Engineers take charge of upskilling for career development

The 2013 Kelly Global Workforce Index shows a new wave of empowered engineers who understand that investing in skills is central to staying relevant.


A new analysis of employees in the engineering sector in the United States and Canada has shed light on the way that engineers are taking greater control of their skills development to better manage their careers and plan for a range of alternative employment outcomes. The 2013 Kelly Global Workforce Index (KGWI), an annual survey revealing opinions about work and the workplace, uncovers a new wave of empowered employees who understand that investing in skills is central to staying relevant in a challenging business environment.

The idea of training and advanced learning as the responsibility of the employer comes under challenge, with an increasing number of engineering employees prepared to identify and remedy their own skills gaps. One of the main factors driving the skills agenda among engineering professionals in the U.S. and Canada is career advancement at their current job. According to the KGWI, two-thirds of the engineer professionals surveyed stated their main motivation for undertaking training is a promotion with their current employer, rather than leaving the organization to work with a different employer or to start their own business. But a significant minority see additional training as a pathway to a new job, or the opportunity to start their own business. 

More than two-thirds of respondents cited opportunity for promotion at current employer as the primary motivation for learning new skills and developing current ones. Courtesy: Kelly Services

Skills are no longer “front-end loaded” onto a career. Many individuals, particularly in professional and technical roles, understand the need for lifelong renewal to stay relevant and competitive. Engineers are pursuing practical training that will strengthen their skills. Employees seem to better determine what skills are in need of development and have embraced the notion of self-directed training and continuing education to prepare for career advancement opportunities with their current employer or at a new company. Nearly half (49%) of the engineering professionals surveyed feel the need to acquire more skills in Lean Six Sigma first and foremost, followed by such technical skills as systems, computer, and software (47%). Also viewed as primary skills that need development are 3-D solid modeling (44%) and automation and robotics (42%), according to the KGWI. 

Professionals regularly confront the challenge of how to best manage their skills development. Engineering is at the forefront of this trend because of the constant need to upgrade skills to keep up with the rapid pace of technological advancement in the design and manufacturing of products.

This raises the wider question about whether it should be the employer, the employee, or both, who bear the primary burden of training. Over recent years, budget cuts to corporate training and professional development programs in many businesses have placed a fresh focus on the issue. What this survey reveals is that most of those who are seeking to upgrade their skills are actually doing it so they can advance in their existing roles. For business owners and managers who do invest in workforce training, this means that they not only reap productivity benefits, but they also have a better chance of retaining their staff. 

Decisions about training and professional development are now an integral part of the employment equation and have an important bearing on employee morale, performance, attraction, and retention.

Tim McAward is vice president of Americas Product Group Engineering for Kelly Services Inc. He is responsible for branding, market positioning, “go to market” strategies, and profitability for the product across North America. McAward holds a bachelor of science, finance degree from Arizona State University and an MBA from St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas. 

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