We are in the midst of economic recalibration. No surprises there. For engineers who remain employed by the same companies they worked for in 2009, congratulations. For those engineers displaced in 2009, many of you have started your own consulting practices or are seeking in a new position. And while I wish you all best of luck, there is more than luck involved, regardless of whether your workplace is your employer’s office or your home office.
What does it take to survive in the 2010 engineering workplace? There are many how-to business books and engineering blogs, including this one, that consider this important question. Engineering schools are pondering just what engineering education looks like in 2010 and onward. Professional development is a function of what you learned in school combined with implementing self-realization after you graduate.
In other words, what do you need to know to be effective within the CONTEXT in which you practice engineering?
CONTEXT is important. It affects personal output and productivity. CONTEXT defines the types of decisions we make on behalf of our clients and ourselves. Let’s face it, we don’t make decisions in a vacuum.
Survival of the fittest within the context of the workplace involves consistency. And I’m not talking about the rate of adoption of herd mentality. While it’s been said that corporations foster individuals falling in the middle of the performance curve, 2009 taught us that mediocrity doesn’t afford anyone a hiding place. Engineers who felt their post-graduate degrees and certifications would insure job security were displaced. Engineers hiding in the middle of the curve were thrust into business development roles to pick up the slack of displaced individuals at their companies.
Survival of the fittest within the workplace involves incorporating new skill sets, to the best of everyone’s ability, into the existing framework of the engineering mindset. Now that’s a lot to think about.
Survival of the fittest within the workplace incorporates cross-training your brain and engaging in risk taking, even when all the factors impacting decision making haven’t been defined. And this mindset goes against the grain of the tactical discipline required of engineering mindset.
Survival of the fittest within the workplace implies the engineer assumes responsibility for his/her continuing education and professional development. Yes, you read that correctly. It’s your responsibility. Your organization may recognize and support continuing education courses or certifications. However, you may need to self-finance your continuing education, presenting a short-term economic downside on your part, for longer term gain in terms of career development.
Survival of the fittest within the workplace demands a different relationship between students and educators, depending on the nature of – and the timing of – a student’s post graduate education. Not every engineering student is going to be able to afford a straight shot from undergrad through graduate and post-graduate studies. And not every engineering student has a clear-cut sense of self, their true area of specialization or “what they really want to be when they grow up.”
Survival of the fittest within the context of the workplace involves becoming a perpetual student – or at least making the commitment to becoming a life-long learner. Whether you are white collar or blue collar, work in a machine shop or own the machine shop – or have a dream about buying the machine shop in which you work – success involves placing a premium in self-improvement and continuous learning .
And continuous learning includes picking up the newspaper (hard copy or via Internet) and reading about industry trends and, well, news.
We need to broaden our CONTEXTS. We all need to become better at learning and connecting the dots, and not just those in front of our professional noses. We need to understand the interrelationship between what we read, professionally, and what we hear in terms of news. Have you ever considered the impact of discussing the daily news with folks over lunch – presenting your opinion and defending or challenging or building upon an idea? That lunchtime discussion group can become the fulcrum for continuing education, not to mention improved skill sets in terms of communication and presentation.
Survival of the fittest within the workplace doesn’t have to feel like a continuous uphill battle. It’s where and how you seek knowledge, constantly, and how you incorporate it, that can make a tremendous difference in who you are. Being a lifelong learner has to do with being curious and inquisitive, and engaging with others . Ultimately one’s ability to interact leads to confidence and personal development.
Life long learning is not performance art. Some folks treat their workplace demeanor like an ongoing act to sustain their employment. Life long learning is not taking one course after another – in a vacuum – and rarely sharing insights with others in an open, non-academic setting.
Think about it. Read the news. Pick up a book. Engage in discussions and dialectics. Make life long learning part of your personal culture. I guarantee you will be more interesting to yourself, as well as your co-workers.
Does this sound like survival of the fittest within the workplace? I don’t think so.
Sounds more like the habits of an individual who is interested in learning about and from others. That’s a person I want to get to know. That’s a person I want to collaborate with.
What are you waiting for?
Babette N. Ten Haken, Founder & President of Sales Aerobics for Engineers®, LLC, brings entrepreneurial mojo and business- and revenue-producing collaboration and communication tools to small and mid-sized businesses and startups. She was named one of the Top 50 Sales & Marketing Influencers 2013. Her book, Do YOU Mean Business? focuses on technical / non-technical collaboration strategies and tools.