Where have all the engineers gone?

E&T looks at why engineers are moving into service organisations.

Why are services organisations so keen on engineers and their skills?

There is a definite trend for engineers to be recruited into the service sector, particularly financial, including banks, insurance companies and consultancies. We are finding a particular trend for the implementation of ‘lean’ operations, which the financial services sector sees as critical to improving organisational capability, efficiency and quality.

At the same time, regulatory compliance is a key issue in financial services and many organisations are looking for lean approaches to support the standardisation of processes and the elimination of process variability. For these reasons an engineering degree, coupled with operations management experience, is highly valued in the service sector.

What sorts of projects are financial services organisations working on that require engineering skills and expertise?

The service sector is currently adopting many of the improvement tools and techniques from industry, in particular, lean is being applied in front, middle and back office operations. A typical assignment might be to help a major bank improve its insurance operations and increase the number of applications processed with higher accuracy and lower cost. Another project might involve looking at a major financial services organisation’s back office processing as you might look at a factory. This will highlight how customer information can be processed more accurately and faster, by better management of people and processes and without the need for major IT investment. At the same time, where IT systems are being implemented, operations management specialists are ensuring that the optimum process has been established before new IT systems are introduced.

The sorts of hard benefits that are being achieved by operations management specialists include typically 20-30% improvements in productivity; 3-10 times return on investment; significant reductions in errors and complaints; lead time and operational risk reductions; and building in compliance.

Softer benefits include skills transferred to in-house teams and front-line managers; re-invigorated teams with a ‘can-do’ attitude and the confidence to do it themselves; enthusiasm of staff harnessed and morale improved, leading to reduced staff turnover and absenteeism; front-line managers and staff taking responsibility for their own areas; team-based problem solving and associated activities becoming embedded.

What skills/experience are they looking for?

The sort of expertise the service sector requires includes process design, analysis, dynamic modelling, improvement tools and techniques. At the same time a strong track record in production, manufacturing engineering or operations management is desirable. Engineers who can transfer their skills to a new environment, and who have good written skills, good interpersonal skills, and possess strong analytical and problem solving capabilities, are especially in demand.

How difficult is it to make the transition?

It is not an easy transition, particularly because of the softer skill requirements like people management and influencing skills, which are key. However, an engineering background is a good foundation. It is definitely viable for those with the drive, adaptability and a sense of adventure.

Isn't it a loss to the engineering sector?

It is possible to have a foot in both camps. Furthermore, this trend supports the transfer of skills, knowledge and best practice between sectors. We see this as a positive thing for engineers, the profession, and the companies they join. For those who enjoy a challenge and who have the drive and commitment to apply their skills in a new sector, it can be a very rewarding career path, both in terms of job satisfaction and financially.


*Please note: This article first appeared in the April/May 2007 Engineering Management magazine.

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