Project management: start with your career

Every organisation needs good project management: the bathrooms at the Commonwealth Games athletes' village could tell you that. But could it be your way into work?

If anyone were to question the natural aptitude engineers have for project management, they only need to turn the clock back almost 40 years to 1972, and the INTERNET World Congress Conference. 

For it was here that a group of esteemed British engineers and managers formed INTERNET UK, which later went on to become the Association of Project Managers (in 1975) and, latterly, the Association for Project Management (APM).

Project management is reportedly one of the world’s fastest growing professions. Scott Walkinshaw (pictured), head of marketing at the APM, says the discipline is increasingly being adopted as a career of first choice across all sectors of industry while Duncan Verry, strategic development director at global HR services group Penna, adds that it is also one of the most eminently transferable skills in the world today. 

Route into work

For a young engineer who might be considering alternative routes into the world of work, project management is potentially an attractive option. It needn’t be a career diversion because the skills you learn can be directly applied to engineering and the experience is likely to significantly enhance your CV.   

“There is a high demand for effective project managers in all sectors; however, as engineering projects are getting bigger, more ambitious, more complicated and are under greater scrutiny, the demand for effective project management grows,” says Walkinshaw, who adds that many people with an engineering background go on to become project managers as part of a natural progression. “Undoubtedly, many go on to be very successful.”  

With many projects driving business and organisational change, the other advantages of pursuing project management are the exposure and experience it can give you in the wider organisational picture.

“Projects are usually cross-functional and offer the individual a chance to learn about different departments, products and processes, plus sometimes [to] work with senior people from other areas of an organisation,” says Duncan Verry.

Change is good

“And because projects always deliver change in some shape or form, valuable experience can be gained which will stand an individual in good stead, whatever career path they follow.”  

For those students considering remaining in education until the job market picks up, a formal qualification in project management may be worth considering. Steve Barron, director of the MSc in project management at the University of Lancaster, says alumni go on to work for corporates and industry at management level, but those who ideally want an engineering role also require project management skills “in order to manage their work”. 

Design and test

He reckons most engineers find aspects of project management easy, as they recognise the design and testing components of any good project. 

“They have an inherent ability to apply themselves to project management,” he says. “We do look at engineering type projects as part of the examples we use so they would find it very comfortable to come on the programme.”  

Individuals considering undertaking a qualification or role in project management should be aware that while a natural synergy with engineering exists, they need to scrutinise what it entails to determine whether it is for them or not. 

People or problems?

Barron points out that projects are “a lot about people” and while he acknowledges some engineers have excellent people skills, others who don’t can experience difficulties, “as people aren’t quite as deterministic as scientific problems”. He stresses, though, that the Lancaster programme does train students to work with people as well as projects. 

Additionally, Walkinshaw advises individuals to consider the different competencies that managing a project demands, against an engineering role. “In particular, that project management is a management role providing co-ordination, facilitation and leadership,” he explains. “As an engineer managing engineering projects it is easy to slip into a managing-doing role which may prevent you from covering the full project management remit.” APM does offer a competence framework to help would-be project managers assess whether they have the right competencies.   

For more information on Lancaster, check out its YouTube pages on its Project Management MSc, or take a look at their website.

And you can find the Association for Project Management website.

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