In the realm of engineering, a significant yet often overlooked phenomenon is the fluidity of personnel within the field. Engineer turnover can occur through various channels, such as retirement, resignation, transfer, or even as a result of unforeseen circumstances like death. These transitions can set off a chain reaction of effects that influence projects, companies, and the engineering landscape as a whole.
Think of good engineering projects – a good mobile application, a healthcare application, a power plant construction, a major highway overhaul, a residential and office complex in a developing city. All these projects have so many things that need great engineering leadership. An experienced engineer who has things under control, and who could see much in advance what could go wrong. More that what would work, a good engineer should be clear about what could go wrong.
Engineer mobility occurs in multiple ways, including retirement, transfer, and changes in career plans. The departure of engineers, whether through resignation or internal transfers, can have far-reaching consequences for the projects they leave behind.
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The Invisibility of Good Engineers
The true value of a skilled engineer often becomes evident only when they are no longer in action. A proficient engineer’s work is characterized by its seamless execution, where tasks are resolved efficiently and projects move forward without disruptions. Conversely, poor engineering decisions can lead to issues at both team and company levels, potentially escalating to larger crises, especially in significant projects.
There are several engineering projects that depend heavily on good engineers. Some engineers are good with debugging errors that come up during work. Some engineers are great with working with alternative solutions. Some engineers know how to work with people at various levels and smoothen out things in general. There are so many skills that good engineers come with, that are not easy to replicate. Often these skills are not in the realm of engineering also. Many of these skills are simply the nature of their upbringing, or the unique life experiences at work and family that this engineer must have gone through.
Many projects rely heavily on the leadership and expertise of a single exceptional engineer. Besides technical prowess, effective engineers possess soft skills, problem-solving abilities, financial acumen, negotiation skills, and sometimes, a dose of luck. Sudden events, like the passing of a critical engineer, can significantly impact projects that were under their adept management.
Stress and mental health are also a major factor in engineering. Sometimes engineers could be struggling with keeping their minds in condition. Family issues or financial issues could take up so much of your mind, that major challenges may not receive as much attention and care as they should. These challenges, if not solved quickly, have a nature of snowballing into major disasters with huge complex knots. It will soon be beyond the scope of human intelligence to solve such mess.
The Safety Net in Bigger Companies
Large and financially robust companies often have backup engineers ready to step in when needed. Their competitive compensation packages attract numerous engineers, facilitating smooth transitions between projects. However, smaller companies operating on limited budgets can be disproportionately affected by the departure of a key engineer due to the absence of such resources.
A key reason why major companies pay so much and groom great engineers is to make sure that they have someone to fall back to, in case someone is not able to take the load as they should. Also, the money and benefits that these companies shower upon their star engineers show how much they value great contributions. Even with all kinds of documentation and standard procedures, certain skills and qualities cannot be found that easily. Also, it is super tough to hire the right person with the right skills so easily.
The knowledge housed within a single engineer, or a small group, is often too intricate to be fully documented. An engineer’s personality and approach permeate the essence of their work, rendering it challenging to replicate or convey. Junior engineers can shadow their experienced counterparts, yet certain subtleties and nuances defy conventional teaching methods.
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Smaller companies give the unique advantage of being exposed to challenges that are typically outside your range of capacity or authority. The challenges that are saved for senior management team in big companies would be available to solve for a junior engineer at a small team. The confidence that engineers gather when they solve challenges works very well for future projects. The experience you gain from being on ground and solving major problems is that “x-factor” that makes you special as an engineer. This cannot be taught much.
Unique Personalities of Engineering Projects
Engineering projects, much like individuals, possess distinct personalities and problem-solving approaches. They tackle challenges using methods shaped by the collective expertise of their teams. Sudden disruptions, such as the loss of a key engineer, can throw these projects off course, highlighting the vulnerability inherent in this profession.
We can never say one human is better than another human, or that one project is more complete than another project. The nature of human beings and nature of projects that often leaves room for interpretation is what makes life beautiful. Engineering is a beautiful thing, that takes time to appreciate. Like a good dish, or like good wine, you have to grow as a human being to really appreciate somethings. Good project leadership in engineering is not different.
Engineer turnover is an inherent aspect of the engineering field, leaving an indelible impact on projects, companies, and the industry’s evolution. As the engineering landscape continues to evolve, addressing the challenges posed by personnel changes remains crucial for sustaining progress and fostering innovation. Through strategic planning, knowledge sharing, and the cultivation of diverse skill sets, the field can better navigate the ripple effects of engineer transitions and secure its path toward a dynamic and prosperous future.