How YOU could be holding back your mechanical engineering career

  • The reality of life outside the classroom is one of the first lessons you will learn and you won’t forget it
  • A career in mechanical design engineering based purely on money is one that is almost certain to be limited in longevity and success
  • Live and learn, build your reputation and opportunities and money will surely flow - success breeds success
  • When deciding your next career move, listen to others by all means but do your own research - make up your own mind

Whatever career you choose, the chances are you will initially struggle with many common issues that every job seeker faces. The market, wages and the nature of the tasks you can do vs what is requested, are just a few of them. However, there is another set of issues that many people fail to pick-up on. In fact, they can prove critical in the case of entry levels: hindering your career progression, whether knowingly or not.

One thing you will learn after years of work and interacting with different people (in different environments) is the limitations or conditions you put on yourself. This is before you even get anywhere near that precious interview. In the mechanical design engineering industry such mistakes have a strong impact. It’s not like you will be regularly carryout the same work process, or even work within the same frame of thought, project or even tools. In order to prepare for a demanding career there are a number of issues you need to face, in effect facing your own shortfalls.

Second-tier feedback/unreliable sources

While job hunting, young aspiring engineers tend to listen to rumors rather than facts and figures, often from those seemingly in the know (but are they?). Those entering the workforce are often very quick to believe what they hear without checking. A friend of a friend reported that the wages are following such and such a trend. How did they get such detail? What field are they working in? Why would they be talking about such private information?

It is fair to use this as a starting point but surely this information needs to be verified rather than embraced at face value? Is the person a senior in the field? Are they seasoned, versatile and experienced? Probably not – whoever is feeding entry levels this information is unlikely to have access to such detail. Similar to criminals injecting themselves into a crime scene, they often love the attention. It may not even be actual people with diversified perspectives on the job market. It could be a simple overheard conversation at some hangout for hot heads or professionals barely dipping their toes in the water. This can be extremely dangerous as this initial information tends to shape the way we think, create the base from which we move forward. This now brings us on to a very important subject…

Do you know your market?

You might think you know the set of skills you need, the tasks you will be doing and the wage structure, but do you? That false information you gathered from a friend of a friend has created an imaginary scenario which does not exist. You can see for yourself how this will set you up for an epic failure when job hunting and even in interviews?

Many freshly graduated students dream of building an aircraft – the kind of projects they were doing as freshmen. Putting together a groundbreaking model of a turbo-engine and designing new wings which will change the world. These expectations can be wild and very ambitious but the reality of the industry is drastically different. Building an aircraft doesn’t take place on the university campus, its takes thousands of designers throughout the globe. Each team working on components prior to bringing them together to assemble.

Reality of life outside the classroom

As you look into big companies and riskier industries, there is no such thing as teams of up to four people that come up with the breakthrough complex parts. Reality is very different to the classroom, where everything is theoretical and little ever gets tested in real life. The proof of concepts are already there and perfected, building up from scratch doesn’t happen, let alone counting on one or two individuals to do so. It is team work, it is thoroughly detailed and every small part will require the full attention of a designer, from a nozzle to the shell of a compressor. These are not one person design tasks!

There are some small companies that specialize in projects which look more like freshmen creative dreams than viable large scale business models. They tend to run very tight ships, focus on specific tasks and designs within a very specialized field. Often closed shops, hiring is not frequent, the work is pretty hard and every person is packed with different tasks. Many of them do work on groundbreaking projects, ideas which might change the world but how many come to fruition? How many will actually make it to market? Very few – this is why large companies “bury their dead at night”. Meaning groundbreaking projects often disappear overnight, never to be spoken about again – no reminders of wasted time, money and effort.

Money first or career progression?

Discussing wages is tricky: should you put money before career development or career development first? If your career progresses then surely the money will follow? Companies tend to have strict salary policies depending on years of experience or areas of expertise. However, there is always space for a superstar, the next bright light who will leave their mark!

Either way, getting into a discussion over wages is often a step during which entry levels can be either too accepting or too argumentative. In reality, entry level mechanical design engineers will need to prove themselves, show their worth and open their minds to learning. Those driven by money are more likely to decline a position on finances alone. Convinced that there is a company out there that will see their potential and pay the “going rate”. It can be a fatal mistake to be the one assessing the wages you deserve. An entry level or a student unversed in the policies of wages and packages, how might they value their own worth without proper perspective? You need to appreciate the market rates, what you need to do to climb the ladder and make a start.

This doesn’t mean an entry level has to work for meager wages that don’t justify the investment in their education. Rather they need to be knowledgeable about their industry and a target company’s packages, wages and opportunities for career progression. This way, one can be reasonable while discussing wages and accepting in the fact that life outside the classroom is very different.

Creating a practical vision of what you want

Whether it is financial dependence or a sense of fulfillment, what one hopes to harness from a job will depend on one’s vision for their career. Freshly graduated mechanical design engineers often dream big and want to achieve the most. Their thirst for knowledge and learning is admirable and their aspirations can be intellectual as well as financial. Yet, when it comes to practice, when they realise the limits of their experience it can be a big shock, a blast of reality. In their mind they begin to doubt the quality of the company, the choice they made and believe they are not in the correct role for their skills.

The truth is most mechanical design engineers, if not all, start small and build up through their career. It is a steady and paced process. Those that want to be millionaires within five years or build a shuttle on their own within two years may as well have wasted their years of education. Mechanical design engineering is not a practice you pick up entirely in the classroom, it is not like accounting and there is no manual to refer to. It is a craft, a skill, that is planted and nurtured at school. Through practice and self-teaching you learn to improve, to expand and deepen your experience and thought processes. The moment you stop learning in life is the moment you lay down to die, happy and content with your life.

Fresh blood, fresh eyes and fresh thoughts

Fresh blood is needed in any industry, fresh eyes and a fresh way of thinking – that is how progress is made. However, bringing a fresh perspective and fresh thoughts is useless by itself. The technical know how, the experience and knowledge of years gone by is vital. Experience is a badge earned over time. It is not something that can be picked up from a book or during a life confined to the classroom. Your career will begin where the classroom and real life collide. How you adapt and apply yourself will determine how successful you are. Strive to improve yourself and the financial rewards will surely follow.

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