The demand for engineering professionals continues to rise: Nearly 140,000 new engineering jobs are expected to surface by 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Yet as more engineers enter the field and the industry evolves, so too will the job opportunities and needs of employers.

Top Skills for Engineers

To stay competitive in the job market, aspiring engineers and those who want to advance need a strong, diverse set of skills. Although the specific skills required vary by type of engineering, the core competencies are similar across disciplines. Some of the top skills for engineers include:

  • Technology skills, including understanding various analytical and scientific software
  • Mathematics and scientific problem-solving
  • Critical thinking
  • Effective communication
  • Management
  • Negotiation
  • Decision-making

The data shows that engineers need various soft skills in addition to their highly technical knowledge in order to stay competitive and advance their career. To meet job demand, it’s important they round out their experience and add important business basics to their skill set.

The Business Side of Engineering

As with many professions, there’s more that goes into building a successful engineering career than just technical know-how; there’s a business side of engineering, as well. As engineers advance to senior positions, they acquire responsibilities like managing teams, projects, and budgets. To reach those positions and perform their duties effectively, they need to have a strong set of business skills.

“Once I was working for a few years, I realized that many careers end up requiring a business skill set,” says Kyle Rosenmeyer, an engineer who worked for the City of Boise before transitioning into a role at technical professional services firm Jacobs. “If an engineer graduating from college ascends from an entry-level position to CEO, with each promotion, they use less engineering skills and more business skills.”

So, while an education focused on the intricacies of engineering is critical to success in the field, many STEM careers rely on business skills to execute day-to-day responsibilities in the field.

“Senior engineers and division and department heads all use more business skills in day-to-day work than engineering skills,” Rosenmeyer says. “My STEM education gave me a way to solve problems and think logically, but I needed to understand accounting tools, financial reports, and markets to compete.”

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From understanding financial basics to engaging in creative problem-solving, here are business skills that every engineer needs.

Business Skills Every Engineer Needs

1. Effective Communication

Because their work is so technical, it can sometimes be harder for others in the organization to understand engineers’ true impact. Knowing how to translate technical topics into more simplified terms and properly articulate and support their ideas across the organization is critical to success.

2. Management Essentials

For engineers with aspirations of leading a team and moving up the ladder in their organization, it’s important to have a grasp on management essentials. Understanding what motivates colleagues and knowing how to exercise influence, effectively implement strategies, and develop learning initiatives that can help the organization innovate are skills that can take an engineer’s career to the next level.

3. Creativity

An engineer’s day-to-day typically revolves around solving complex problems. When working on these intricate issues, however, it’s sometimes easy to get lost in the details and set the bigger-picture, creative thinking aside.

Eighty-two percent of executives surveyed by market research firm Forrester agree that companies benefit from creativity, saying it can lead to increased revenue and greater market share. Yet despite the perceived benefits, 61 percent of leaders don’t see their companies as creative. Engineers with a design vision, who can think outside the box and visualize several alternative solutions to a problem—or create new solutions altogether—will have a competitive advantage.

4. Financial Accounting

Having a basic understanding of financial accounting can go a long way. That knowledge can help engineers measure the impact of their work in terms of revenue, but also control the cost of particular projects and better understand the organization’s overall budget.

When Rosenmeyer was managing construction projects for the City of Boise, he says he frequently had to communicate with the financial team to set budgets and track expenses. Rosenmeyer took CORe, a three-course online program that helps professionals learn the language of business, to more effectively participate in those discussions

“My ability to understand and problem-solve with my accounting counterparts increased,” Rosenmeyer says. “I think they saw that too.”

Related: 3 Lessons an Engineer Learned from HBS Online

5. The Ability to Spot Opportunities and Validate Ideas

As technology continues to disrupt industries, the engineers who will advance are those who know how to spot emerging opportunities and validate their ideas. In today’s increasingly complex global business environment, companies can’t keep approaching issues in the same way, and engineers play a pivotal role in problem-solving. It’s important for engineers to consider: What new challenges haven’t yet emerged that will be important to find solutions for?

6. Negotiation

Engineers often need to work across teams to achieve business goals. Yet the more people involved in a decision-making process, the more likely it is they’ll find themselves in a negotiation.

Understanding and mastering the intricacies of negotiation can help engineers sell their ideas and get buy-in across the organization. This entails understanding the goals of each stakeholder, building trust among decision-makers, successfully navigating the emotions that inevitably surface during these conversations, and knowing how to secure maximum value for the organization.

7. Ethics

In the age of artificial intelligence, an increasing number of ethical questions have cropped up—and they’re growing in complexity. For example, how do social networks determine which content is shown to audiences? What biases are there in the algorithms, and how transparent are they?

Engineers build products and services that can have a direct impact on society. It’s important they then approach each problem with integrity and, ultimately, do what’s right for the business.

The Importance of Business Skills for Engineers

By acquiring essential business skills, engineers can better equip themselves to meet changing workforce demands and gain a competitive edge.

“I’m still beginning my career in a large engineering corporation,” says Anthony Alvarez, an engineering student who took CORe. “But now in conversations about the aerospace industry with other employees, I will have the opportunity to partake and understand when corporate business decisions are made and announced.”

Do you want to take your career to the next level? Download our free Guide to Advancing Your Career with Essential Business Skills to learn how enhancing your business knowledge can help you make an impact on your organization and be competitive in the job market.

This post was updated on April 10, 2020. It was originally published on November 8, 2018.

Lauren Landry

About the Author

Lauren Landry is the associate director of marketing and communications for Harvard Business School Online. Prior to joining HBS Online, she worked at Northeastern University and BostInno, where she wrote nearly 3,500 articles covering early-stage tech and education—including the very launch of HBS Online. When she's not at HBS Online, you might find her teaching a course on digital media at Emerson College, chugging coffee, or telling anyone who's willing to listen terribly corny jokes.