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Topic Title: Hands on or Management?
Topic Summary: career advice
Created On: 24 September 2012 07:16 PM
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 24 September 2012 07:16 PM
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Posts: 21
Joined: 20 July 2007

Dear fellow engineers and advisors,

I feel the need for some professional and impartial career advice as I am possibly at a turning point in my career, and would be keen to hear some feedback.

I come from a multi-skilled engineering background working my way up from being a young apprentice to my current position of Energy Manager, with a budget of nearly £3 million. I have both hands on engineering experience of both electrical and mechanical and worked on a variety of equipment, plus experience of management in roles of Engineering Manager and also as stated above, my current role as Energy Manager. I am educated to BEng (Hons) and always keep my self updated to the latest regulations.

My questions is - Although I am currently excelling in my current role, I had most satisfaction working 'on the tools', and unfortunately it seems the skills I trained so hard to gain may never be used as I am mainly office based doing reports and assessments. Is now the time to go back to practical engineering (I am 39), and look for a new challenge or should I continue where I am?

Any guidance always welcome.

 25 September 2012 08:51 AM
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Joined: 19 July 2002

Hello Phil,

An interesting dilemma. I have always avoided management roles and have remained in contact with the equipment although not fully hands on.

It is difficult to find a career path that is at least reasonably well paid but avoids going down the management route. Some hi tech companies offer a technical career ladder, but these tend to end up being more theoretical than practical.

There are some niches generally around specialized and complex equipment where degree level people are required for maintenance and support. This is the route I have taken, being technically responsible for a number of industrial particle accelerators ranging from 550kV to 3.0 MV. This is very definitely hands on during maintenance and repair.

How flexible about location and job style are you? There are always openings for field commissioning engineers if you don't mind travelling. These are generally quite well paid to compensate for the inconvenience and are always varied and challenging.

This is all based on my experiences, but may give you some ideas. A couple of links you may like to look at:

Best regards

 25 September 2012 10:50 AM
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Joined: 18 January 2003

Hi Phil

I mostly agree with Roger, and to a fair extent have similarities in my career trajectory.

I'd say that the first thing you need to decide is what you want from your job. If it's just a way to get money for other aspects of your life (work to live) then probably management will maximise your earning potential. On the other hand, if you're the kind of engineer that does it because you're not capable of not thinking like an engineer and it's all you ever wanted to do, it gets trickier.

In most companies, unless your engineering job has some form of Technical Authority aspect to it, it's unlikely that you'd find similar financial return to what you would get in management.

A lot also depends on what kind of industry you're in. I work in a line of business where technical decisions about major equipment can have massive (many millions of £) cost impact. The people who have ultimate responsibility for that technical input are fairly well paid but they still need a lot of soft skill because they still need to carry clients, project managers, etc with them. And, of course, by the time you're in that sort of role nobody's going to pay you to wield a screwdriver.

I think you need to set the question to yourself a little wider. There are other things that might matter. Are you married? Do you have children? How would either decision affect your family? That's not a straightforward question because a wealthier but bored and frustrated breadwinner isn't necessarily a good thing.

So can you hack a career in management? Do you have enough specialist knowledge in any one field to be a Technichal Authority figure?

I've found a niche where the balance suits me, but it has taken a lot of understanding from my wife. Roger sounds like he's found one that suits him. I hope you can find one that suits you too.

Sorry this is more questions than answers but it's all stuff I've gone through, and I think you need to consider it all to make the right choice for you.

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away.

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