I was lucky to participate in a recent graduation of eleven electrical engineering students from a major power utility engaged in one of our three year diploma programs (easily equivalent to the first two or three years of an engineering degree and in some respects superior as there was an strong hands-on job-related component).
My speech went as follows….
You (and indeed your partners) have worked exceptionally hard on this qualification over at least three years and we should celebrate. You may have felt that the Engineering Institute of Technology has probably been far more demanding in what we have required from you than most other colleges and indeed universities. This is because we are absolutely determined to build value into your qualifications so that they are marketable and useful on a national and international basis in your engineering career.
We should celebrate your successes from the rooftops as you have achieved a very powerful thing culminating in today’s ceremony.
Power Engineering and specifically the Electrical Supply Industry is typically an area characterised by significant skilled shortages. So your experience and associated qualification will stand you in excellent stead in the future.
A few suggestions relating to your engineering career as you go forward:
Remain positive and in top problem solving mode
Engineering professionals are generally brilliant at identifying problems but not always so good at creating novel solutions to fix problems. You do not want to be known as the ‘Dr No’ of your organisation who is always finding fault with designs and systems; but someone who is proactive about finding practical solutions to problems – often even before they become an issue. Be more foolish in what you do. Experiment with new approaches without fear.
Fit into the organisational culture
Although you may consider yourself to be a huge asset in your company and who can’t be bothered about all the trivial paperwork; you can’t simply ignore company procedures and policies. No matter how irritating they may be. Best to fit into the system and comply with the myriad of administrative procedures and requirements and keep your colleagues happy.
Build Value, innovation and excellence into everything you do.
We’ve all seen the financial crashes and rubbish generated on Wall Street and by people who juggle money without building value. You have a brilliant opportunity to build value into your work as you are working in engineering. Which is all about building value.
Business is a key part of engineering
Costs and financial issues are a critical part of an engineering project. You can’t simply rip out a piece of equipment in your plant and replace it with a new Rolls Royce item because it performs better from a technical point of view. There has to be a justified return on investment. Ensuring that you always consider the financial issues in your engineering career; will add enormous value to the organisation. Profits are what makes a company tick.
Communicate brilliantly and with panache
Engineering professionals are renowned for their love of technology. And are not so enthusiastic about the use of English and in communicating well. However, this is a key part of growing your career. Ensure your written and verbal communications are of the highest possible quality. Not verbose or using large complex words – but simple, thoughtful and clear. Similarly practice your presentation skills – either one- on-one or to a group. And reflect and check on what you write or say before sending your communications out. Overall, soft skills are a critical part of the successful engineering professional.
Value your engineering career more than your firm
We all want to work for a firm or client we love. Forever. However, often your career will develop in a different direction to your firm; especially as far as doing things you enjoy or excel at. You may decide that you have to seek opportunities elsewhere to optimise your career. Often, a firm may be sold to some other entity and they may decide they don’t need your particular skills any longer. Hence it is critical that you keep your engineering skills sharp and relevant to the marketplace. And keep doing outstanding work which not only your firm values but others in the industry notice.
Respect everyone in your firm and get their support
You need every bit of help you can get in your engineering career - from everyone in the firm. Ensure you are friendly and positive with everyone – from the security guard, cleaners, engineering colleagues to the CEO.
Your value is communicated more than only through your work
Sadly, your value to an organisation or client is not only communicated by the fine plant, building or piece of equipment you have designed and built. You need to follow up by clearly communicating why your work is of value to the firm. Remember that email is used frequently but is only one tool to use.
Ensure you have all information before making a decision
As we all know with engineering problem solving – when making a decision one doesn’t always have all the facts. However, you can’t wait forever to make a decision. Try and learn from experts in the field on how they make good decisions. Especially relating to costing’s and scheduling. Always try and look at the worse case scenario here.
Learning is a life-long love affair
Don’t believe your initial degree or diploma qualification is all the learning you need in your career. While problem solving, conceptual and financial skills are often timeless; straightforward technical skills often date extraordinarily fast and you have to keep learning to stay up to date. This can be achieved in an informal way by working closely with your peers and mentors and exchanging know-how in this way. Formal training and education is also useful to keep up to date and aware of the latest engineering trends. Remember that change is one constant in our engineering lives.
Put something back into your profession and help colleagues whether through mentoring or simply technical advice. Ensure you offer advice and support to everyone to improve the engineering (and specifically) the power engineering profession.
Keep learning and sharpening your knife.
Finally, follow your heart in all that you do. Life is extraordinarily short and you have to do what you enjoy. Ensure you keep asking yourself what you ideally want to do and orient your career (and indeed your life) so this is what you do.
Finally, please keep your alma mater, the Engineering Institute of Technology informed of your progress. We would be delighted to hear of your successes and challenges.
So the choice is all yours - you have complete control of your engineering destiny as to where you are going.
Remember: ‘Only you can change your life. No one can do it for you’.
Yours in engineering learning