Recessions Are a Time for Engineers to Upskill

May 6, 2020
ThisisEngineering RAEng on Unsplash

If you’re an engineer who is out of work as a result of layoffs, or currently employed and want to make yourself indispensable to your company, now is the time to upskill. Upskilling refers to the process of learning new competencies that are relevant and necessary to excel in your field of work.

Before the onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. had record low unemployment and a very tight labor market making it difficult for companies to hire talented engineers as the best ones were usually taken. Executives at companies all across the country lamented the talent shortage, with an overwhelming majority saying the skills gap impacted their ability to meet customer demand and implement new technologies or increase productivity. They also feared that a wave of retiring Baby Boomers would exacerbate the skills gap, and this loss of embedded knowledge would lead to jobs going unfilled. 

In the wake of the pandemic, job openings have plummeted and there is a lot more talent for companies to choose from. We can expect that hiring companies will be even more deliberate when evaluating candidates, holding out for that engineer who possesses the particular set of skills they are looking for. 

For all workers, and especially hardware engineers who work with the latest technologies, it’s important to make sure that you’re constantly learning, training, and increasing the competencies that you can bring to the job. Not only will you add more value to your organization, you’ll increase your marketability and command higher compensation. 


How to Upskill

Acutely aware about the skills gap, numerous organizations over the last decade have offered educational or training programs as a benefit to employees. If these are still available to you, enroll in classes that are relevant to your profession. Whether it’s a course on programming languages or how to use additive manufacturing machinery, take advantage of the opportunity to add new technical skills to your arsenal. 

With hiring decelerating, now is as a good time as any to get that advanced degree. An employer may be willing to help fund your tuition and/or offer telecommuting opportunities so that you can balance classes and work. If you’re unemployed as a result of the current crisis, consider completing a Master’s or PhD program, and by the time you finish the jobs market will have likely rebounded. Several accredited universities offer online programs that you can complete without having to return to a campus. Also, consider earning a certification or nanodegree to improve your employability and to keep from being left behind. 

If formal postsecondary schooling isn’t your thing, then you can always teach yourself. There are numerous online courses and programs now available where you can learn leadership skills, advanced mathematics, and professional software (you can try AutoCAD or Revit free for 30 days). 


Take a Skills Assessment

Don’t know where to start in your upskilling journey? A self-assessment tool can help with that. Large organizations like AT&T have been offering employees an online tool called Personal Learning Experience (PLE) that allows workers to search for jobs at the company based on their current skills, and learn the training they’ll need to make a career move. If you don’t have access to a skills assessment site through an employer, there are a number of free tools available online


Skills Employers are Looking For

The areas where you should upskill is dependent on your field and where you’d like to go in your career. But broadly speaking, companies have expressed some key areas where they see a skills deficit. When it comes to hard skills, engineering positions need hires who excel in math, applied science, programming language, and the latest technology germane to your discipline. Consider going deeper in your mastery of a specific CAD software, or expand your knowledge by picking up another. 

Hands-on experience is also highly coveted by employers who frequently come across candidates that have trained on simulations or using a digital screen, but have done little in the way of making physical creations. Design competitions are a great way to get the hands on experience employers seek. 

In your quest to level up your competencies, don’t overlook the soft skills that employers have trouble finding in candidates. Search for courses, programs, or organizations that teach interpersonal/communications, managerial skills, leadership, critical thinking, problem-solving, process improvement and project management.

While hiring has slowed due to the recession, well-funded companies still have ambitious projects including next-generation electric cars, air taxis, and rocket ships in development, all of which require highly-skilled engineers to bring to fruition. The surest way to increase your chances of getting hired or advancing within your organization is through continuous upskilling. 


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