The demand for skilled engineering professionals is rising; according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost 140,000 new engineering jobs are expected in the next six years. And as more engineers enter the field and the industry continues to evolve, so will the career opportunities and the needs of employers.
In order to stay competitive in an ever-changing job market with increasing demand, both aspiring engineers and current engineers looking to advance in their field will need to display a strong and diverse skillset. While the specific and technical skills required for the job will vary by the different types of engineering, the core soft skills and competencies are similar across all the engineering disciplines. Some of the top skills for engineers are:
- Math and scientific problem-solving
- Technology skills, such as understanding various scientific and analytical software programs
- Critical thinking
- Strong and effective communication
- Working well under pressure
- Creative thinking
In addition to their highly technical knowledge and expertise, the most successful engineers in the industry also demonstrate a wide variety of strong soft skills, which help them stay competitive and advance their careers. Today, it’s important for engineers to gain experience and develop important basic business skills to add to their skillset.
How Business and Engineering Overlap
Like many professions, there’s far more that goes into building a successful engineering career than technical knowledge alone. There’s a business side to engineering that also needs to be considered; as engineers advance to more senior positions, they will gain more responsibilities, which could be in the form of managing projects, teams and budgets. In order to both reach these more senior positions and ensure that they are able to perform their duties effectively, engineers need to demonstrate a strong set of business skills. As an engineer moves up the career ladder, it is not unusual for them to use fewer engineering skills and more business skills. Click here to learn more about the important soft skills for engineering management.
So, what exactly are the business skills that every engineer needs?
Since the work that an engineer does is often very technical, it’s not uncommon for it to be harder for others in the company to understand the true impact that the engineers have. Effective, strong communication skills allow engineers to translate technical topics into layman’s terms that everybody across the organization can easily understand. Being able to present well-articulated ideas and support them across the business is crucial to success.
Listening skills are equally important as engineers will often need to follow detailed instructions; making mistakes when taking in information could lead to serious future problems with a project. Engineers need to quickly learn how to not only listen attentively when communicating but understand the importance of asking for clarification as and when it is needed.
Many engineering graduates start out with aspirations of moving up the ladder in their career or organization, eventually managing and leading teams, projects, and more. In order to successfully achieve this, it’s important for engineers to have a good grasp of essential management skills, including:
- Leadership skills
- Organizational skills
- How to motivate and influence colleagues
- How to effectively implement strategies
While most graduate engineers tend to begin their careers in an entry-level engineering position, moving up through the ranks will usually involve some management responsibilities. As engineers gain experience and become more skilled at what they do, they are usually trusted with managing teams, projects, and other aspects of the business. Having a good grasp of how to lead by inspiring and motivating others, along with other vital skills like strong communication skills, will allow engineers to demonstrate their skills as a manager and excel as they move up the career ladder.
On a day to day basis, the job of an engineer often revolves around solving a variety of complex problems. However, it can often be easy to end up getting lost in the intricate details of these issues, rather than seeing the bigger picture and allowing creative thinking to take over.
However, a huge percentage of executives agree that creativity and creative thinking can massively benefit companies, leading to a greater market share and increased revenue. Despite this, over half of the business leaders wouldn’t describe their companies as creative.
Engineers will have a competitive advantage in the job market if they have:
- A strong vision for design
- Innovative and creative ideas
- The ability to think outside of the box
- The ability to creatively come up with new or alternative solutions to a problem
As an engineer, you have a freedom that’s seldom found in STEM careers to bring your own ideas to the table, innovate, and think outside of the box. Engineering is a career in which you will often be spending a lot of time working on new products and technologies that have never been seen or used before, and there will be countless opportunities for you to put your own creative stamp on the work that you do.
A basic understanding of financial accounting can go a long way in the engineering industry. This knowledge can not only help engineers better measure the impact that their work has in terms of revenue, but also make it easier for them to control the cost of the projects that they lead or work on, with a greater appreciation for the overall budget of the organization.
Engineers might often find themselves in situations where they must regularly communicate with the financial team in order to track expenses and set budgets; learning more about the financial side of things, coupled with intricate engineering knowledge and problem-solving abilities, will make it much easier for engineers and financial professionals to communicate more effectively.
Gaining a basic grasp of accounting should not be too difficult for engineers who already naturally have strong mathematical and numerical skills. You may consider taking a short online accounting course to help you better understand accounting basics and make it easier to liaise with financial professionals in the workplace.
As technology continues to have a massive impact on almost every industry worldwide, the engineers set to advance the furthest and enjoy the most success in their chosen career are those who are able to spot emerging opportunities quickly, and validate their ideas.
Today, we have an ever increasingly complex business environment the world over, and companies will not thrive if they continue approaching issues in the same way as before. It’s often engineers who play a hugely vital role in problem-solving and coming up with new ideas, technologies, and techniques to find solutions to problems both as and before they arise.
Engineers who go far in their profession are bound to be those who are able to quickly spot problems before they begin to affect others, allowing companies to begin production of solutions. Often, engineers are working on solutions to problems that people didn’t even realize that they had.
In order to achieve business goals, engineers will often have to work alongside multiple departments and teams. And the more people that are involved in the decision-making process for a company, the more likely it is that a negotiation will be needed.
In engineering, having a better understanding of the intricacies of negotiation and learning valuable negotiation skills will help engineers get better results from selling their ideas and winning over the approval of the organization. They will need to:
- Understand and appreciate the goals of each stakeholder
- Build trust among key decision-makers
- Successfully navigate and understand the emotions that can often arise during these types of discussions
- Know how to secure the best deal for the organization
In an age where we are relying more heavily than before on artificial intelligence, ethical questions are becoming both more complex and more commonplace. For example, how should a social network determine which content is shown to a certain audience? Are there any biases present in the algorithms? What level of transparency is needed?
As a whole, engineers build and develop products that often have a direct impact on society. As ethical questions increase, it will only become more important that engineers are able to approach each problem that they solve in an ethical manner and with integrity, doing what is right for both the business and the end-user.
Finally, whether an engineer aspires to launch their own business or is seeking a lucrative career in the employment of other companies, networking is a vital business skill that can have many benefits to their professional career. Networking might not be a skill that comes naturally to everybody, but you can master networking with a bit of practice. Don’t underestimate the power of making connections with other professionals in the industry. Many engineers find job or business opportunities through networking, and it can also help expand technical knowledge through the advice of others.
For a highly technical STEM career, success as an engineer requires a lot of business skills. Since engineers tend to use these business skills more as they move further up the ranks, improving them now will help you propel your career to success.