In 2022, we will see several trends increase in significance.
By James E. Koch
Infrastructure is critical in enabling the U.S. military and other federal agencies to successfully meet various stateside and global missions. As engineers and contractors working for, or with, these agencies, we execute a wide arrange of planning, design, and construction services focused on delivering innovative solutions for complex projects.
In 2022, we will see several trends increase in significance: defending against new threats, proactively addressing changing needs, and developing our workforce. These are areas that we are already accounting for but will focus more on diligence and innovation to get ahead of emerging challenges. We are laying the groundwork today for expansion into tomorrow.
Accounting for Evolving Technology and Security
The connectivity associated with the digitization of federal, state, and local government facilities and structures is a benefit and a risk. Applications range from increasing building efficiency and automation to asset monitoring, utilization, productivity, and reliability.
We also see the Internet of Military Things (IoMT) becoming more prevalent in military facilities – connecting operating bases with ships, tanks, drones, and military personnel thereby producing the benefit of increased situational awareness, more accurate risk assessment and decreased response time. With this technological evolution comes increased risk for cyber-attacks and the need for increasingly sophisticated cybersecurity.
As engineering consultants, we are tasked with understanding our client’s needs and desires. Part of this understanding required us to secure, defend and protect classified information with appropriate security controls and measures for our federal clients. We are involving the entire project team, including planners, designers, contractors and operators, in designing infrastructure with cybersecurity as a top priority for the entire lifecycle of the structure.
“As the calendar changes over into a new year, we must not only address the current needs of our federal infrastructure but also plan appropriately so the work we do today will endure for decades to come.”
Designing for Future Growth
As we look at federal and military facilities moving forward, we are not only accounting for current needs but also designing for future growth. With more advanced technology continually being introduced, it is not always feasible for us to know what the future holds and what applications the facilities may need to undertake throughout their service life.
For example, there may be the need for expanded electrical capabilities down the line and therefore, we are designing structures with this in mind right now and providing extra space accordingly. We are also paying close attention to the flow of facilities. If there is more of a free, natural flow, it is easier to adapt spaces to fit future needs. This will help reduce costs in the future if a piece of equipment needs to be housed down the line as we can repurpose a space rather than building an entirely new facility.
Filling the Talent Pipeline
Aided by the passing of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in late 2021, we will see an influx of infrastructure projects. At the same time, federal projects and facilities are becoming more complex. Our industry as a whole will require a highly-skilled labor force on a larger scale to fulfill these needs – necessitating more talent in engineering and those in related areas like planning, contracting and proposal development. The first challenge is simply getting new entries into the engineering field.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, engineering occupations are projected to add 136,500 jobs over the next decade, including 53,700 civil engineering jobs – the most of any engineering occupation.
Recruitment into the industry can begin early with STEM curriculum and activities in primary school up through to encouraging engineering as a college major. Once we have new engineers in our companies, we must do everything we can to keep them in the industry.
We must set up an atmosphere of constant learning and evolution to keep our talent engaged and at the forefront of the ever-developing engineering industry. This can be accomplished through continuing education opportunities and encouraging knowledge-sharing throughout our companies and the industry at large. We must also keep people connected and encourage professional growth, creating experts and advocates for specialized skills and capabilities.
As the calendar changes over into a new year, we must not only address the current needs of our federal infrastructure but also plan appropriately so the work we do today will endure for decades to come.
James E. Koch, Ph.D., P.E. is President of Federal Programs and Services at Michael Baker International.