Some key issues facing young engineers

Just now, the main issue is how to get an engineering job, to get the experience a young engineer needs to start a career. A big part of the problem here is a simple lack of knowledge: most engineering schools don’t teach their students anything about the engineering employment market. That’s why you see so many young engineers applying for jobs online, not realising that companies get 300 to 500 responses to every advertisement. After they send off maybe two hundred job applications with hardly any response, maybe one interview, they get really frustrated. What’s interesting to me is that few seem to realise that maybe they’re doing something wrong.

That’s why there’s a chapter in the book on how to find engineering work. Networking and visiting engineering component suppliers is a much better way to find work, especially in tough times.

In the last few years in Australia, many engineering graduates only had to write “engineer” on a job application and they would get two or three interviews. Since 2013 that’s all changed – now it’s like the rest of the world and entry level jobs are hard to find. Of course, for most young engineers around the world, as well as migrant engineering students graduating in Australia, it has been like that for many years now.

The book explains a method I devised for graduates having a tough time getting jobs. So far, it’s worked every time.

The second key issue facing young engineers is a desire for technically challenging work, work that draws on the intellectual abilities they learned in engineering school.

Yes, there are a few jobs where the technical challenge is obvious. But many graduates find themselves in jobs where it is hard to see any technical challenge, or for that matter, any application for all the stuff they learned in engineering school. It all seems mundane, routine and boring, not what they were educated for.

Most of the real challenges in engineering are socio-technical: how to get the right things happening with people who are excited about what they do. The trouble is, lots of people are pre-occupied about other things going on in their lives; many are tired, bored and anxious to get home as soon as possible. It’s hard to get them excited about doing something new, especially if they have to work hard.

However, the few engineers that I have interviewed who have spotted these challenges and took them on have never looked back. They relish the intellectual challenges but understand that it’s all about people as well as technical issues. They are all intertwined together and that’s what’s fascinating.

In a way, our education sets up young people in precisely the wrong way. All through formal education, students are only rewarded for the work that they do, themselves. Achievement value, therefore, is associated with personal effort. However, an engineer only achieves something because skilled technicians build the components and systems that make things happen, and because other people provide the money. Achievement in engineering only happens through collaboration. Success for an engineer depends on other people succeeding at what they do and that’s completely the opposite of the way that we structure our education system at the moment.

Perhaps that’s why so many young engineers get frustrated so quickly.

Because of this issue, the core of my book is about mastering technical collaboration skills. The material on collaboration has not been written in this way before to my knowledge. These techniques are not taught in management schools or psychology courses because the technical aspects are critical. While many talk about “soft skills” and “emotional intelligence”, engineers cannot avoid technical issues when it comes to collaboration. The book explains how human behaviour and technical knowledge are inextricably linked when it comes to practicing as an engineer.

It will be challenging for many young engineers to learn this material. They emerge from engineering schools with a desire to refine their technical knowledge and most think that they have great communication skills already. They’re not wrong….. well….. not far wrong. When employers criticise graduates for their poor communication skills, what they are really pointing out is their lack of technical collaboration skills which are not taught in engineering schools.

Before this book was available, the only way to learn these skills was by emulating a more experienced engineer, and many young engineers find themselves without competent role models to emulate, especially in low-income countries. Learning is hit and miss, and many missed out, eventually leaving engineering out of frustration.

Now, with the help of this book, technical collaboration skills are within the grasp of any engineer with enough determination to learn.

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