Last night at a Careers Expo attended by happy throngs of kids and parents, one dad (a practising engineer) indicated to me that he had advised his two kids who were shortly finishing high school to avoid an engineering career and to focus on more lucrative jobs such as in law or merchant banking. I sympathise with him as many of my engineering friends have been caught out in the intermittent ‘down draughts’ and thrown onto the streets.
I am not so sure though
However, I am not so sure that lawyers and merchant bankers are able to find good jobs either. There is a ferocious amount of automation going at present with a lot of legal jobs being automated (you can buy a proforma contract document for a few dollars or even an hour of cheap legal advice online nowadays). Business graduates are ‘a dime a dozen’ these days because of the massive growth in these university programs.
The challenge with Engineering Jobs
The reason why most of my engineering buddies have been ‘let go’ (i.e. fired) was because a particularly large project they were happily engaged on had suddenly finished. Generally this is often done unpredictably and driven by a sudden impatience in the client who had run out of patience (and money) in ever seeing the end of that particular project.
Others have lost jobs because of a change in technology meaning that their current company was increasingly unprofitable. Sometimes, these engineers worked for a start-up firm where the blue sky prognostications of the business entrepreneur had met reality in terms of massively disappointed investors who bolted for the exits when the losses seemed to go on forever. And suddenly everything was then shut down.
Other friends lost jobs because their skills had become outdated and they had lost their verve in constant reskilling and sharpening their knowledge. Some of them had often lost enthusiasm for their jobs – perhaps tired of doing the same old thing every day.
When you read the previous paragraphs, you may come to the conclusion that engineering is a hopeless case for someone looking to the future stability in income. I do believe you can deal with these issues in a proactive way.
There are Huge Opportunities in Technology and Engineering
You only need to look at some of the most profitable companies in the world – they are all based around engineering and technology. Such as Apple, Exxon Mobil, Samsung, Berkshire Hathaway (incl. rail and food) and Chevron. Companies largest by revenue such as Saudi Aramco, Shell, Volkswagen and Toyota also employ huge numbers of engineering professionals. There are huge and growing opportunities in the new technologies such as the Internet of Things, Cloud computing, automation and driverless cars. The list seems endless and constantly growing.
The key thing is to wrap yourself up in a ‘Secure-your-career’ blanket to deal with the sudden changes you may be exposed to such as described above.
What is a ‘Secure Your Career’ Blanket ?
When commencing your engineering career you need to plan for the worse but to rejoice in continuing good fortune. A few key elements here would include the following.
Business Skills are Critical
One area which I believe engineering professionals are short changed is in not having sufficient business skills. After all – the pointy business end is where the bills are paid and decisions are made in a company.
These sort of skills include finance/accounting/marketing and law. With this know-how; you can participate more effectively in your business and indeed help steer it out of choppy waters and keep it going. Or at least help management make good decisions by giving a business perspective to your engineering role. You can also quickly identify when things are becoming unsustainable with your current employer and start looking at alternative scenarios.
Consistent Achievers in Engineering
Following on my comments on business skills above, when I think of engineering colleagues who have done well consistently, it is those who are entrepreneurial and have strong business skills either formally or through on-the-job learning. As a result, they are more attuned to dodging the curved balls coming in from all directions – something which is increasingly the case these days. I know that ‘pure’ engineers will be somewhat disparaging about people with business skills remarking that they are no longer engineers but business people. But a mix of engineering and business skills definitely makes you more saleable and able to sustain your career.
Make Yourself Indispensable in your job
You should ensure that you are the go-to expert in your firm. Other skills that ensure you stand out are the ability to write and communicate well. This helps upper level management and other spheres of the business gain a better understanding of what you do and why you are valuable.
Stay up-to-date at all times
Keep sharp with your knowhow and skills level. Ensure that you are constantly learning new techniques and applying new technologies. Not necessarily attending formal courses but in linking with people engaged in pioneering work.
Finally, keep everything relating to your online career up to date. This means not only your resume but LinkedIn profile and other social media sites. Ready to go when things start breaking up around you and you need to move or to seize a new opportunity.
Overall, I believe having a job is akin to surfing. You can ride a really good wave for a while but eventually when you hit the shore you have to paddle back and look for the new wave. With different characteristics and twists and turns.
Always remember Alfred Montapert’s comment: ‘To accomplish great things we must first dream, then visualize, then plan... believe... act’
Yours in engineering learning