Personal development planning for engineering
Personal development planning for engineering

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Personal development planning for engineering

1.3 Managing your career development

With a career development plan, you'll be able to be active in pursuing your personal goals rather than being a passive recipient of training and development deemed appropriate by others. After all, you're the one in the best position to know what kind of development you need. Good career planning starts with finding the answers to three basic questions:

  • Where am I now?
  • Where do I want to go?
  • How will I get there?

To help you think about how you might go about answering these questions, I would like you to listen to the first part of an interview with Chi Onwurah, an engineer who became MP for Newcastle Central. Before you listen to the in-depth interview, watch Video 1, which will give you an introduction to Chi and her background through her conversation with Benjamin Zephaniah.

Skip transcript: Video 1 Chi Onwurah talks to Benjamin Zephaniah

Transcript: Video 1 Chi Onwurah talks to Benjamin Zephaniah

Benjamin Zephaniah
We couldn't live the way we do without engineers, and the city of Newcastle has a proud history of engineering. The person I'm meeting today was inspired to continue this great tradition. Chi Onwurah is an MP, an electrical engineer and a lifelong Newcastle United fan. Her love of engineering started here.
Chi Onwurah
When I was a kid, my mother would take us to the science museum, and I'd see this ship. It was just such a work of beautiful engineering, and the fastest ship in the world at the time it was built, but also powerful and useful. It wasn't beautiful and useless. It was useful, I guess. And it was from Newcastle, you know, and that really did inspire me.
Benjamin Zephaniah
As a kid did you think, 'In the future, I want to go into engineering'? Or did you just like it as a hobby?
Chi Onwurah
I think really early on – maybe 7, 8 or 9 – I wanted to be an engineer or a scientist. Because, you know, there was never any doubt that I was going to have to earn my living. We had no money. And if you're going to earn your living, I wanted to do something that inspired me.
Benjamin Zephaniah
Did you go to university?
Chi Onwurah
Yes, I went to Imperial to study electrical engineering. Whilst I wasn't designing beautiful objects like this, I was learning how to be an engineer. Telecommunications, that was my speciality. I mean, this is something which I think is absolutely gorgeous, still to this day. I mean, you could put that on your mantelpiece, couldn't you?
Benjamin Zephaniah
Give me an example of something that you've done that is working, that's out there now.
Chi Onwurah
Well, it's a bit of a confession, but I actually have kept one of the first circuit boards that I designed myself and had manufactured. And what that did was to manage 32 telephone calls at one time on this piece of A4 circuit. And I'm really proud of that. That was like the Turbinia of telecommunications at the time, so it was all cutting edge.
Benjamin Zephaniah
Why do you think there's not more people from the ethnic minorities and black people involved in science and engineering?
Chi Onwurah
I think it's something to do with the fact that there aren't black and minority ethnic engineers and scientists visible, so you don't get children being inspired. It's something to do also with the fact that, you know, there aren't more black and minority ethnic physics and maths teachers.
Engineering is absolutely everywhere. It's understanding the world about you, how it works, and being able to make a difference.
End transcript: Video 1 Chi Onwurah talks to Benjamin Zephaniah
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Video 1 Chi Onwurah talks to Benjamin Zephaniah
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Now listen to Audio 3, which is the first part of the interview with Chi Onwurah.

Download this audio clip.Audio player: Interview with Chi Onwurah (part one)
Skip transcript: Audio 3 Interview with Chi Onwurah (part one)

Transcript: Audio 3 Interview with Chi Onwurah (part one)

Chi Onwurah
Well, I think one of the things that anyone studying engineering should be aware of is that it's a great foundation for many different careers. My last job as an electrical engineer was as Head of Telecoms Technology for Ofcom, the communications regulator, and I think my ultimate career ambition would have been to be a Chief Technology Officer, but I didn't make it that far. I took a different direction and moved into politics.
Everyone entering the workforce is always advised to have a career plan, and I think that's really good advice. I found it difficult 'cos I didn't really know where I wanted to end up, but what I did do, and what I always wanted to do, was to look for new challenges and new ways of using my skills, and new opportunities to learn more about the industry. So I started off in hardware engineering, then I moved into software engineering, then I moved into product development, product management, and then operations and project management, so I got a really wide understanding of the industry.
Your CV should really be the story of how you've got to where you are, and why you're the right person for the new job or opportunity that you are looking for. One of the things about always having a CV which is ready to send out is that you need to be constantly assessing where you've got to in your career, also you know what kind of skills you are lacking. So I did a degree in electrical engineering but didn't have enough understanding of the whole telecoms industry, which was one of the reasons why I studied for a Masters in Business Administration in 1998 to 2001. And that was sort of looking backwards on what I had done, which had always been very technically centred, but also looking forward to the sort of skills I wanted if I was going to get more opportunities. So yes, look backwards and forwards (laugh).
I've always kept either a logbook or done bi-weekly or monthly reports, about … either to the person I was working for, or right now I do them for my constituents. And that is a really good way of taking time out of what you're doing to see, you know, to see what you're doing in your sort of daily job, but also to consider how you want that to change and evolve. If you're always coming up against the same obstacles or if you are focusing too much on one area at the expense of other areas, then you can reflect on that while you're doing your monthly reports. It's also very important to have regular reviews with your manager. Every company I've worked for always had some kind of performance-related review, quarterly or annually, and I think that's a key time to assess where you are, how happy you are in what you're doing and what kind of other opportunities would excite you. Because a good manager should always be looking for the opportunities that will excite the person who's working for them.
I started a logbook because I always knew I wanted to be a Chartered Engineer and one of the requirements that they had was that you need a logbook. So it's taken different forms over the years, but it has always been physical rather than electronic because they are … it's still easier to carry around a physical book, especially if you're working in the field. And then on top of that a kind of electronic monthly report, which is usually about one page or two pages, so that's there as a record as well.
End transcript: Audio 3 Interview with Chi Onwurah (part one)
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Audio 3 Interview with Chi Onwurah (part one)
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Chi gives some sound advice in this audio:

  • Decide what career path you want to follow.
  • Identify the skills you have, and any deficiencies.
  • Plan a systematic approach to your development.
  • Keep records and a logbook.
  • Have a CV that tells the story of your skills.

Now use the next activity to tackle Chi's first point – that is, to decide on, or at least put to paper some thoughts about, a career path you want to follow. I assume by the fact you are engaging in this course that you want to be an engineer, so a little bit more detail is needed here.

Activity 3

Aim of this activity:

  • to put on 'paper' where you want to be.

In your learning log, make that important statement: where you want to be! Don't worry if you are not fully decided – at the moment you can be quite broad and just state the area of engineering you are interested in. On the other hand, if you are already working in your chosen field or have a lot of previous career experience, you may want to be more specific about your goals. There is no correct answer to this activity, as long as your response is personal to you.

Then comment on why you have chosen that particular area of engineering or specific goal.

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