Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Starting afresh with young engineers

This is a break from regular programming, but I want to share this story.

We currently have an influx of young/graduate/new engineers. Which is great! I love seeing people learn new skills and take pride in their qualifications and work. In the last year, I've had the opportunity to train a lot of staff and it's really enjoyable. Proud moments, and so on.

However, there are some times when new staff have so much to learn that it's hard to know where to start.

I share a portacabin office with Sarah*. We get a lot of deliveries and tradespeople stop in, because ours is often the only populated room. Our office is where the main printer/scanner is located, because Sarah* is in charge of maintaining our records. The door is to my right, so I can't see who's out there unless I turn my body.

Yesterday I was typing away at my computer, when from my right I hear a loud voice shout at me "Sarah! Sarah!". Not being called Sarah, I didn't turn around. The voice comes inside and says "Sarah!". Sarah* says "yes?"

Loud voice says "oh, can you please print me a complete set of drawings? I sit next door. Thanks!" and then vanishes back outside.

There are sooooo many things wrong with this:
  • Who is this guy? He didn't bother to say hello or introduce himself to either of us.
  • Who the heck yells somebody's name when they don't know who they're addressing?
  • In fact, who stands in an office doorway and yells?
  • It's not okay to demand that somebody does you a favour if you can't be bothered to be polite.
  • It's not wise to be incredibly rude *before* you find out who you are answerable to (yes, he will have to report to me on a lot of his work).
Look, this guy could be the greatest young engineer in the world, academically speaking - I don't know. But having a job requires a heck of a lot more than technical skills.

So this year I'm going to challenge myself at work in a different way - I'm going to work with young engineers to make sure they have the NON-TECHNICAL skills they need to succeed. I know I'll have the support of my colleagues, if I can find a way to communicate what good professional skills look like. I already have a mandate to run training sessions this year.

My list starts with the following:
  • Language/tone when speaking to people you aren't familiar with.
  • How to introduce yourself politely.
  • Professional dress when you have to work on a construction site.
  • Work expectations, i.e. being on time, when to use the phone instead of email, etc.
It seems silly and basic, I know. Last year I was concerned that if I 'dumbed things down' too much in training, people would be offended. But I realised that starting from scratch is a good refresher for some, and a genuine learning experience for others. It also helps people feel less silly, because there is no assumed knowledge.

I'm sure that a lack of work skills is not limited to engineering - anyone else got some interesting or useful stories?


  1. Hope 'guy' is still waiting for his complete set of drawings!!!

    1. Hehehe, no. We figured we'd take the high road :-)

  2. Basic and silly, but oh so necessary. Where were you when I started work? :D
    I think it's a great idea. I've got a million stories... but I'm in a fabulous mood right now and in no mind to go 'there'. Yay for fabulous moods!

    1. When you were starting work, I was starting work!

      Definitely don't ruin your mood for the sake of a story...

  3. Well I'm glad you're on to it because we can't very well have them all turning out like the Big Schmo. You should also teach them basic grammar. The majority of young engineers can't punctuate (especially apostrophes) and don't know the difference between affect and effect, or levee and levy. The latter gets the biggest facepalm from me as we are building a levee!!!

    1. Precisely - Big Schmo is the kind of engineer that should fade away like the dinosaurs.

      I think fixing their English skills might be beyond me, but we can give manners and professionalism a go!

  4. I'd like to add: always treat reception/ support/ maintenance staff with respect. Greet the receptionist every time.you come in to the office. Not only is it good manners, but when you need something, people make a bit more effort if they lke you. Obvious but I've worked with people young and old who don't get it. Developing mutually respectful and beneficial relationships with suppliers s important too. Great idea!

    1. ABSOLUTELY. You know, I think that was part of the problem the other day - first he assumed we were admin staff, then he assumed that admin staff didn't deserve politeness.

      And you're so right that it's not limited to young people! Though I might have more success in changing their ways ;-)

  5. That sounds like a fantastic idea! Those new engineers will owe you a true debt of gratitude once you're done with them.

    Seriously, though, who just demands something of a person without even introducing themselves first?

  6. I think it's a great idea Kat and I'm sure those just coming into the workforce will appreciate it greatly. Good post and nice pic.

    1. Thanks Suzy... I'm planning to enlist the other managers to set an example and help nip bad behaviours in the bud.

  7. Is it sexist to assume you will have to work more with the guys on their work etiquette than the girls? It's so odd to me that grown people need lessons like this but I guess some of these people may never have had jobs before. Having had part time jobs since I was 14, I don't remember a time I would act like the person you described. But yeah, guys are *special* that way.

    1. It's hard to say, our current round of new engineers *are* all men. Though in the past I've had to speak to young women about similar issues, so it's fairly egalitarian!

      I'm not sure why I've come across so many people who only have their first job in their 20s. Like you, I've been employed one way or another since I was 15... so yes, the basic skills seem obvious. But then I also know older people who are rude, so some people never learn :-)


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