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IV. Finding Success in Mid-Life

Successful Career Transition for Engineers in the 21st Century

by Dr. Trudy Hu (August, 2005)

IEEE link:                                     

Career development can be traced back to ancient survival skills and prototypes. Historically, career — or trade — development can be seen as starting and progressing from hunters to fishermen, to farmers to soldiers, to rulers to clergymen, to artists to architects, to explorers to traders, to scientists and engineers.

As we know, history repeats itself. Civilization has witnessed many transitions and advancements. And human beings' collective survival, accomplishments and prosperity are marked along the way by many paradigm shifts. Egypt relied on irrigation and agriculture. The Roman Empire depended on territorial expansion. In the 10th Century, kingdoms and social hierarchy emerged followed by the Medieval Dark Age; the Renaissance (14th Century); the navigation age of sea power (15th Century); the Industrial Revolution (18th Century); and, today, the Information Age (21st Century). All throughout, human beings have demonstrated remarkable resilience and adaptation through the manifestation of war, expansion and economic advancement.

It has been said that change is the only unchangeable force in nature. Over the past 50 years, engineers have been subject to the following career market trends:

  • 1950s - 1960s: Secure engineers in the corporate world
  • 1970s - 1980s: Restless and knowledgeable engineers
  • 1990s - 2000: Project-based engineers

In the future, it's likely that the trend toward globalization will continue and we will see the further refinement of globally competitive engineers.

Every mega-trend affecting us involves new frontiers and challenges that require new vision, tools and problem-solving skills. Today's "battlefield" centers around the globalization of commerce, science and technology development. The "foot soldiers" in this battle are today's modern hi-tech warriors — the engineers and scientists who invented electricity, telephones, automobiles, airplanes, computers, cellular phones, and the Internet to solve problems and improve the quality of life. Unfortunately, today's engineers, in the United States and elsewhere, have suffered "casualties" from record unemployment rates, widespread layoffs, outsourcing, declining benefits, burnout, declining health, and aging, to name a few.

The reality of today's global marketplace calls for shorter time to market, fast-paced innovation and high productivity. At the same time, many employees’ benefits are declining. And a pricey and intensive engineering education is yielding a shorter career span than students could have fairly expected. Instead, seasonal commodity modality is becoming prevalent in the career market for highly educated technical professionals.

Confronted with today's challenges, too many laid-off and out-of-work engineers are falling through the cracks — because of shame, pride, negative coping strategies or some other reason. Whatever the case, when the career battlefield shifts, engineers need a support system in place; and they need to be able to conduct a clear self-analysis, and to develop an understanding of their strengths as well as areas for future growth.

Engineers are trained to be cognitive thinkers and problem-solvers; they may not be the most effective and insightful advocates for their own careers. With so much time invested in technical development, engineers may not realize that they become vulnerable and isolated as they age. Engineering training still equips engineers with the best tools for coping with future career markets. However, it's time for engineers to upgrade their tool sets and sharpen their minds to integrate diverse perspectives. The traditional training model — the linear paradigm — emphasizes cognitive analysis, efficiency, critical thinking and top-down hierarchy. The new training model — the circular paradigm — involves emotional intelligence. The circular paradigm incorporates artistic senses, keen observation, and tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty.

The new globalization paradigm requires adopting new tool sets — cultural and emotional sensitivity, and flexibility to turn negative energy into positive breakthrough. The adapting process involves cognitive, emotional and behavioral upgrades and psychological makeover strategies. The process may elicit fear, anxiety, grief and, later on, renewed perception and identity. The theme of the career makeover is to inspire, innovate and empower. The ultimate goal of the career makeover is to empower U.S. engineers — and their profession — to resume the scientific and technical leadership that they have long enjoyed. Another goal is to balance the viewpoints among the employers, investors and professionals to create a win-win-win situation for all involved. The career makeover provides engineers with simple strategies to increase self-awareness and awareness of their surrounding environment. Engineers must work with others to innovate their own career future and lifestyle in the 21st Century with empowered vision, confidence, and global leadership in the technology and scientific frontiers.

                                                                        Image result for career change

For more information

The slides of "Successful Career Makeover" are listed at Dr. Hu's Web site: