What skills will I need to become an engineer?

Researching your engineering options must come back to two fundamental question. What are you good at? What do you like doing?

An understanding of your skills and interests must be the foundation of your career planning.

Going into engineering for the qualifications or the salary isn’t enough (though of course, we understand they will be important factors for many).

We’ve covered in other articles how there a range of engineering careers out there, and multiple pathways into them. But you’ll start from a stronger position if you have a good understanding of your core skills and strengths.

So in this article, we’ll look at some of the core skills and interests that can lead you into an engineering career.

There are, broadly speaking, two ways we can group the necessary competencies you would need to become an engineer – the more personality-orientated or ‘soft’ skills that most engineers need, and the more specialist skills that you will require to do your day-to-day job.

Let’s look at the personal, or ‘soft’ skills first.

The soft skills you need to be an engineer

There are some basic competencies that all engineers will need to be successful. Whilst the different types of engineering do, ultimately, lead you to different specialisms, most engineers will need a basic set of skills in order to succeed.

Communication skills

Let’s face it. Most jobs these days will tell you they require ‘good communication skills’. But in engineering, it’s arguably important for you to work with others and to be able to communicate sometimes difficult concepts in a clear and concise way.

To give a few examples, you may be asked to project manage fellow engineers on your team. Or you may work with clients of your company, and you will have to report back on the progress, logistics or cost of a project.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that your work in engineering may require the ability to translate complex ideas and technical jargon into easy-to-understand language. So it’s important that you’re able to be articulate when communicating with key stakeholders.

So whether it’s written or oral communication skills, you need to ensure that you’re confident working in teams, and that you are happy working in a people-facing career path.

More specifically, here are some of the softer communication skills that a successful engineer will need.

  • The ability to lead and to motivate people around you.
  • Emotional intelligence when dealing with colleagues and stakeholders.
  • Strong negotiation skills.
  • Strong public speaking and presentation skills.

Attention to detail

Whether it’s earning your initial qualifications, or working on a project in the world of work, you’ll be working on complex projects that will require a good attention to detail. You can’t afford to make mistakes if you’re working on high stakes, high cost projects where health and safety and best practice will always be of the highest importance.

Critical thinking and problem solving

Every engineering process is essentially a problem solving exercise, and all good engineers also need to be good problem solvers. Many engineering projects, no matter the field, will involve the testing and exploration of multiple solutions to a problem.

A commitment to learning

The best engineers are constantly committed to their own training and professional learning. At every level of your education, it will be important to demonstrate a commitment to gaining new qualifications and staying engaged with the latest news, technologies and developments in your industry.

Innovation and creativity

Across all fields of engineering, innovation and creativity are highly valued skills. We’ve already discussed how engineering is fundamentally a problem solving career, and you need to be ready to bring new ideas to every project or job you work on.

Specialist/technical skills

IT/computer skills

Almost all engineering pathways will require some kind of IT/computer ability. All engineers will probably have to work with different kinds of software, have a good knowledge of programming and coding and, at the very least, be able to use your IT skills to give presentations or create relevant written material.

Maths and numerical skills

Good numeracy and maths is one of the core skills of almost all the major engineering disciplines.

As well as basic numeracy, it’s also helpful for aspiring engineers to have a good grounding in algebra, geometry, trigonometry, statistics and calculus. These different mathematical skills will have practical applications in mechanical engineering, civil or electronic engineering.