Compared to many other industries, engineering is a very specialized field.
Not only are applied science degrees much more focused than other undergraduate degrees, but most engineering jobs require very specific skills and knowledge. Some of this knowledge can be learned while in school, but most of it must be learned while on the job.
In order to make the most of your career as an engineer, however, it’s necessary to balance job-specific skills with career skills.
By career skills, we mean broadly transferable skills, both engineering and non-engineering in nature, that can be used effectively across various jobs and industries.
Let’s examine the importance of both specialized job skills and career skills in helping you grow your career:
The benefits of specialization
First, let’s talk a bit about why it’s important for an engineer to develop a specialized skillset.
In general, the more specialized one becomes, the less competition there is for one’s job. Engineers who develop highly advanced skills in very specific fields can eventually find themselves niche roles within their organizations.
A niche role is a job that is crucial for a company’s success but that is also extremely specialized, which means that few people will have the training and experience necessary to perform this job correctly. As long as their roles exist, engineers employed in niche jobs have excellent job security.
If they do find themselves out of a job, however, extremely-specialized engineers can have a hard time finding other work due to their narrow skillset. This is why it’s also important for engineers to broaden their knowledge base to include more general skills and expertise.
How to broaden your skillset while still in school
Most undergraduate engineering programs require you to take a certain number of elective courses in order to fulfill your degree requirements.
Consider taking non-engineering courses that can help you develop a more complete and well-rounded education. For example, courses like English, History, or Political Science can help you improve your writing skills, while language classes can help you learn a second language and drama classes can help sharpen your public speaking and oral communication skills. All of these courses can help you develop soft skills that can give you a competitive advantage over your colleagues both when applying for jobs and when navigating the workplace.
It’s common for students to try and take the easiest electives available to boost their GPAs, but if you take some time to think about what classes can help you fill any skill deficiencies that you posses then you can really help your career in the long run.
How to broaden your skillset while in the workforce
Once you’ve entered the workforce, it can sometimes be difficult to find the time to learn new skills when you’re already busy with your regular job duties. However, there are some relatively easy ways in which you can diversify your skillset while not sacrificing too much of your precious time.
Consider the importance of software applications like Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Visio and AutoCAD in the day-to-day life of an engineer. People often underestimate the pervasiveness of these programs as workplace tools. Almost all engineers will at some point in their careers be required to use one or more of these applications, and so moderate to advanced proficiency in these programs is generally expected by employers.
Given their widespread use across the engineering field, most engineers have at least a working knowledge of the above-mentioned applications. This knowledge can sometimes be quite incomplete, however, since most universities don’t offer formal training in Excel, Visio, or AutoCAD. You might have advanced knowledge of particular aspects of these programs (those which you use on a regular basis), but then lack other basic skills.
In order to round out your skills, consider registering for online training courses. Many employers will be willing to pay for online courses if you can demonstrate that formal training is cheaper and less time-consuming than learning through trial and error. Failing that, it’s always worth it to browse through the many free tutorials available online in order to fill in any gaps in your knowledge.
It can take a bit of time and money, but putting in the effort to become more familiar with these basic programs can open up many potential job opportunities and make you much more versatile in the workforce.