While novice engineers in Australia can acquire all the technical knowledge they need for their career by training at some of the country’s world-class tertiary institutions, they also need to acquire other practical business skills in order to reach their full potential in the workplace.
Engineering firms are becoming increasingly aware of the need for their staff to possess a wide range of key practical skills in addition to strong technical ability, with some companies making training in this area a mandatory part of their graduate programs.
Joshua Hockey, Advanced Analysis Engineer with Ergon Energy, said that when he first joined the Queensland power company he received training in business and leadership skills alongside the technical instruction traditionally provided to new recruits.
“As a graduate electrical engineer with Ergon Energy you do six month rotations into different parts of the business to learn technical skills,” said Hockey.
“Ergon also wanted us to develop other non-technical abilities however, and for this reason we took part in Engineering Education Australia’s Engineering Graduate Program, that covers things like finance and project management, as well as writing and communications skills.
“You go through university and learn all the technical knowledge to do your job, but you then need to acquire the skills needed to negotiate the workplace and communicate your knowledge to the people who are going to support it.”
Hockey said that the practical skills he acquired from the graduate program have greatly enhanced his ability to make a positive contribution to the workplace.
“These days engineers spend most of their time writing emails and speaking to people over the phone, so I’ve found the training I received in communication skills to be highly relevant to my day-to-day work."
“Engineers need to be able to engage with people and stakeholders in particular – work out what they need and what information is relevant to them, as well as how to provide it to them.
“Conversely, you also need to be able to get the information you need from other people very quickly, and know how to listen to and understand them.”
Strong communication skills can help engineers develop far more quickly once they enter the workforce, by enabling them to derive greater benefit from the knowledge of their colleagues.
“One of the first things we covered in the EEA program was mentoring - how to interact and engage with a mentor and what their responses are likely to be,” said Hockey. “This skill is invaluable in learning how to gain knowledge from other engineers.”
Training in finance and project management also enables engineers to gain a better perspective on their role within a broader business context, instead of remaining narrowly focused on their own technical specialisation.
“It’s important for engineers to understand how their work fits into the bigger picture of project management, and how to achieve a balance between costs and design.
“This helps you understand how to approach being a part of the workforce, and make a positive contribution to the projects you’re working on.”
The EEA graduate program also starts a graduate on their way to their Chartered Status, an international recognised credential. Engineering is a global profession, today engineers compete globally even if they never leave their desk. A solid graduate program including Chartered Status is essential for all new engineers to ensure they are competitive in the global marketplace.