time for a change

How to change engineering sectors

Considering a career change by moving to a different sector of engineering? Here’s advice on what to consider, the practicalities and preparing yourself for the switch.

There should be no lack of challenges in the early stages of your career. But what happens when this is no longer the case? Perhaps the sector has been adversely affected by market conditions or a company merger or acquisition has limited the scope of your role. Jeff Leng, company director of Rise Technical, a specialist recruiter for the engineering and technical professions who has worked in engineering recruitment for 14 years, says lack of technical career progression is one of the major reasons why engineers leave a job but a solution to this can be to switch sectors.

“If this is the case, moving industries is often a good idea for an engineer as they can utilise their current skill set whilst adding more strings to their bow through training and development,” he says.

“This has to be a good thing because it protects them going forward and makes them more employable. If they stayed in the same industry and became the highest skilled and the highest paid, at some point it will be difficult to progress their career. At this point if technology changes or their industry experiences an economic downturn, the engineer could be left in a precarious position.”

Moving sectors may well prove the best next career move but to avoid it ending in failure you need to go into it with your eyes wide open.

Identify your long-term career objective(s)

Before doing anything consider why you want to move and how it might impact your longer-term career plans. Are you, for instance, certain that it isn’t a temporary blip or passing phase at your current company?

The grass is always greener so you need to be clear that you are moving for the right reasons. If it is down to lack of challenge, discuss this with your manager as he or she may be able to find a solution such as a secondment or placement elsewhere in the organisation.

If you know the company or sector isn’t for you in the long term, then it is time to formulate an action plan. Talk to specialist recruitment agencies or seek advice from a career coach for ideas and guidance on available options. Ultimately though, your career direction is in your hands so be prepared to take control: look at the job boards, visit company career sites, read specialist media and generally immerse yourself in your target industries.

Is it practical to move?

Be aware some engineering sectors and industries are far more insular than others when it comes to recruiting talent from outside. Oil and gas, for instance, tend to recruit people into the industry early and retain them. Elsewhere though, there is scope for movement as long as the company you apply to is prepared to invest in the necessary specialist training and development.

“Most engineering employers will try to recruit engineers with experience within their industry,” says Leng. “However, due to the well-documented skill shortage employers are increasingly recruiting motivated engineers from outside their industry and offering industry training. The core components of engineering are similar across all industries.

“Employers are increasingly recruiting the right person in terms of values and abilities, with the core skills and offering industry training,” he continues. “This industry training can be in many forms including working with a highly-skilled team, on the job, formal and informal, or a mixture of all. We do a lot of work in the automotive sector working with the biggest brands and ideally they look for people from this sector but there comes a point where they can’t find the people they need so have to consider looking in other areas.”

As well as technical qualifications, make sure a recruiter or future employer knows what transferable or soft skills you have which all companies will find useful, such as problem-solving, communication, working in a team, leadership and negotiation. With a lack of industry experience, the employer will be taking a risk on you so you need to demonstrate how you can add value to their business.

Gearing up for the switch

Thoroughly research the new sector and the roles you’re interested in. To increase the chance of success in your new position you’ll need to swiftly get to grips with the issues and challenges you’ll be facing. So try to talk to people who have made similar moves and who can provide further insight and background information. Also be willing to adapt your personal style of working so it fits in with the new organisation’s way of doing things.

Finally, keep in mind that your lack of experience in the industry may also be reflected in your initial salary. As Leng points out, within engineering there is a direct correlation between skills and salary so if you move sectors you may not immediately receive a pay increase or, in some cases may have to accept a “slightly smaller” salary.

“So part of the preparation is putting the salary in perspective,” he says. “It’s a case of taking a short-term loss for long-term gain,” adding: “Remember that training and development equals salary progression.”

Above all start with a positive attitude and be prepared to welcome the learning, challenge and new opportunities it brings.

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