From Classroom to Career

A newly minted engineer, now working at a system integration firm, offers his tips for making a successful transition from college to industry.

Jeff Meyers, Loman Control Systems
Jeff Meyers, Loman Control Systems

With such a wide array of subjects available in college today, the objective of every college student should be to develop a logical mindset within their field of study. For engineers, hands-on experience such as building a robot, writing a gaming program, and reading engineering articles will ease the technical transition.

In my case, the discipline of electrical engineering opened up several career path options for me. Participating in the workforce for the past year has quickly expanded my understanding of electronics components to include real world comprehesion of motor starters and current limiting devices. While these topics were not specifically addressed in college, I was well prepared with the engineer’s mindset necessary to quickly learn to design electrical cabinets, program PLCs, and create HMI screens.

Based on my experience, here are five practical tips to help facilitate a smooth transition from classroom to career:

1) Have an eager mindset for learning.
Starting out in the workplace is tantamount to being a college freshman again. While you are not expected to be an expert in the technical field, you are expected to diligently give your best effort with your developed skills. Within your first week, you are bound to be immersed in the unfamiliar lingo and acronyms of your industry. Don’t worry. Before long you will be using them, too.

2) Learn how to use the resources around you.
It is the 21st century. Knowledge is at our fingertips. You must foster the art of choosing the most appropriate information source for the job: datasheets, manuals, standards, technical support, and even your co-workers. Within your first three months, become acquainted with both your company’s standards as well as discipline-specific standards. For the control system industry, UL 508A, NFPA 79, and Ugly's electrical books have all become highly used resources for the trade. They also provide a good base for determining practical design solutions.

3) Develop a schedule.
Taking ten minutes at the start of each day to plan is tremendously motivating. Your task list may change as the day proceeds, but it will help you stay focused despite all the day’s distractions. You will develop a reliable gauge for what can realistically be accomplished in a day, and organizing an attainable project schedule will assure clients that you are competent and reassure yourself that your timeline is reasonable. For small projects, a simple Word document, Gantt chart, or Excel file can be used.

4) Communicate effectively.
Provide weekly status reports, check-ups, and updates of recent changes to everyone involved to help avoid costly and embarrassing mistakes down the road.

5) Be prepared for non-technical work.
While you may have a technical job title, your responsibilities may incorporate other duties. Customer emails, project documentation, proposal quotes, and purchase orders may become part of the regular routine amid the technical work. This is especially if you work for a smaller company; you will become well-rounded in understanding the entire project management process from start to finish. Engineers need to understand the sales groups and their function within the company, too.

Jeff Meyers is a junior engineer at Loman Control Systems Inc., based in Lititz, Pa. Loman Control Systems is a Certified member of the Control System Integrators Association. See Loman Control Systems' profile on the Industrial Automation Exchange.

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