Unlocking a Generation of Engineering Skills

Workers looking down at a crane from a building under construction
“I have a theory, and I think it’s a very workable idea.” We were speaking with Aerotek contract engineer Gerry Stein who, after forty plus years as an engineer, had some surprisingly fresh insights to share. “There’s a lot of skills and knowledge locked up inside an entire generation of older engineers. Whoever figures out how to unlock all that knowledge is looking at a very considerable amount of value. Business value.”

Competitive advantage through engineering
Gerry’s point intrigued us and we asked him to explain. “I think of myself as an unretired engineer. I’m one of the older generation of engineers who have had almost two careers worth of experience. You accumulate a lot of knowledge, both general and specific, over the years. Even with the technologies evolving so fast, the kind of engineering knowledge I’m referring to could go a long way in the heads of the newest generation of engineers. I’m talking about creating competitive advantage through engineering skills transfer, in a way. I think it’s probably true for most industries. It would be an interesting idea to tap into all this knowledge walking around in guys like me, before it’s too late.”

A hot commodity
Our recruiters often talk about what makes engineering such a fascinating and rich field today, saying it’s the sheer speed and magnitude of technological advances. We asked Claire Krieger, an Aerotek recruiter who works with engineers, whether it’s also changing the type of professional drawn to engineering in this accelerated century. “In my opinion and observation, candidates fall on a wide spectrum. There are those who in it for the experience and to learn as much as they can, and then there are engineers that know that they are a ‘hot commodity’. In these instances, they are typically more selective when it comes to new roles.”

From entry-level engineers eager to apply what they know, to those aware of their “attractiveness” in the world of engineering, it’s true that there’s nothing wrong with taking advantage of a marketplace hungry for ambitious engineering talent.

The glory days of engineering
Back to Gerry and his vision for transferring the years of know-how and knowledge from one older generation of engineers to another, younger generation. “I came of age during the glory days of engineering and manufacturing. In those years, many companies here in the US were investing in designing and building an immense range of products and services. It was quite a time. We may not have had the incredible technologies available today, but when you received your engineering degree and entered the workforce, it was a heady time.”

The big shift
Gerry says that the increasing pressures working upon almost every industry competing on a global stage changed what engineers do for a living. “As companies became more competitive they needed to control costs, at every stage of product development. We saw whole industries shifting many of the tasks once assigned to engineers to technicians, and these were jobs which weren’t as highly paid. The days of being a full-time career engineer at a single company were over. These days, we see companies getting smaller, getting leaner and meaner. Businesses are coming back, but not the way they left.”

Career optimization
Given Gerry’s extensive career experience, we asked for his insights about overall career management. “I’ve developed a few opinions about this. The first is about specialization. If you want to make top dollar in engineering, specialize. Find a specific area of focused expertise and learn everything you can. Become a total expert. You increase the number of job opportunities and generally can command more pay. The second opinion, is more of an observation. If you’re an engineer (in the middle of your career), … you should definitely take an inventory. Figure out what you’re good at and what you like to do. Then make a decision about whether you’d be more successful and happy, doing the engineering work you’re passionate about, or going into management. If you wait too long to make this call, it can be unfortunate. By the time an engineer (nears retirement), you’re on the flat part of the career curve. “

The parachute economy
We remained intrigued with Gerry’s idea of companies leveraging the career’s worth of knowledge locked up inside his generation of successful engineers. He surprised us with his last observation. “In a way, you’re already doing it. My Aerotek recruiter keeps in close touch with me. He knows my skills and talents, and consistently puts me to work on projects at companies who need my expertise and years of experience, but aren’t likely to hire me full time. So working for Aerotek lets guys like me parachute into these businesses and get to work. Invariably I end up partnering with and mentoring younger engineers and this is where I get to share my knowledge and insights for problem solving, for engineering. My guess is more and more companies are starting to see the benefit of this model. It’s what makes me so excited to be un-retired at a time like this.” Gerry Stein appears courtesy of Sr. Professional Recruiter, Matt Wiehe.

Whether you’re an up-and-coming engineer or a seasoned veteran, we’d love to partner with you in getting the most satisfaction, reward and happiness from your career. Set up your career account with Aerotek and check our current engineering openings.