Systems Engineer Shortage

Posted 15/5/2022 by Benet Hanley

Enigma People Solutions recently reviewed the two largest job boards in the UK and the largest job board in Scotland. This showed 271 Systems Engineer vacancies UK wide. There were over 30 vacancies in Scotland for Systems Engineers with Power or Electronics experience.

As predicted by Tim Kerby, Director of Edinburgh Systems, when we spoke to him in 2019 Systems Engineers are in high demand and there is a shortage of available talent! We caught up with Tim to discuss the staffing challenges companies are currently facing.

Why do you think the demand for Systems Engineers has increased?

There are a few drivers in industry across product development and wider systems challenges such as net-zero. In general, the awareness of the Systems Engineer role has increased and over the last few years a better understanding has developed in how they can help solve difficult problems for organisations.

We’ve seen a strong demand for requirements management skills as safety standards such as ISO26262 and ISO61508 demand traceable requirements and systems approaches to prove that you have developed a safe product. These skills are needed across all levels of the supply chain, with more semiconductor vendors now expected to build standards compliant products as their complexity increases. The challenge is similar as connectivity of devices increases and companies also need to focus on product security.

We also work with organisations trying to solve industry-wide challenges using Systems Thinking. An example was the Zero Emissions Flight Infrastructure Programme (ZEFI) with Connected Places Catapult where we looked at how UK airports could develop the capability to support zero emission hydrogen and electric aircraft. Challenges like this may be considered ‘wicked problems’ where there is incomplete information, low technology readiness levels, many human factors and emergent behaviours at an industry and societal level. For instance, how do we encourage airports to build infrastructure for planes that don’t exist yet and conversely, why build an aircraft if it has nowhere to land?

Solving big challenges such as net-zero or improving the health of the population require strong systems thinking skills and the ability to see the big picture at the same time as understanding a level of detail and the relationships and emergent behaviours between system elements. Many organisations looking for funding are being asked to show how they can use Whole Systems Thinking to solve complex problems and this is also driving the demand for Systems Engineers.

Do companies need Systems Engineers?
A Systems Engineer can be an incredibly important member of your engineering team, and there are different roles they can carry out. Some are more customer focussed, eliciting requirements, and supporting product management, some develop concepts and assess product feasibility, others are system architects or responsible for verification, validation and even product support.

It may seem that Systems Engineering can pervade all aspects of product development and that’s certainly true although it’s also worth remembering that you still need the detailed technical experts and designers. What this means is that Systems Engineering is a core engineering skill that every engineer should be aware of. Building the right skillset across your engineering teams is more important than the job title. For most companies that means a few changes. The main areas where we find companies need support when providing consulting services are:

  • Understanding the value of solving a problem to your stakeholders before you start building a solution and eliciting requirements from them
  • Listening to a wider range of stakeholders beyond ‘key customers’
  • Improving your new product development processes to be requirements driven and following a V-model development flow
  • Validating early and considering that there may be alternative concepts that can solve a problem that should be evaluated
  • Introducing tools such as Jama to manage product development data as a single source of truth and provide traceability of design to requirements

Building these skills in your engineering team ensures you deliver the right product for the market and that you build that product right, avoiding costly rework. This doesn’t mean to say you don’t need people with the Systems Engineer title. They have the experience to coordinate the team and tailor processes to the challenges you face. A typical ratio for many companies is around one Systems Engineer for every ten engineers.

How can we meet a short-term need?
With high demand, along with the opportunities created by the COVID-19 pandemic for remote working, it can be a challenge attracting talent. Many Systems Engineers come from an aerospace and defence background which can be process heavy and those with experience in semiconductor, medical, energy and consumer products are in particularly short supply.  We’ve also seen a significant gap in junior to mid-career roles as there has been a tendency to train as a Systems Engineer later in your career. All these factors are contributing towards higher salaries.

Systems Engineers are problem solvers and to attract the best talent, a job description linking the role to big-picture customer needs and solving societal problems helps to attract the right candidates. Avoid requiring mandatory experience in a detailed role first – your Systems Engineer needs an awareness and understanding of the design roles and technologies but doesn’t have to have started their career as a designer. It’s also useful to consider bringing in candidates from different industries as the Systems Engineer’s skills are easily transferrable and they tend to be quick learners. Of particular benefit is adopting engineers from your customers for instance automotive engineers into the semiconductor industry as they’ll have a unique understanding of the product that you may not have considered.

For more junior engineers, the best option is to look for the right skillset and develop the staff internally. This may be a good opportunity to recruit people with a dual role such as electronics and systems and develop them into your Systems Engineering leaders. Often candidates with multidisciplinary experience such as applications engineers make good candidates, and their development can be supported through external partners such as Edinburgh Systems.

See here for our original interview with Tim.

Tim has recently been talking about some of the skills needed with KTN at the launch of their Design Innovation Network here: https://ktn-uk.org/events/design-innovation-network-launch/ to help support UK industry in bringing in systems approaches to design.

Tim is sponsored by the Royal Academy of Engineering as a Visiting Professor in Systems Engineering at Heriot-Watt University teaching the core skills to Mechanical Engineering and Product Design students. He also teaches Systems Thinking for a Masters in Data Science for Health and Social Care at Edinburgh University and has been working with their engineering department and Industrial Liaison Board to introduce Systems Engineering to their degree programme.

Tim works closely with INCOSE UK as the professional body for Systems Engineering to support University level teaching across the UK.

Enigma People Solutions specialises in the recruitment of specialist roles in the deep tech sector. We also offer a complimentary recruitment review.

If you have tried the following but have still failed to attract the right candidates, we can help you:

  • If you’ve advertised the position but didn’t attract the applicants that you require
  • You’ve asked your team for referrals 
  • Talked to people in your own network
  • No internal candidates have applied
  • Advertised on job sites and your own website

If that describes your experience, then you need a new approach to your recruitment. Email us hello@enigmapeople.com or call 0131 510 8150 to find out more and to book your complimentary recruitment review now. 

 

Enigma People Solutions is an award-winning technology recruitment consultancy. Visit our job search page for the latest vacancies in photonics, electronics, semiconductor, and software in Scotland. Check out our blog for the latest in the technology industry. You can get in touch with us hello@enigmapeople.com or call us on 0131 510 8150

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