a positive career outlook, due to the supportive EU policies for cross-border sharing, in the interest of decreasing investment costs.
There is one crucial factor to consider if you are an engineer thinking about your career road ahead, and this concerns the long-term strategic roadmap.
At the time of writing, there are 30 years until it’s 2050. Considering the average lifespan of an engineering graduate career, many individual choices that engineers will make will depend on estimations regarding the impact of both short-term career gratification and well-paid jobs due to renewables investments.
Currently, electrical and electronic engineers earn rewarding salaries in conventional energy sectors, as well as alternative energy sources. Highly-skilled engineers and engineering graduates need additional incentives to venture into renewables to a larger extent, including more research fellowships and scholarships.
Finally, accomplishing the definite 2050 goals depends on an indefinite energy future due to the volatile mathematics behind the availability of energy resources, including non-renewables and renewables. All in all, choosing to dissect a possible future into achievable short-term career goals may be the smartest road for aspiring engineers threading the road to 2050 Europe.