Hardware and software engineers will be the lifeblood of tomorrow's connected world. Academia is working hard to ensure a steady supply, in part by adapting engineering education to train the next generation of IoT innovators.
Governments, industries, companies, and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Mathematics) educators alike face pressure to plan successfully for engineering work that doesn't yet exist. With this objective in mind, stakeholders are looking to ensure education programs prepare young people and graduates for a future that, while difficult to predict with certainty, indeed will revolve around technologies focused on big data, AI, ML, and edge computing under the umbrella of the IoT.
Preparing for tomorrow's global challenges
Society will need coders capable of leveraging advanced technologies to their full potential if innovation is to be relied upon to solve global challenges. To tackle climate change, aging populations, endemic diseases, and sustainability, we must build a pipeline for skilled engineering practitioners and make sure it flows continuously.
A 2020 study by the World Economic Forum (WEF) suggested the jobs of tomorrow will be based on seven key professional clusters that promise growth and prosperity in the future workforce. The study predicted data and AI, engineering, and Cloud computing—disciplines that generally demand strong expertise in digital technologies—will be amongst the fastest-growing professional clusters, with product development not far behind. For each of these clusters, skills described as 'tech disruptive' were found to be the most important, with 'tech baseline' skills also ranking highly.
The WEF study estimates the emerging employment areas in the professional clusters are set to deliver 6.1 million new jobs within just the next three years. And in the U.S., employment projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show 3.6 million computing-related job openings are expected by 2029.
Read more: Are there enough IoT engineers?
Filling digital and IoT skills shortages
While there appears little doubt the technical roles and responsibilities will exist, will there be enough qualified people ready to fill them? Industry insiders suggest that to meet future demand, the quality of engineering education must continually keep pace with technology. With improved engineering curricula, institutions like schools and universities will be better armed to prepare students to resolve looming digital and IoT skills shortages.
Progress has been good, but challenges remain, according to a recent report by the Australian Council of Engineering Deans (ACED). It's based on a 2019 national survey of undergraduates and states that engineering students are less satisfied than students of all fields in engagement with skills development, teaching quality, student support, learning resources, and overall quality of the learning experience.
Addressing a lack of diversity
The unbalanced demographic of students is another factor that threatens to undermine the supply of engineers. This lack of diversity impacts skills and ideas, stifling technological innovation as well as future career prospects.
In 2017, women accounted for just 16 percent of engineers, according to the U.S.'s National Science Board. Meanwhile, women are significantly outnumbered in both school programs and the workforce. They receive only 21 percent of computer science bachelor's degrees and hold only 25 percent of computing roles, says the country's National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT).
To close the gender gap and other imbalances in the technology sector, not-for-profit organizations like NCWIT, Girls Who Code, and AnitaB.org are providing wireless tech-driven STEAM education resources to more women and girls and underprivileged communities.
Providing opportunities for future coders
IoT wireless technology providers have a vested interest in the education of tomorrow's engineers. And some are taking action. As the world's leading Bluetooth LE chipmaker, Nordic Semiconductor is committed to providing digital education opportunities for the coders of the future.
This commitment is demonstrated not least by Nordic's partnership with the Micro:bit Educational Foundation. The not-for-profit organization is behind the BBC micro:bit, a Nordic-powered, pocket-sized computer and user-friendly educational resource for teaching students about coding and how software and hardware work in tandem.
Beyond Nordic, other companies use the tiny computer as the basis for educational solutions that encourage an interest in coding. One example is Strawbees, a firm that provides a complete STEAM building and coding education solution to help teachers deliver curriculum-aligned, class-ready lessons. The STEAM Classroom Kit with Micro:bit combines physical building, robotics, and electronics kits with web-based development tools.
Nordic also recently joined global ICT leader, Nokia, and fellow fabless semiconductor company, MediaTek, in establishing a new professorship in SoC technologies for wireless systems at the University of Oulu, Finland. In sponsoring this professorship, Nordic further demonstrated its support for academia, education, and research across engineering fields, particularly concerning the advantages of low-power wireless IoT connectivity.
Initiatives like these, and others that see industry stakeholders working together for better digital education, offer the best chance for building a healthy cohort of coders ready to drive innovation in the decades ahead.