Advancing from technician, to engineer, to senior engineer, to management, to the 30-years-of- service gold watch at retirement. Is this the picture of an ideal career trajectory? Is it realistic?
To bolster CVs or resumes engineers look to work for major companies and then hope for promotions within them. In an effort to have the edge they attempt to remain abreast of the shifts in industry and galloping technology. To this end continuing professional development, and indeed qualification upgrades, can help.
Unfortunately acquiring new and relevant skills does not always equate to moving upwards in a company. To be positioned well for specific promotional positions in a company is difficult and to add to the challenge there are other equally driven team members in the race too.
What do engineering companies want?
Some institutions offering engineering education and training closely monitor the shifts within engineering disciplines, in an effort to offer courses that ensure students receive industry-relevant qualifications. But this alone is not always enough. Students also need to have nurtured certain qualities which will benefit a company.
For example, IT and engineering are intersecting and engineering courses are now including modules once never utilized. It is, however, up to engineers to grow their skill sets across disciplines and industries (including skills which are not all technical), to position themselves for better career prospects.
Iowa State University has outlined 15 skills employers most want to see in engineering graduates:
It is becoming clear that engineering employers today require engineers to be multitalented. Gone are the days when engineers could disappear behind the scenes within a certain skill set; now they need to work on becoming entrepreneurial and capable across industries.
Flexibility is key, particularly for ambitious engineers and for those who would like to start their own businesses.
You’re in...now what?
Once in a company engineers must prove that they can deliver efficient performance that benefits the company in order to gain promotions. This can sometimes be achieved through getting Six Sigma certification.
Six Sigma is a set of quality and process analysis techniques developed within Motorola in the 1980s. Thereafter, in 1995, it was turned into business and employment requirements by General Electric. It refers to the training and processes engineers can utilize within a company to minimize waste and work efficiently on their projects.
The levels are referred to as Belts (similar to those used in the Martial Arts). The levels progress upwards through the belt colors with each achieved through the defining, measuring, analyzing, improving and controlling of the assigned projects within the company. The engineer who reduces process cycle time, reduces costs and increases customer satisfaction has a better chance of getting promoted within an organization.
Getting certified in Six Sigma may make an engineer stand out, particularly in a business which requires a mandatory level of certification in the methodology.
There is, however, any number of ways to skin a cat, as the saying goes. There are many who would swear that Six Sigma can fine-tune working environments, but it has also been suggested that it can drain employer creativity. And what are engineers without this?
Some intelligent comments follow. They point out some simple truisms:
Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm – Ralph Waldo Emerson
There are no secrets to success; it is the result of hard work, preparation and learning from failure – Colin Powell
Success is liking yourself, liking what you do and how you do it – Maya Angelou
And the final one advises that we hone our ability to work as part of a group:
Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people – Steve Jobs
"Understanding What Employers Look for in Engineers." Engineering Career Services. Web. 18 Aug. 2017.
Wheat, Barbara, Chuck Mills, and Mike Carnell. Leaning into Six Sigma: The Path to Integration of Lean Enterprise and Six Sigma. Boulder City, NV: Pub. Partners, 2001. Print.
Golding, Ian. shhhhh-dont-mention-six-sigma-the-truth-behind-the-stigma Web. 16 Sept. 2013