Some individuals who have chosen the field of engineering may find that it can be both a blessing and a curse. The wonderful thing about engineering is that there is always something new to learn. This can also be a bad thing if we do not know how to go about it or lack a clear direction. There is simply more stuff to learn than there is time in our day, month, week, or even year. Compounding the issue is that we may have a regular full-time job and we can’t devote much time during the day to training unless the subject is specifically related to our current duties. We may also have family commitments which absorb a lot of our free time. Some may get discouraged given such an enormous task and time-constraints. This perceived burden will prevent us from even attempting to participate in any training. This is not a good thing since our livelihood and personal growth as engineers highly depends on us to continuously develop new skills and to stay current with the latest and greatest technologies and methods. If you find yourself in this predicament, you may find this brief article helpful in developing your own effective training program.
The first step in formulating your own effective training program is to have already established your career goals. An entire article can be written about how to go about doing this. The process I use will be covered briefly here.
I recommend using the SMART method to establish your goals. The ‘S’ in SMART stands for ‘Specific’. This is where you break your bigger goals down into smaller specific steps (i.e. read x number of pages of a book, attend class xyz, etc.). ‘M’ means ‘Measurable’ and is how you create criteria to use to easily measure your progress towards a goal. ‘A’ stands for ‘Achievable’. You want to put yourself in a position to succeed so your steps must be achievable and realistic. The ‘R’ in SMART means ‘Relevant’. Ensure the steps are relevant to your ultimate goal. You mind find that a mentor can help you choose the right steps needed to reach your goals without wasting your own time and other resources. Finally, the ‘T’ in SMART means ‘Time Bound’. Your goals and mini-goals should have deadlines associated with them. Once the goal setting step is completed, and you have a clear picture of what your goals are, then you can focus on what specific training you need to help you meet your goals.
One final thought regarding goals. You are responsible for establishing your own career direction and goals. Don’t count on your supervisor or anyone else to lead the way. It’s up to you to take responsibility and formulate which direction you want to go with. Waiting for someone else to take the lead could be disastrous to your career as an engineer.
You may be asking yourself when you can or should engage in training. This may all depend on what the specific training is. If it’s a seminar, these usually only last a few days. Since the seminar is most likely off-site and away from your normal day job, all of your time is devoted to attending during a short period of time, then it’s back to your normal routine. Attending an occasional seminar won’t disrupt your life too much.
If you have elected to read a book or article you have more leeway as to when you can accomplish this activity. Personally, I have gained a lot of knowledge and fulfilled some career goals by simply reading books and articles that are of interest to me. I don’t have to travel and the cost isn’t very high. I have found that I can read a book pretty quickly if I devote 30 to 45 minutes a day to it. The best time for me to read is early in the morning before going to work. I have found that this is the time when my mind is most open to absorbing new material and since everybody else is still in bed, there are a lot less distractions (no blaring T.V., etc.). If I wait until after work then the book probably isn’t going to get read and no progress is made. You will have to determine which time is best for you to learn and adjust your schedule accordingly. Just know that it’s like physical exercise. It shouldn’t take a whole lot of time. It’s just a matter of fitting it into your schedule and following through.
You may be wondering how much you should spend on training per year. Brian Tracy, a leading motivational speaker and self-development author, recommends spending at least 3% of your yearly gross salary on self-developmental training (books, seminars, courses, etc.). If you do this year after year, eventually you become an extremely qualified and highly paid individual and the training pays for itself. Some smart companies may fund this training as part of their benefits package and you will not have to absorb the cost. Even if your company doesn’t help pay for your continued education, you should highly consider paying the 3% of your yearly gross salary yourself.
One company I have worked for in the past provided each employee with $80 per month to use towards the purchase of new books for their continued education. It didn’t matter what topic or if it was job related or not. No receipts were required. Since leaving that company I no longer received the $80 benefit but continued the practice of spending around this much per month to purchase new books for my own continued education. This may also be something you want to consider doing.
There are many training resources out there that you use in order to do some research on your own. In Compliance magazine publishes a yearly “Continuing Your Professional Education” series that is a good place to start. It contains contact information of training providers, training topics of various sorts, dates, training that does not require travel, etc. Some training providers have on their web sites additional information that is also free of charge, including recommended reading lists such as Henry Ott’s Recommended Books for EMC (see http://www.hottconsultants.com/book.html).
One final recommendation. If you are going to travel to an off-site seminar it’s probably a wise decision to plan about six months ahead as some seminars are only given once per year. If you’re not on the ball, you may end up having to wait another full year and a half or so to attend.
I hope you have found this information useful. Good luck in finding your own effective career training path!
- Fasano, A., Engineer Your Own Success, Premier Publishing, 2011.
- Tracy, B., The Science of Positive Focus – Master Keys for Reaching Your Next Level (DVD), Brian Tracy International, 2004