Think back to the early days of your engineering-related career. Recall your period of training and education, when you were still learning the ins and outs of your profession. Whether that was three years or three decades ago, chances are you don’t do things exactly the same way anymore. Technological advances, software updates, and innovative heuristic strategies along with new processes all conspire to render “the way we do things” obsolete with astonishing regularity.
Of course, there is nothing astonishing about it. With new knowledge created daily, the state of the art is in constant flux. In an environment of rapid technological development, acquiring new skills is more than a matter of professional development. It is a matter of professional survival.
We see this reality reflected in the changing demographics of our public universities. At the Georgia Institute of Technology, for example, half of the Institute’s student population is comprised of adults taking professional development courses. Through programs like Georgia Tech Professional Education, professionals in fields such as cybersecurity, analytics, and electrical and computer engineering strive to remain relevant in their professions. They’ve adopted the attitude of a lifelong learner, and that may be the most valuable “skill” of all, learning to learn and seeking opportunities to do so.
Engineers and other science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) professionals in particular can benefit from a lifelong learner mindset. That’s because dealing directly with technology means dealing with constant change. According to a report in ProPublica, more than 20,000 employees older than 40 have left IBM in the last six years. Why? IBM was investing in its cloud computing and mobile businesses, and older workers didn’t have the right skills. While many companies invest in retraining efforts, employees should not assume their company is looking after their professional development and long-term well-being. Does an employer know where you want to take your career?
According to 2019 data provided by Emsi, 28% of electrical engineers are 55 years old or older. Another 26% are between the ages of 45 and 54, which means over 50% of electrical engineers are older professionals who are not likely to be leaving the workforce soon. Or at least, not wishing to leave the workforce soon.
For example, employment for electrical engineers is projected to grow by 4% between 2018 and 2028. That is less than the national average of 9% quoted by Emsi. To stand out to potential employers, electrical engineers need to have expertise that other candidates don’t offer. The question becomes where to acquire that expertise. That is precisely where the idea of the “personal board of directors” comes into play.
If you’ve never encountered the concept before, a personal board of directors is similar to a mentorship, but broader in its application. Your personal board is a group of people who can help navigate your career and education, offering a mix of experience, talent and diversity that one individual can’t match. If you want to survive in a shifting job market influenced by shifting career needs, it’s necessary to take control of your own professional destiny. An intelligent personal board of directors can help.
If you are ready to take that step, here are four practical considerations to begin started:
Above all, a personal board of directors should help you follow your passions over a lifetime —even when passions change. In this way, by following your passions, you ensure you never become irrelevant.
Embracing change in today’s world means developing the mindset of a lifelong learner.
As technological advancements continue to disrupt the way we live and work, sharpening our skills and building new capabilities is essential for career security. In addition to pursuing professional education to change-proof our careers, building a professional network of mentors or a “personal board of directors” is an important part of a long-term career strategy.
This article was originally published on the Control Engineering website.