The Key Skills You’ll Need to Become an Engineer

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Working as an engineer is considered one of the most impressive job roles in the world. Engineers are held in the same place as doctors and lawyers in terms of both status and an appreciation of the work that has to go in to qualifying as an engineer. That work is all about picking up skills and knowledge, and that’s something that you can begin at school and continue throughout your career. This guide is all about the skills you’ll need in order to develop into a desirable candidate for a wide range of exciting engineering roles.

STEM Subjects

Let’s begin with the key subjects that’ll get you trained up in basic skills that are relevant to the field of engineering. These tend to be referred to as “STEM” subjects, which are those that revolve around science, technology, and mathematics. Many of these subjects are compulsory at school, so you’ll have some understanding of how materials work, how structures are made, and the equations that support the designing of large structures. As you get older and leave school, there’s still plenty that you can do to learn STEM subjects, such as:

  • Purchasing textbooks on subjects in the STEM field and working through them in order to pick up key skills and concepts
  • Signing up for short online courses, many of which are free, in order to build up your knowledge of science, technology, and engineering
  • Signing up for trials of software that is used in the field of engineering and playing about with the features
  • Listening to audiobooks and podcasts about the field of STEM

There are, of course, hundreds of different ways to develop your STEM knowledge. From visiting museums to attending night classes, you’ll find opportunities to establish this base of understanding that are plentiful. You simply need to search for them in your local area or online.

Planning and Management

While there are tricky technical aspects to being an engineer, there are also more macro, panoramic responsibilities to take care of. You’ll need to know how to plan a project, put in deadlines and objectives, measure KPIs and the return on your investment, and manage people in order to get the job done. These skills are adjacent to engineering, seeing as they’re technically transferrable from other project management roles, which is great news for career changers who are looking to get into engineering for the first time. You can improve your planning and management prowess by:

  • Always leaping at opportunities to assume more responsibility in your job, whether that’s to manage a project or to onboard a new hire
  • Planning other aspects of your life, from a vacation itinerary to a party for your best friend
  • Working on solo engineering projects, such as building a fence in your garden
  • Learning how to use software and spreadsheets that can help you keep abreast of timescales and budgets on a project

While you will certainly need technical engineering skills in order to become an engineer, you’ll also need these planning skills to impress seniors and establish yourself in your firm. If you’re still looking to develop management skills in the field of engineering, it’s well worth signing up to study at that precise intersection. Such programs take the form of an online masters degree in engineering management and can be taken from the comfort of your own home.

Software Skills

As highlighted earlier, engineering jobs often require you to engage with advanced software that can take time to understand. Establishing a basis of understanding of how technology works and how it’s often leveraged for engineering can help you to get ahead in your career and hit the gourd running as soon as you lead a new engineering job. If you’re interested in this more technical side of the engineering skillset, there are dozens of ways for you to familiarize yourself with technical software. These include:

  • Downloading trials and demos of all of the engineering software you can find online and attempting to use it on personal projects or hypothetical tasks
  • Watching YouTube tutorials about some of the most common engineering software and making notes that you can carry through to your job
  • Using the resources provided by software companies themselves, which are often informative and engaging
  • Attending classes that introduce you to different forms of software that you may well come to use over the course of your engineering career

It’s especially important for older engineers to work on their technical and software skills, given that they may have entered the professional before much of the most advanced software in the world had been developed. This is a skill that requires online refinement, seeing as new software is released each year in the engineering space.

People Skills

Most jobs require a level of people skills in order for you to function at your best. Engineering requires them too. It’s also a job that demands a high level of collaboration between teams that may have different areas of expertise or specialization. As such, people skills in engineering often include teamwork and the ability to communicate complex ideas in simple language. You’ll need patience in spades and the ability to understand the needs of different people in high-pressure situations. Here’s what you can do to develop those all-important people skills:

  • Put yourself out there in different social situations in order to test your boundaries and expand your comfort zone wherever possible
  • Ask for more responsibility in your current role, whether that’s in managing a new team or simply speaking directly with more clients and customers
  • Taking public speaking classes, which can be essential for those individuals who are likely to need to make speeches in their jobs
  • Working in teams as part of your leisure activities, whether that’s building a raft on the weekends or playing in a team sport that requires teamwork and communication

People skills are another work in progress, but the sooner you start working on them, the better you’ll be when it comes to tricky teamwork challenges in your work as an engineer. Always be open to working with different individuals across different disciplines in order to make yourself comfortable conversing in a wide variety of different situations.

Engineering Knowledge

Of course, you cannot be an engineer without having trained in engineering. You could certainly work as an office administrator in an engineering firm without a great deal of training in engineering skills, but if you’re ambitious and driven, you’re going to want to establish the skills to reach the very top of your profession. That means heading to university or college to pick up relevant degrees and qualifications, but it also means focusing beyond the STEM subjects and deeper into exactly what engineering requires of you. That might include:

  • A deep dive into different material properties and the ways in which they’re used in different fields of engineering
  • A course in processes and systems can help you understand both how a structure is realized after planning and how engineers work together to plan that structure in the first place
  • Tutorials that’ll help you pick apart an existing structure, assess how it was made and the decisions that went into its construction

Taking an engineering course will loft ours and expose you to these more specific skills. But it’s never too early to explore these domains, including via free online courses, YouTube tutorials, and engineering resources shared across forums and trade magazines on the internet.

Budgeting

It’s fair to say that engineers have to work to very strict budgets. Engineers are often asked to create something with certain parameters in place – in terms often of size, scale, weight, and appearance. But the key parameter is often the cash that a client is willing to invest in the project, and that will determine everything from the materials used to the ambition of the project. You’ll also need to factor in elements such as how long a structure is expected to take to build and how long it’s expected to last into the future. All of this requires budgeting, which is a skill that you can pick up in your personal life by:

  • Budgeting your finances and making sure that you’re always living within your means in a personal capacity
  • Making a small solo engineering project and mapping out all of the expenses so that you’re aware of whether you’re hitting your budget or overspending
  • Using apps and software that can help you track your spending on projects or across your personal life
  • Learning via online courses about budgeting in business, using more advanced techniques in order to be sure you’re not wasting money unnecessarily when you work as an engineer

While budgeting is something that we all believe we can do, it’s also something that we can always be better at. Perfecting your budgeting skills will have a range of obvious positive impacts on your personal life. More importantly, it’ll put you in the position to be a project manager when you’re working as an engineer, as you’ll be trusted with being abreast of the financial matters in each project you work on.

Diligence

Diligence is a skill as well as a quality. Some jobs don’t require a high level of diligence because there’s little at stake if a mistake is made. Of course, when you’re building roads, bridges, and buildings, you have a huge responsibility to get things right. The risk of getting things wrong, and working in a slap-dash manner, are far too great. As such, all engineers must develop cases with more diligence that sees them always searching for small errors in their calculations and the calculations of others. This is a more difficult skill to develop and perfect, but it can help to:

  • Train yourself to be meticulous with documents, always checking calculations that you’ve made and scouring anything that you’re about to send on to colleagues for errors
  • Taking a course that’s specific to due diligence in engineering will help set you apart as someone who takes accuracy and safety highly seriously
  • Read case studies on malpractice and mistakes in the world of engineering in order to avoid making the same mistakes in your career

Engineering firms greatly appreciate employees who are willing to go the extra mile to check calculations and to make sure that projects are accurate, smart, and well thought-through. Showing off these traits is likely to see you promoted to more senior positions within your firm over time.

Determination

Finally, engineers must be determined in order to deliver for their clients. It’s a job that’s constantly exciting and interesting, but one element of that work is that you’ll often be working hard to meet deadlines. You’ll stay in the office late from time to time, and you might find yourself working over the weekend alongside your team if you’re running late on a specific project. To keep yourself motivated to produce excellent work, you’ll want to:

  • Make use of your earnings to purchase the right food and other comforts you need to work hard each week
  • Talk to your teammates and your friends and family when things get stressful, as they’ll often be able to make you feel better
  • Set personal goals to motivate you when the going gets tough. That might include attempting to make a higher salary bracket within the next year or asking for promotion once the project is completed
  • Fostering a collective team spirit that gets you all through those late nights and weekends spent working

Many jobs require workers to go the extra mile in order to deliver excellent work to a tight deadline. But engineers, who also have to operate with due diligence, can take hours and hours of overtime at crunch moments in projects. That’s why their determination needs to be particularly considered – without that level of consideration, they might make an error that erases all of the hard work they’ve put into a project.

Engineers leverage a wide variety of skills in order to progress in their career, complete tasks successfully, and ultimately impress their colleagues and superiors. If you’re looking to expand your skillset in the engineering space, you should start with one or more of the suggestions shared above.