Battling the Obsolescence Blues

Here's a scary thought. If you received your engineering degree prior to 1991, half of what you learned about your field is now obsolete. If you work in software development, it's even more bleak. Your expertise has a half-life of about two years, which means all but the most recent graduates are out-of-date.

08/01/1998


Here's a scary thought. If you received your engineering degree prior to 1991, half of what you learned about your field is now obsolete. If you work in software development, it's even more bleak. Your expertise has a half-life of about two years, which means all but the most recent graduates are out-of-date.

The change rate of automation and control technology continues to accelerate. Decades back, automation systems lagged commercial developments by as much as 10 to 15 years. While the first IBM PC was introduced in 1981, it wasn't until the early 1990s that PCs were applied in critical-mass numbers to industrial systems.

Now, we see suppliers introduce next-generation control systems—with advances such as Microsoft Windows CE, Fast Ethernet, and Internet browsers—concurrent with the commercial introductions of these technologies. How can you possibly keep up with these changes and continue to perform your "day job?"

Lifelong learning

One answer is to approach your career as a lifelong learning process, taking every advantage of continuing education opportunities. In January, Control Engineering introduced a new column, "Career Update," to provide tips and techniques for enhancing your career. This month's column (see p. 21) discusses career planning to reduce stress and achieve life balance.

In addition to trade magazines, numerous other sources exist to promote career development. These include: continuing education courses; employee training programs; professional associations; trade shows; conferences and seminars; and Internet resources, such as Manufacturing Marketplace ( www.manufacturing.net ) from Control Engineering 's parent company, Cahners Business Information.

ISA, the international society for measurement and control, ( www.isa.org ) provides a full complement of training courses for the automation professional. Other good sources for training are your control equipment suppliers.

Let's get personal

While technical training is key to professional competence, don't forget to hone interpersonal skills, such as change management, communication, organization, and teamwork.

In a recent study, completed by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME), industry employers cited a number of competency gaps in new engineering graduates. These gaps fell mainly in the nontechnical areas of interpersonal skills. Engineers who improve leadership and communication skills will enjoy the highest degree of professional success.

At the SME web site ( www.sme.org ) click on "Educational Activities" for an excellent overview of career development. You can download a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, "CareerLog," to document your career progress. This multitabbed program tracks your jobs, training, continuing education, credentials, honors and awards—even your papers, patents, and speaking engagements. If nothing else, it serves to point out gaps in your career. And if you find yourself looking for a new job, you're well on the way to an updated resume.


Author Information
Jane S. Gerold, Editorial Director jgerold@cahners.com




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