Data and digital skills needed for asset management

With the complexity of asset management becoming digitally driven, Les Hines looks at what this means for what skills will be needed.

Historically, asset management has required a workforce with multi-layered engineering capabilities to deliver physical projects, developed through the study and practice of several traditional engineering routes. As they progress into more senior roles, taking on the delivery of more complex and substantial assets, asset managers need to have developed not only their engineering capabilities but also be able to recognise the contractual and commercial implications involved in delivering a major capital project.

Often these candidates have additional qualifications outside of engineering, giving them a good understanding of contract or construction law, profit and loss or project management. This enables a broader, more cohesive management of the project and the asset itself.

However, we’re increasingly seeing a focus on digital technology in asset management, with many of these changes focused on the utilisation of data, very much in line with Industry 4.0 and the impact it’s having across most industries. Data has long been captured on major projects, but this information has not been fully exploited until recently. Utilising the data that’s available and managing the asset in an intelligent way is more important than ever before.

The skills required in asset management are also evolving to enable this. The implementation of algorithms for monitoring assets and the use of Business Information Modelling (BIM) in the asset life-cycle is broadening the scope of skills needed. The asset management industry is looking for individuals who can develop systems to gather data and calculate future requirements, managing the entire life-cycle of an asset.

With data and digital intelligence playing vital roles, asset management is becoming more complex; balancing a skill-set between engineering and data analytics, thus it is key to have individuals who are able to factor in both to deliver on a major capital project.

With more than 700 major infrastructure projects listed in the Government’s National Infrastructure and Construction Pipeline in autumn of last year, worth more than £600 billion[1], we’re seeing a growing demand for skilled asset managers, both for UK projects and on an international scale.

On home soil we have Hinkley Point, HS2, the expansion of Heathrow and the associated road and rail developments on the back of the airport development. In addition, the UK is also working with mainland Europe on various offshore wind projects and internationally there are a number of large scale infrastructure projects – power generation, roads, air and rail – that all have a growing need for asset management.

There is, however, a substantial shortage of skilled engineers that will become more apparent in the next decade. The challenge is how to prevent these gaps from forming. Currently, we have a strong level of senior, experienced engineers, but there are fewer engineers training to become chartered.

Demand for major infrastructure projects worldwide means there is a need for chartered engineers. Research by Engineering UK found an additional 1.8m engineers and technically qualified people are needed by 2025. These figures, coupled with potentially losing the open border to Europe, brings much uncertainty to the industry.

The new Apprenticeship Levy will ensure larger organisations invest more heavily in apprenticeship programmes and it is an important step in the right direction to address the skills shortage. With the Levy highlighting the UK’s commitment to creating three million new apprenticeships by 2020, larger businesses are incentivised to hire apprentices, potentially bringing tens of thousands of engineers into the market to bridge the gap.

Another crucial task is to encourage a transfer of skills within the engineering disciplines as a whole. The oil and gas industry, for example, has a wealth of talent that could be transferred to asset management but often this option is not explored. There is much scope to tap into existing skills and knowledge from parallel sectors, relieving the skill shortages being faced in the industry.

Asset Management is a sector full of opportunity, but we need to attract more talent. It’s crucial that we nurture engineers of the future in order to maximise the opportunities that we have both in UK-based projects and internationally.


Les Hines is the associate director of asset management at Jonathan Lee Recruitment.