Summary

Researchers and engineers hold high-skilled jobs with different tasks and skill needs in a wide range of economic sectors. The occupation regards professionals in life sciences, engineering and electrotechnology, architects, designers or statisticians.

Key facts:

  • Around 6.5 million people were employed as researchers and engineers in 2018.  Employment in the occupation grew by 17 per cent between 2006 and 2018.
  • Employment is projected to grow by a further 15 per cent over the period 2018 to 2030 – an increase of 1 million jobs.  This underestimates the true level of employment demand.  In order to replace those workers who will leave the occupation for one reason or another – an estimated 3.3 million between 2018 and 2030 – and meet the projected growth in demand over the same period, around 4.3 million job openings will need to be filled. 
  • Professional services and manufacturing are the largest employment sectors for this occupation – 3 out of 5 researcher and engineer jobs are located there..
  • In the workplace, gathering and evaluating information, creativity, resolution and autonomy are the most important tasks and skills of researchers and engineers.
  • The skills profiles of researchers and engineers adjust to the needs and developments of the sectors/industries they work for. Cross-sectoral trends are also expected to further shape the demand for skills.
  • Over 80 per cent of researchers and engineers held high-level qualifications in 2018; more or less the same proportion is projected for 2030.

Tasks and skills

Researchers and engineers 1 hold high-skilled jobs with different tasks and skill needs in a wide range of economic sectors. The occupation regards professionals in life sciences, engineering and electrotechnology, architects, designers or statisticians.

Their roles include studying and advising on the characteristics and processes of human, animal and plant life; applying mathematical and statistical concepts and methods to address social and economic issues; and, advising, designing and directing the construction of buildings, towns and traffic signals, and civil and industrial structures.

According to Eurofound's Job Monitorgathering and evaluating information, creativity, resolution and autonomy are the most important tasks and skills of researchers and engineers.

Figure 1: Importance of tasks for researchers & engineers

Note: The importance of tasks and skills is measured on 0-1 scale, where 0 means least important and 1 means most important.

 

The employment level of researchers and engineers is expected to grow by 15 per cent between 2018 and 2030, a further increase following the 17 per cent growth over the period 2006 to 2018. More than 1 million new jobs for researchers and engineers shall be created. 23 of analysed European countries are expected to create new jobs for researchers and engineers, while only in 5 countries their employment levels should decline.

Figure 2: Future employment growth of researchers & engineers in European countries (2018-2030, in %)

In addition, an estimated 3.3 million people are projected to leave the occupation for one reason or another such as retirement  3. The total demand for researchers and engineers will reach more than 4.3 million in the period 2018 to 2030.

Figure 3: Future job openings of researchers & engineers (2018-2030)

These professionals work on the development or adoption of many new technologies, from advanced robotics in assembly lines and warehousing systems to security solutions and health care technologies and substances. Therefore, they are expected to be in high demand over the next 10 years in most sectors:

  • Business services are the largest employer for this occupation. Among its sub-sectors, the employment level of this occupation in Financial & insurance activities is expected to more than double, which can be attributed to the rapid development and pervasiveness in all business activities of novel “fintech” 4 approaches. ICT, health, media, wholesale and retail and financial services are also expected to contribute significantly to the future employment growth.
  • Very strong employment growth of researchers & engineers is expected in manufacturing. Dynamic development in adoption of new automation technologies and rising research intensity will require strong additional influx of designers, developers and engineers. Automotive will be the most important manufacturing sub-sector in this development.
  • In education and health the demand for this occupation is expected to expand in 2018-2030, driven by growing technology intensity in health care, greater focus on STEM education and continued professional development within these occupations5.

Some sectors may experience decline of employment of researchers and engineers. For example in the manufacturing of coke and refined petroleum, this decline may be attributed to sizable challenges, posed by the reducing demand for fossil fuels in Europe, along with the commissioning of sophisticated refinery infrastructure in countries outside the EU  6.

More information on employment trends and skills in this occupation can be found here.

Which drivers of change will affect their skills?

The skills profiles of researchers and engineers adjust to the needs and developments of the sectors/industries they work for. Cross-sectoral trends are also expected to further shape the demand for skills.

  • New technologies penetrate end products and manufacturing technologies alike. For example, electronics already represent around 25% of a modern car production costs. This is expected to double by 2030  7, as electronic systems now contribute 90% of car innovations and new features  8. As a result, the importance of skills related to development and manufacturing of electronic parts grows, partly at the expense of classical mechanical engineering skills. This happens in all sectors that involve manufacturing of other transportation vehicles, machines and any complex technology. In a spill-over effect, this rising importance of electronics influences demand for skills in sectors, where the manufacturing technology is used for production of end-products.

The emerging technologies, like those relevant to marine renewable energy, bring new dynamics to skills demand. Combining needs for expertise of many different areas, such as power electronics, mechanical engineering, hydraulics, automation and computing, these technologies create unique interdisciplinary skillsets  9.

  • The very same trend has similar impact on skills demand within the building construction sector where electronic features (building automation, concept of ‘smart homes’ and spread of ‘internet of things’  10) also play an ever-increasing role  11. This is supported by the EU’s regional policy, which aims to promote sustainable urban development. This will have a profound influence on the role of architects and urban planners who will need to be aware of and adept to technologies that will minimise their projects’ environmental impact  12.

Building Information Modelling (BIM) is an expanding technology used in the planning and construction of infrastructure. It is used to minimise costs and environmental impact of the construction and is expected to integrate the “Internet of things” (e.g. smart sensors and smart machinery) with advanced data analytics and the digital economy. The elaboration of this technology has been catalysed by both EU and national government investment. As this relatively young technology becomes increasingly normalised and standard practice across Europe, professionals in the planning, construction and landscaping sectors will have to possess its expertise. Management of large amounts of data will also be very important. Because of its anticipated impact on reducing capital costs and minimising the environmental impact of projects, the UK is making the use of BIM compulsory on all future public construction projects in April 2016.

Source: Digital Built Britain- Level 3 Building Information Modelling - Strategic Plan 13

  • The shifting consumer demand towards more specialised and individualised products and abovementioned manufacturing trends result in introduction of more technology intensive, flexible and efficient production processes, called ‘industry 4.0’  14. This presents a variety of future skills challenges for engineers, who play a key role in developing technology for ‘smart factories’ made up of machinery that integrates cyber-physical systems with the internet of things and the ‘internet of services’  15. Adapting to these changes will require engineering professionals to possess software and hardware expertise to supplement their specialist knowledge and to develop machines that can accomplish more intricate tasks and interact with other devices, independent from human input  16.
  • Biotechnology drives innovations in agriculture, forestry, fisheries, food, chemicals, biofuels industries but also health care 17. Creating demand for new jobs and skillsets, the biotech market is expected to grow from 28 billion euros in 2013 to 50 billion euros in 2030 18. Subsequently, the demand for biotech skills and professionals can be expected to grow exponentially.
  • The importance of sectors focused on the prevention and mitigation of climate change impact grows. Demand for specialist operations and development expertise in photovoltaic technology, wind, tidal power and energy savings are all increasing as more projects are undertaken  19. Engineers and life scientists will be needed to support research and development in these fields, being equipped with strong data analytic ability, systems and risk analytical skills, experience in project and cost management, and specialist expertise of newly emerging technologies  20.
  • For researchers and engineers, strong communication and interdisciplinary skills to lead, manage and work in such multidisciplinary environments will be more and more important  21, as globalisation is transforming innovation into an international and collaborative activity  22.
  • The development of sector-specific practices acts as a key driver shaping the skills required for some researchers and engineers. The continued integration of IT into research and development in the pharmaceutical sector (e.g. in bioinformatics and health informatics) is a key driver of skills shortages in the sector: there is a growing need for pharmacologists with expertise in statistics, “big data” mining, health economics and health outcomes  23.
  • As a part of its Ditigitalization and future of work project, Cedefop estimates the risks of automation for occupations. The most exposed occupations are those with significant share of tasks that can be automated – operation of specialised technical equipment, routine or non-autonomous tasks  – and those with a small reliance on communication, collaboration, critical thinking and customer-serving skills. The risk of automation is further accentuated in those (occupations) in which people report they have little access to professional training that could help them to cope with labour market changes. Researchers and engineers belong to occupations where the automation risk is low.

 

How can these skill needs be met?

The skill challenges that these professionals may face depends on their specific job and industry of work. Nonetheless, common approaches to training and development can be recognised.

In-house training is pivotal in developing sector-specific as well as transferable skills for engineers and science professionals, such as business acumen, leadership and management expertise. National authorities can also stimulate the level of in-house training by targeting support to companies with sophisticated training practices that focus on competence development and effective learning outcomes  24.

Partnerships and joint actions of government authorities, social partners and other interested partners can offer solutions to tackling skill shortages and/or speed up the adoption of suitable training approaches in relatively new industries where researchers and engineers with very particular skill sets are necessary. The developments towards a European Skills Council for the maritime technology sector can offer inspiring lessons  25.

Partnerships can also promote training and learning “outside of the classroom” (such as study visits, learning sharing through voluntary associations, time spent in other employers/associations), especially regarding skillsets that draw expertise from more than one sectors, such as developing eco-friendly know-how of architects  26.

The expected increased demand for highly qualified researchers and engineers stresses the need to make such studies more attractive to young people. This calls for raising the attractiveness and quality of the so-called STEM/MINT  27 subjects in primary, secondary and higher education. Teacher training has also been identified as an enabling vehicle to make STEM subjects more appealing by developing teachers’ ability to link science and engineering subjects with current issues and developments, such as climate change  28. However, such efforts must then be backed up with effective career guidance for students.

With a greater need to promote diversity in the workforce and encourage women to participate in science and engineering professions, some countries have placed particular emphasis on making the profession more attractive to women, including Norway, Germany and the Netherlands  29. The European Commission is also taking steps to promote the progression of women working in these professions by funding a resource hub for sharing resources including policy briefings, best practices, experiences and other relevant information, which can be accessed by policymakers, experts and prospective professionals who are looking to promote the position of women entering, and progressing in, STEM professions  30.

References

All web-links were last accessed December 2nd, 2019.

[1] Defined as ILO ISCO 08 group 21 Science and engineering professionals occupations. ILO (2012) International Standard Classification of Occupations ISCO-08

[3] The need to replace workers leaving a profession for various reasons, such as retirement. More information on replacement demand and how it drives employment across sectors, can be found on the Skills Panorama here

[4] “Fintech” is an umbrella term used to describe technological innovations that significantly change the financial processes.

[5] European Parliament 2015, “Encouraging STEM Studies for the Labour Market

[6] Lukoil 2013, Trends in Global Oil & Gas Markets to 2025accessed 2 June 2016 and Fitzgibbon, T. & Janssens, T. 2015, Profitability in a world of overcapacity, McKinsey & Co, May 2015, accessed 2 June 2016.

[8] Coulon, D. 2014, Whatever the Future of the Automotive Industry, Electronics is the KeyTTI, 9 September 2014, accessed 2 June 2016.

[9] Podevin, G. 2015, When wind power goes to sea: a breath of fresh air for existing occupations, Training and Employment, no 117, 30 June 2015, accessed 2 June 2016.

[11] Karpathy, Z. 2015. The European Markets of Building Automation and Controls, 10 March 2015, Frankfurt, accessed 2 June 2016.

[12] European Commission - Regional Policy 2016, Urban Developmentaccessed 2 June 2016.

[14] Federal Government of Germany 2015, The New High-Tech Strategy- Innovations for Germany, accessed 2 June 2016.

[17] Ernst & Young and EuropaBio 2014, Biotechnology in Europe, accessed 2 June 2016.

[19] UK Commission for Employment and Skills 2015, Sector Insights: Skills And Performance Challenges In The Energy Sector, March 2015, accessed 2 June 2016 and ILO 2011, Skills and Occupational Needs in Renewable Energyaccessed 2 June 2016.

[20] UK Commission for Employment and Skills 2015, Sector Insights: Skills And Performance Challenges In The Energy Sectoraccessed 2 June 2016.

[21] German Trade and Investment 2014, Industrie 4.0- Smart manufacturing for the future, accessed 2 June 2016.

[22] World Economic Forum 2015, Collaborative Innovation: Transforming Business, Driving Growthaccessed 2 June 2016.

[23] Ernst & Young 2015, Health Reimagined- Extract from Megatrends 2015, accessed 2 June 2016 and ABPI 2015, Bridging the skills gap in the biopharmaceutical industryaccessed 2 June 2016 and Tenenbaum, J 2016, Translational Bioinformatics: Past, Present, and Future, Proteomics & Bioinformatics, Vol. 14, no. 1, pp:31-41.

[24] The Institute of Engineering and Technology 2015, Skills & Demand in Industry: 2015 Surveyaccessed 2 June 2016.

[26] Kalck P. 2015, How they became eco-friendly architects, Training & Development, n° 120, November-December 2015, accessed 2 June 2016.

[27] STEM: Science, technology, engineering, mathematics. MINT: mathematics, information sciences, natural sciences and technology.

[28] European Parliament 2015, Encouraging STEM Studies for the Labour Marketaccessed 2 June 2016.

[29] ibid.

[30] GenPORT 2016, About GenPORT, accessed 2 June 2016.