Jobs in engineering are some of the most in-demand and highest paying in the world, filled by the best innovators, designers and creators. Engineering is also a broad industry with diverse areas of specialization including electrical, chemical, mechanical, aeronautical, civil, software, robotics, biological, materials science, and nuclear engineering. Despite this diversity, all engineering firms seek out similar attributes and qualifications in their new hires, and there are a number of common skills that are useful right across the entire spectrum of engineering. Here are 10 such skills to focus on developing in your engineering career to maximize your commercial value and future income. These integral skills fall primarily into three categories: those regarding intellect, character and people.
1. Maintaining Up-to-date Technical Knowledge
Up-to-date technical knowledge and skills are the main skillset that engineering recruiters are looking for. You will spend at least four years in college and perhaps a couple more doing a Master’s degree to acquire the necessary skillset to qualify as an engineer in your desired field. If you can graduate from a top university that will also add valuable branding to your name.
Even so, your engineering education will not end there. First and foremost, experience on the job will add to your value. There is nothing that an employer values more than a proven track record of success. It is important to also recognize that every field of engineering is an evolving discipline with new technologies and methodologies being developed all the time. Therefore, to stay at the top of your game you will need to keep on top of industry news, trends, and scientific research.
Likewise, continuing education will be crucial to maintaining your professional certifications as well as your competitive edge and value to employers. You may even consider getting certified in new technologies and up-and-coming areas to help maintain and expand your commercial value. Recruiters and hiring managers like to see that you are capable of and willing to undertake additional technical training, since different companies often use different software and systems that you will have to get to grips with if you work for them. Speaking of which, engineering is becoming ever more aligned with computer technology, and as a result if you are an engineer with programming skills you will be well positioned to integrate complex machine systems and run valuable simulations. On the same token, employers are on the lookout for applicants who possess specific technical skills, so do your research and make sure that you are the perfect fit for your prospective employer.
2. Problem Solving
Possessing good problem solving skills is crucial in engineering roles. As an engineer, you must be able to identify, analyze, and solve complex problems, and you must be able to do so quickly in urgent situations. It is especially valuable to be able to anticipate problems before they arise. This is not something that can be learned overnight or from academic study alone. You can only learn these skills by experience. Of course, your education will help you apply relevant theories and formulas to a particular situation, but experience acquired either from your own trial and error or the advice of an expert mentor will serve as the best guidance. Learn from these sources and your problem solving abilities will continue to grow.
3. Critical Thinking
To think critically it is important to develop a solid sense of reality and trust in your own abilities. It is also crucial to not be distracted by trendy ideas with no substance, but rather to focus on the principles that have withstood the test of time. The knowledge acquired throughout your education and career to-date forms the basis of the core understanding needed to evaluate situations correctly. Being critical also means not taking information at face value, digging deeper, and not necessarily accepting the opinions of others when they contradict your own judgment, even if they come from putative ‘experts’. These capabilities will hold you in good stead not only in your career, but also in other aspects of your life such as health choices and investing.
4. Attention to Detail
Attention to detail, being responsible, reliable and conscientious, and having a focused, orderly and organized mind is vital in engineering practice. This is true in regard to your measurements, calculations, applying the correct safety margins, specifying the right materials and manufacturing processes, and even double-checking that what you have specified is actually what is being used on your project. In many fields of engineering such as civil and aeronautics, lives are also at stake in your assessments, and a single mistake can irreparably injure your company’s brand image and reputation, overriding decades of good customer relations or even compromising the financial viability of the entire company – not to mention damage to your personal reputation and future employability. Therefore becoming exacting and systematic in your work is a valuable attribute to cultivate for any aspiring engineer.
To help cultivate this skill, it is crucial to develop systems for checking your work. One useful exercise is to record every instance where you have made a mistake or missed an important detail in dedicated journal, and as you work, periodically refer back to it to ensure that you never make the same mistake twice. In essence, you are learning how you make mistakes, and through introspection and conscious effort are systematically correcting any faulty thought processes. This practice is also a useful tool when preparing for exams!
It may not at first seem that engineering is a field in which creative ability would be highly valued, but nothing could be further from the truth. As any engineer will tell you, the ability to think creatively is key in dealing with novel situations, and you will constantly encounter situations as an engineer that you didn’t learn about in your textbooks, and which perhaps no one else has ever been confronted with. Being an engineer is about innovating and building things which have never existed before. When problems arise and the prescribed solution; (i) can’t be administered, (ii) fails to work, or (iii) doesn’t yet exist, it is crucial to be able to solve the issue in front of you in a novel way. A creative mind will be able to combine prior experiences in original ways to formulate a practical solution. To add to this, possessing good spatial intelligence is a huge asset which will help you visualize an entire device, structure, system, or process in your head before putting pen to paper to design it.
If you do not consider yourself a creative person yet, don’t despair. Your creative ability will improve with practice and through exposure to those who have it already. Moreover, mastery leads to creativity. So keep at it, and with the right guidance and determination you too will develop this valuable skill.
Resilience is another important skill in any walk of life. To become an engineer requires years of dedicated training in mathematics and depending on your specialization, also physics, chemistry, biology, electronics, computer programming, robotics, and more. Even if you are naturally gifted in math and science, mastering these subjects takes perseverance and mental fortitude.
A key skill along these lines is pressure management. Engineering projects can be challenging, so being reliable under stress and having the ability to deliver in difficult situations is essential. The nature of engineering also means that you can be on call 24 hours a day, which can be taxing. When a key component fails or a safety issue is identified, you will be in a race against the clock to come up with a solution. Even where you don’t find yourself on call, engineering jobs can be equally demanding in other ways, including long hours and potentially tedious repetition and scrutiny of minutiae. However, if you have what it takes to become an engineer, adversity will only strengthen your resolve and you will keep moving forward regardless of any obstacles.
7. Passion and Enthusiasm
Passion and enthusiasm is essential if you are trying to achieve anything great. In engineering, enthusiasm will help you to log the long hours necessary to get to grips with complex mathematics, and will give you the stamina to keep working on lofty goals when others would have given up. Enthusiasm is also contagious, and is an attribute that is attractive to your colleagues and desirable in leaders. So if you want to work as an engineer be sure to constantly express how much you love it!
Although engineering is a highly technical discipline that is often practiced individually at a desk or on a computer, engineering projects always start and end with human discussion and collaboration. Therefore it is no surprise that one of the most sought after skills that engineering firms demand is the ability to communicate effectively. Like many others in technical fields engineers sometimes have a bad reputation for lacking communication skills. However, it is vital as an engineer to be able to communicate and listen, in order to ensure that client needs are correctly understood and any personal or technical issues that arise in a project are resolved quickly. A proficient engineer with expert communication skills is a rare and valuable commodity, and will have a distinct advantage in the marketplace.
Great communication skills are needed in effective brainstorming, project meetings, designing products and, of course, problem solving. Engineers interact with clients and colleagues at all levels of the organization and misunderstandings can lead to big problems. Moreover, as the scale and complexity of engineering projects have grown, so too has the range of necessary interactions within project teams and between stakeholders.
Engineers must also be well versed in switching between different forms of communication depending on their audience, including technical versus non-technical language, and different modalities including oral, written, online, in-person, and public speaking. Given the multinational nature of many top engineering firms and projects, mastery of a foreign language is useful, and it is certain that you will have to become comfortable with virtual meetings and discussions. It is even likely that a virtual interview will comprise at least one stage of your recruitment process.
Few engineering projects will see an engineer working on their own without the assistance of co-workers or outside professional advisors. Teamwork skills are therefore essential for ensuring efficient cooperation and maintaining a harmonious work environment. Collaborating with teammates, motivating and appreciating each other, and resolving any tensions or conflicts in a productive way is critical in succeeding as a unit and performing to your highest combined ability. If you are not yet comfortable socializing and working with other people, seize opportunities wherever you can to practice your social skills and challenge yourself by working in teams.
As in all professional fields, leadership is a key quality in the modern world of engineering. Businesses want to hire people who are self-starters and want to work their way up and add value to the organization. Engineers are given different responsibilities depending on their level of experience, but no matter their role, to be successful they need to develop their skills as leaders and managers.
As a leader, engineers need to be able to assess their team-members’ strengths and allocate available manpower to build an efficient team. Part of this skill involves being able to identify which team members have the most expertise in a given facet of the project, and like a good economist ensuring that there is an efficient division of labor through proper delegation. This will include making sure that everyone’s role is clearly defined, that they have objective milestones they are expected to reach, and that each team member is held accountable at key touchpoints to ensure timely progress and that additional guidance can be provided as needed. When the project is over, constructive feedback should be dispensed.
Leaders also need to be able to motivate others if they want them to follow their guidance, while at the same time getting along with others and building a cohesive team. If you are not in a leadership position in a given role or project, you must learn how to be a good follower, following instructions precisely, but also speaking up and adding necessary input to a situation when it is called for. The most important leadership skill however is taking initiative. Everyone wants to work with someone who takes on difficult problems, especially those that haven't materialized yet, and proactively looks for solutions. Leadership is a never-ending path and the ultimate marker of success on your personal development journey.
Well there you have it, 10 skills for becoming a successful engineer. As in many other disciplines, your career prospects, future income, and social status in engineering will be in large part determined by where you attained your engineering degree from. To get into the most prestigious university you can and maximize your outcomes while there, it is critical that you seek out the best mentors. For many students currently in middle school or even high school, it can be difficult to identify such mentors and find opportunities to learn from them. While it is unlikely that your school will have the kind of engineering mentors necessary to achieve elite results in the field, no matter where you are, one stellar way to ensure you start off on the right foot and begin learning from the best is to join a summer program offering this experience. At World Scholars Academy we offer Engineering, Computer Science, and Mathematics summer courses, and Internships taught by world-leading professional scholars hand-selected for their ability to raise their students to elite levels of performance. If you want to maximize your potential and are keen to invest in your future, we would love to have you join us. All the best as you engineer your ideal future!