Welcome to Thomas Insights — every day, we publish the latest news and analysis to keep our readers up to date on what’s happening in industry. Sign up here to get the day’s top stories delivered straight to your inbox.
According to a Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA survey, 33% of college freshmen plan to major in science or engineering. For those students who successfully graduate and go on to pursue a role in those fields, employment competition is steep and finding their dream career can be an uphill battle.
To help young engineers navigate their paths to future career success, we asked some of the industry’s outstanding young professionals, our NextGen for Industry winners, for their advice on how to fast-track your way to long-term career success.
1. Go Above and Beyond Your Job Description
Extending your scope of influence beyond the job description and contributing to other departments can make a huge impact, says Arek Gdowski, an engineer at Dehumidifier Corporation of America, Inc. (DCA). He not only develops engineering solutions within DCA but also helps out in the I.T. department.
“You would think you’re just going to focus on engineering only, and you’re just going to do your one [role] – but it doesn’t end there, it goes outside the box,” he says. “You quickly understand that you really don’t have just one job – you have many.”
Gdowski also urges young engineers to be outspoken to set themselves apart from colleagues and accomplish more by presenting new approaches or solutions to challenges.
“Don’t be afraid to speak out and say your new ideas, because many of the things I thought were just an idea that came to mind suddenly became a reality,” Gdowski says. “Take that step and don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid of failure, because you will fail many times before you succeed.”
2. Work Collaboratively
Rachel Pacheco, a chemical engineer and senior manufacturing manager at Genomatica, says that working collaboratively is the key to being effective and successful within not only your engineering job but any role across disciplines.
“Communication is the center of everything,” Pacheco advises. “That’s understanding how much to communicate, when to communicate, [and] in what format to communicate.
On top of communication, it’s about building strong relationships,” she adds. “Especially because we work in such a multidisciplinary field, having a strong relationship with mutual respect, openness, honesty, and transparency is absolutely essential.”
Pacheco goes on to advise that these strong relationships are the platform on which you can build your career, and these connections can help you further develop your skills, approach challenges in a new way, and eventually move up in the ranks within your company.
3. Stay Focused on the Task at Hand
Despite Gdowski’s larger scope of influence within his company, he understands the weight of his responsibilities and urges young professionals to stay focused on what’s in front of them.
“You’ve got to take one project at a time. The brain can’t focus on many things; there’s no such thing as multitasking,” he says. “You have to focus on one thing, finish that one, and then move to the next one.”
Gdowski cites balancing his responsibilities as one of the biggest challenges of his job and encourages engineers to ask for help if they need it.
4. Find a Mentor
According to Gallup, employee friendships in the workplace can lead to reduced safety incidents, more engaged employees and customers, and higher profits. These relationships can also turn into mentorships, resulting in continued professional development outside of formal training programs and an improved understanding of a company’s culture.
At DCA and other industrial companies, Gdowski says there are often team members “[who] will guide you… [who] will teach you.” Gdowski notes that these collaborative mentorships don’t need to be with someone directly above you since everyone is working toward the same goal of success.
“The connections between every part of our business make it easy as well because everybody is trying to help everybody else,” he says. “Nobody is trying to work against somebody else; we’re working together as a team.”
While this may seem like more of a one-sided relationship, professionals like Joel Stone, a previous Champion for Industry winner nicknamed the “Gandalf of Industrial Biotechnology,” enjoys sharing his passion and inspiring future scientists and engineers by speaking at conferences.
“Inspiring younger professionals and letting them know that there’s someone with experience that’s willing to help keeps me going,” he explains.
5. Be Motivated by More Than a Paycheck
While having a job may be important to help you support the other areas of your life financially, it shouldn’t be the only reason for pursuing your chosen career.
Pacheco says her passion for biotechnology goes beyond what she’s earning at the end of the week. She urges young professionals to consider this not only in biotechnology but across every discipline.
“A lot of us aren’t doing what we’re doing for big paychecks,” she explains. “We’re doing it because it’s something we’re really passionate about and it’s a cause that we believe in.”
While as a fresh engineer you may not always feel this level of passion in your early roles, it’s important to use that motivation to push yourself toward success in the future.
While Gdowski didn’t necessarily love his first job at a graphics company, he used the opportunity as a starting point for his longer-term career path by securing residency in the U.S. The role, which required 12-hour shifts, was “just labor work,” Gdowski says. “You just work on the machine, either press or finishing parts. I think four [months] we worked… It’s really hard work.”
However, he used the job as a chance to demonstrate his dedication and work ethic, working harder than his coworkers and using his two months of vacation to continue putting in time on the machine line. He says his career path “found him” as a result; he landed his current position at DCA six months after his first job ended.
Image Credit: Phovoir / Shutterstock