a young professional

Engineer your way into management

Boost your career opportunities by gaining management and leadership skills.

Ian Greenaway has no doubt that engineers and technologists are well placed to become the business leaders of tomorrow and are much needed in such roles.

“The ability to challenge, assess and analyse problems that you learn as an engineer are key attributes of a manager, and good engineers and technologists who can also lead and inspire others are what we need to drive the revival of manufacturing and the economy as a whole,” says the managing director of Chesterfield-based MTM Products, which manufactures labels, nameplates and vinyl decals.

Greenaway can speak with some authority on this subject: he is both a Chartered Engineer (CEng) and a Chartered Manager and is also one of the finalists in the annual Chartered Management Institute (CMI) Chartered Manager of the Year Awards. He is keen to stress though that to be a successful leader you need to build leadership as well as technical skills.

Build leadership and technical skills

“Leadership comes to some people more naturally than others but anyone who aspires to a management position should seek out the opportunity for management and leadership training,” he says. “Good training will challenge your thinking and give you the opportunity to share experiences with people from other functions and companies.”

Sadly though, it is still a part of career development that can be overlooked by employers. A spokesperson from the CMI says that its studies continue to find that poor management and leadership is holding back the UK’s economic growth.

“Nearly three quarters of employers report a deficit of management and leadership skills and only one in five of all managers are actually professionally qualified which presents a great opportunity for young people,” says the spokesperson. “The structure of organisations continues to transform and the number of jobs requiring management and leadership skills is expected to increase.”

Certainly the engineering and technology sectors have no shortage of management positions whether they mean you ultimately stay close to your original trade and, for instance, become a production manager, or make the move into more general management.

It’s never too early to start gaining this skills

It is never too early to start to build your leadership and management skills whether still studying or in the early part of your career. If you are still at college/university getting involved in clubs, playing in a team, undertaking voluntary work or being elected as student representative will provide experience of dealing with people and different situations and will start to develop your leadership potential.

Once in a job, more avenues should become open to you including formalised training organised by your employer through bodies such as the CMI and Institute of Leadership and Management. As Greenaway points out, there can be a tendency to promote people into management positions without providing proper training and so his message is to request it  - “If you don’t ask, you may well not receive,” he says.

Similarly, if you don’t feel your day-to-day job is helping you develop your leadership potential, let your manager know you are looking for more responsibility or put yourself forward for project work or a secondment.

Take advantage of all opportunities

If you are on a graduate scheme, you will be seen as one of tomorrow’s leaders so make sure you take full advantage of every opportunity offered to you to build skills in this area.

Pauline Howell, vice president of talent and strategic staffing at Cobham, which specialises in the development, delivery and support aerospace and defence technology and systems, says the company’s graduate programme has been carefully designed to build technical as well as management capabilities: graduates get the broadest possible exposure to the business, gaining real experience in disciplines spanning finance, HR and design as well as engineering.

“They are also able to form connections with a range of managers that they can capitalise on as they develop their career in Cobham perhaps, for example, turning to these individuals as mentors,” she explains.

Find a mentor

Indeed, whether you are on a graduate programme or not, finding a mentor is a great way to help you achieve your goal of moving into management, so try to find a manager who is prepared to work with you. Coaching and mentoring are increasingly seen as important skills for aspiring leaders so it could become a valuable reciprocal arrangement that benefits both of your careers. Also be sure to contact the IET, as it provides its own mentoring service “by members, for members”.

Finally, try to keep abreast of the latest management thinking by regularly dipping into the wealth of management magazines and books that are out there and you can also take advantage of the many free online resources and articles that have been written on acquiring core management skills.

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