During a down economy, it is common for employers to cut back or eliminate development programs for engineers, delaying or canceling conference attendance, or limiting the ability to sit in on career-boosting seminars or certifications. Here are some tips that can benefit engineers, whether employed by a company experiencing cutbacks or those looking for a job.
Seek Creative Methods for Keeping Skills Up to Date
Take charge of your own development. If your company is unable to sponsor formal training programs such as Project Management Professional (PMP), Professional Engineer, or Six Sigma Blackbelt certification, mine your company itself and local chapters of professional societies for self-directed and on-the-job learning opportunities.
Have informal conversations with company leaders about development and how it's going.
Seek learning opportunities by broadening your job scope. Show an interest in job rotations, international assignments, or by attending meetings that don't directly relate to a current position.
Look for new experiences that are challenging and motivational. Those that allow you to grow and handle greater scale or scope (larger budgets, staff, more activities and complexity) may help label you as having high potential for a leadership position in the future.
Joe Lampinen, director and engineering product manager with Kelly Services, Inc., New York, NY, says "It's also worthwhile to evaluate opportunities to change industries or functional roles. For example, consider switching from mechanical design engineering to quality engineering."
Seek a mentor. Wise coaching or mentorship can help develop better leadership affiliations and achievements. In addition to seeking new knowledge, mentors can help engineers seek new ideas and understanding, and provide feedback.
A formal program is not needed, and potential mentors may be as close as your current company or professional society. Offering to stay in touch by Skype or telephone may help fit mentoring meetings into busy schedules as well.
Follow Companies Online
Find websites with relevant job listings or industry news, and use an RSS feed reader such as Google Reader to track updates to the sites as they appear online.
Download and use mobile apps that keep track of custom job searches on relevant engineering sites such as Dice.
Click "Follow Company" on LinkedIn for a fast way to research company locations, updates, and much more about its employees. LinkedIn displays who at the company are alumni of the college you attended, who have recently left the company, who have new titles or have departed, and suggests similar companies that may be of interest. It also displays where company employees worked previously or went to school, and provides news highlights.
Click "Follow Company" on Twitter to receive relevant, targeted company updates, news, and job postings. Use Twitter's "similar user" suggestions to research other potential companies, blogs, or related divisions that provide a deeper look into people and opportunities there.
Consider Going Back to School
If you have been out of work for a long time or need updated skills, continuing your education may increase job prospects in your current field or allow you to enter a different, growing industry with more opportunities.
- Look for grants, scholarships, and financial aid for STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and math) to ease the financial burden.
- Seek specialized programs that make it easier to return to school, such as for returning adults, veterans, and growing industries such as renewable energy.
- Consider attending schools online to include opportunities beyond your physical location through Internet-based courses.
Stay Positive – The Numbers Are Looking Up For Engineers
Finally, job seekers, stay positive. Despite the economic woes, there are more engineering jobs now than last year, and more than in 2009. TechAmerica's 2011 Midyear Jobs Report showed that the jobs that were lost in 2010 have materialized in 2011.
With their recent Q3 numbers, the Bureau of Labor Statistics also reports that engineering and specifically mechanical engineering jobs are increasing (in its "2011 Current Population Survey" detailed occupation report). Of the approximately 300,000 mechanical engineers in the U.S., the rate of unemployed has declined from the height of the recession in 2009, and is heading toward 2007 pre-recessional levels.
Debbie Sniderman holds an MENG from Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. She is an independent writer and regular contributor to Mechanical Engineering.
If you have been out of work for a long time or need updated skills, continuing your education may increase job prospects in your current field.