Until perhaps five years ago, many engineers were hard-wired to view their career paths as working for one, or at most three, companies until retirement. Companies reinforced this notion by hiring many more junior than senior candidates. Companies also favored job applicants who remained with one firm rather than those who frequently changed employers.
The way it was. These engineers expected to gradually climb a more or less rigid organization ladder, rung by rung. Engineers advanced by following the rules, not making too many waves, and trusting the organization to help manage their careers and reward their loyalty with job security. Additional education and training more or less followed whatever the organization provided or paid for. Engineers often viewed a college degree as the beginning of the end and not the end of the beginning.
The way it is. As we enter the year 2000, the "way it was" is rapidly becoming an artifact. Replacing it is a dramatically new view of business and career paths held by both employers and employees.
In the new era, an employee may float from project to project, job to job, and often company to company. Job definitions have blurred, and job titles have lost meaning. Now what matters most is your knowledge, and how you can apply it to specific business problems, which becomes your value added.
Two factors have driven this change.
First, globalization has created a business environment where businesses no longer restrict themselves to national boundaries. Capital and jobs move anywhere. Planet Earth increasingly operates as one big market. Soon every company will compete with international peers, and so too will individual workers.
The second factor driving this change is the information revolution. Information architecture is transforming products and services into commodities. Time may soon become the principle competitive advantage. Technological advances are quickening the marketplace. Participants must be familiar with terms and concepts, such as:
digital and virtual
systemic point of view
adaptability and quality
This list doesn't even include the obvious Internet and web.
If this terminology sounds strange, you may be operating with an obsolete paradigm, particularly as it relates to human resource activities. Your employment may depend upon expanding your own "web" and making valuable connections. While spinning stronger strands, you will be gaining the experience and skills of others. Awareness of these expectations will help your career path, as you negotiate your employability, performance, job security, and compensation.
the Manager Q What do you think about having suppliers' engineers on new product development teams?
A This is a growing trend. Suppliers can often provide key skills, knowledge, and expertise in areas where the contracting firm is not strong or simply does not have the required human resources. To be most effective, it is important that the supplier's engineers are made regular members of the contractor's development team and are in the communications loop.
Several guidelines are appropriate:
Supplier integration must be used selectively. Generally, it should not involve the contracting firm's core competency. The two firms should not have basic cultural clashes.
The contracted supplier involved in the design process should be expected to supply at least a portion of the production volume requirements and have the desire and capability to support product enhancements when they are required.
The contracting firm must retain the ultimate authority for setting goals and making tradeoffs. This should not be delegated.
The supplier should have an active role in the product development process. Information should be shared openly and extensively.
Often a major barrier to open communication and knowledge sharing is a concern over proprietary information. Formal confidential agreements are a necessary but insufficient requirement. Real sharing must be based on mutual trust—and this requires a lot of interaction.
Supplier integration must be managed to make it effective. This requires a strong commitment from both organizations.
Note: This answer uses some information reported by EDMAR, July 1997.