A number of engineering related LinkedIn groups recently have featured questions about whether or not an engineer should earn a higher engineering degree or go for an MBA. Certainly this economy is causing engineers to think about their career paths - and the relative longevity of their engineering related career choices!
In Me 2.0, Dan Schawbel discusses how change is the only constant in today’s job scene. He goes on to say that many Gen Y’s look forward to holding multiple jobs over the first 20 years of their careers, with each job averaging 1.5 -2 yrs! While these statistics may hold true for the business world, the engineering community tends NOT to view their career path as a quick trip through a revolving door.
In addition, today’s economy is making Gen X and Boomer engineers hold on to their jobs – if these engineers even have that luxury! So while the Gen Y’s are waiting for everyone to move on over, the reality of today’s economy is making the “fast forward” strategy unfeasible.
So how do you, as an engineer, position yourself to be valuable to your company yet flexible if you have to move on – whether voluntarily or not?
CROSS TRAIN. And I’m not just talking about getting an advanced engineering degree. I mean CROSS TRAIN: study the disciplines that impact your role in your company. And INCORPORATE YOUR CROSS TRAINING into what you, as an engineer, do for your company.
The engineering discipline can and has to accommodate sales, financial projections, operations, production, logistics and yes, even marketing. While you may love what you do right now, and perhaps have set your goals on working for the Best of the Best in your area of engineering expertise, IT’S TIME TO GENERATE AT LEAST PLAN B.
What if your target company goes belly up?
What if your current responsibilities are shifted to a completely different area?
What if you decide to start your own business, even after attaining a position with the Best of the Best?
By taking the time to incorporate learning about the functions that impact your engineering position, you actually grow in perspective. Which means you bring more insight to the table at each team meeting. Which means you may not seek tactical solutions to problems with larger contexts. Which means you grow as an engineering professional.
I’m not talking about reading a bunch of books on sales and marketing, although I certainly will suggest your starting with Jill Konrath’s Selling To Big Companies, my personal bible. Your local professional engineering organizations offer continuing education courses. There are plenty of online educational courses. There are networking roundtables as well.
What concerns me the most about how engineers are faring in this most challenging of economic paradigm shifts is that what is being taught in today’s engineering programs may not create a final engineering product (e.g., an engineering undergraduate or graduate) that has the skill set to align with marketplace demands. Even as an undergraduate, CROSS TRAINING SHOULD BE A MUST-DO.
Bottom line: there is no place for silo-ed professional engineering degrees in today’s economy. And if you are working for an engineering intensive organization that does not have a sales culture or training program for you, create your own program for yourself.