Personal development planning for engineering
Personal development planning for engineering

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Personal development planning for engineering

1 Career development planning

1.1 PDP and career development

To start you thinking more deeply about what personal development planning actually means, and why it is useful to you as a student and as an engineering professional, here are some statements about its role in (engineering) education.

PDP is a structured and supported process undertaken by a learner to reflect upon their own learning, performance and/or achievement and to plan for their personal, educational and career development. It is an inclusive process, open to all learners, in all HE provision settings, and at all levels.

(QAA, 2009, p. 2)

The primary objective for PDP is to improve the capacity of individuals to understand what and how they are learning, and to review, plan and take responsibility for their own learning. This will help students:

  • become more effective, independent and confident self-directed learners
  • understand how they are learning and relate their learning to a wider context
  • improve their general skills for study and career management
  • articulate personal goals and evaluate progress towards their achievement
  • develop a positive attitude to learning throughout life.
(Houghton and Maddocks, 2005, p. 1)

The most important ideas to take from the statements presented above are those of responsibility, reflection and undergoing a continuous process. But in addition, and quite significantly because of the theme of this course, career development is also referred to as a key part of personal development planning. Thus we can apply each of the three key ideas of PDP in general to career development planning specifically, as follows:

  • A willingness to take responsibility for personal development planning is something that more and more employers are expecting from their employees.
  • Reflection is one of the key cognitive skills you need to create evidence for in this course, and thinking critically and thinking for a purpose are two key aspects of reflection. For example, later in this course you will be asked to think critically about your strengths and weaknesses when mapping your skills and competences against the demands of relevant occupational standards and frameworks. This involves thinking for a purpose – in order to identify skills gaps and potential development needs.
  • The notion that the cycle of reflection, planning and action must be a continuous one is also crucial and links the process to lifelong learning and employability.

Now take a few minutes here to listen to the interview with Professor John Bouchard. John comments on how, at each stage of his career, he stepped back and thought about what he was enjoying and how he would use this to determine his next career move. If he hadn't taken the time to think about what he enjoyed and what he was good at, he probably wouldn't be doing what he is now.

John Bouchard: Professor in Materials for Energy; degree in mechanical engineering, masters in the physics of materials; member of IMechE; CEng
Download this audio clip.Audio player: Interview with Professor John Bouchard
Skip transcript: Audio 2 Interview with Professor John Bouchard

Transcript: Audio 2 Interview with Professor John Bouchard

John Bouchard
My name is John Bouchard. I'm Professor in Materials for Energy at The Open University, and I lead the Materials Engineering Research Group here. My first degree was in mechanical engineering at Bristol University. I then took a masters degree, by research and study, in the physics of materials. And after that I was frustrated, I think, with academic work. I did plan a PhD at that time but instead decided to work for industry, and I joined a civil engineering company – some consultants called Halcrow, and they were involved in the design and installation of a large dry dock complex in Dubai.
Well, when I first went there I was a little frustrated because I was given repetitive clerical jobs: a lot of paperwork, a lot of drawings. But I did have the opportunity there of visiting site – that was going to the Middle East for about eight months. So I got involved in a lot of installation and commissioning work for the equipment being installed on this dock: learning how engineering worked, contracts, dealing with contractors and seeing different roles of different types of work. I think there were two specific jobs at Halcrow which I particularly enjoyed, and those were more technical based and analytical, and I think that was an indicator to me that I was more interested in that side than in project management.
Then I went to join Rolls Royce, and in particular I was working in the stress office, which was involved in the design of gas turbine rotating components. And I was exposed to the challenges of high technology in terms of materials and operational performance of safety-critical components in aero engines – for example, looking at the failure of blades and the effects of bird strike. And I think from that stemmed an interest in failures of engineering components and structural integrity, which was later to become a strong theme of my career.
Having got experience at a prestige company under my belt, if I was going to move job then that was a good time – so I decided to look for a job elsewhere. And at that time the Central Electricity Generating Board, CEGB, had an excellent reputation in terms of technology and also in terms of pay and recognition of engineers, which was an important factor. I was recruited to work in the central office, which was involved in constructing new power stations. At that time there was a government enquiry going on, so I was involved in helping to answer issues being raised at that enquiry, but also to help develop the basis for the Pre-Construction Safety Report, demonstrating how the proposed plant would meet UK safety requirements.
Now at the CEGB I was able to build on my expertise in stress analysis and fracture mechanics and apply that to safety-critical components in the nuclear industry. I wasn't quite sure how my career and promotion prospects would develop – they employed a high calibre of people, so there was a strong professional ethos there, which I appreciated and enjoyed. Around the middle of the 1990s I had the opportunity to undertake one particular task which made quite a big difference, because I overturned the current perception of the importance of residual stresses in welded components. And after that I got a name for being an expert in that field. I think there is an element of luck and being at the right place at the right time. I haven't looked back since then.
So I, at that point, started to get involved in research projects at universities. I was overseeing and managing several contractors and at the same time also managing research projects, but it was really only after developing these links with academia and other research organisations that I started to contribute to papers at conferences. I began to think that I might want to move into academia. I saw how one or two other people in industry had actually used the Royal Society Industry Fellowship to move across, and there was a mentor at the University of Manchester who advised me and encouraged me to follow that route, and I see that as really a key enabler to my subsequent academic career – it opened all sorts of doors. That was a stepping stone, really, to moving across.
At British Energy I'd come to really a stop in my career. I'd got to the top of my grade, had been there for ten years or so. And I think companies, or perhaps all managements, tend to take their own staff for granted – they don't always see their merits and capabilities and skills – so there is a benefit in, from time to time, moving institutions. Certainly when I came to academia, my skills and background were greatly valued and recognised. This made a huge difference to my feeling of self-worth. I think for me the job satisfaction was paramount, really, and you need to have that satisfaction for the level of commitment required.
End transcript: Audio 2 Interview with Professor John Bouchard
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