Engineering – is it what you know or who you know?

By J&C Team

Will Butler-Adams is the boss of iconic British folding-bicycle manufacturers Brompton. He got this job through networking, something not always associated with engineering careers.

Butler-Adams was talent-spotted aged 28 and appointed managing director of Brompton following a chance meeting on a coach journey while working at chemical company ICI.

Brompton under Butler-Adams went from making 6,000 bikes per year when he joined in 2002 to making 40,000 bikes per year and approaching £30 million in annual turnover today.

Despite this, industries like media, politics and business are more famed for the “contacts book” than engineering. However, Mark Edwards, Engineering Division Director at recruitment agency Matchtech, suggests this could be changing: “Networking has historically been less common in engineering, but buoyant engineering sectors are encouraging engineers to transfer their talents to different areas with skill shortages, increasing the need to improve individual networking skills.”

Engineering jobs can be very specialised and it’s often seen as a career where “what you know” is more important than “who you know”. Research from Matchtech suggests university engineering degrees have a greater focus on theoretical concepts than the soft skills more apparent on other courses, therefore it seems engineers should take an active role in developing these qualities. So where can engineers go to broaden their networks?

Engineering institutions

Professional engineering institutions like the IMechE (Institution of Mechanical Engineers) run regular events around the country. Eleanor Lamb, Careers Manager at EngineeringUK, says: “There are 36 professional engineering institutions and joining the professional body associated with your discipline is a good way to network with other members and keep up-to-date with what’s going on in your field or find a career mentor.”

Trade fairs can be another good way to make new contacts and they range from covering an entire sector, such as October’s Engineering Design Show, through to specialist events focused on a single piece of machinery.

Mark Edwards says: “Go to trade shows and speak to as many companies as possible by simply walking the floor and introducing yourself to companies of interest.

“Networking does not come naturally to most people, so be inquisitive and try to ask questions that add to your understanding of engineering projects that interest you.”

Digital dialogue

Online is also an area where engineers can expand their contacts book. According to Eleanor Lamb: “Social media is a very useful platform to make contacts and maintain relationships and by using LinkedIn you can join groups, follow tags, make contacts and find out about new opportunities and activities that relate to your role.”

Engineers can also create a profile on Twitter. Discussion is a key part of the medium, and they can message engineering companies and other engineers. Twitter users can also follow organisations where they might like to work to get swift job alerts as soon as they’re posted.

Whatever method you use, meeting relevant new people is an essential part of building any career, including engineering. As Mark Edwards says: “Your CV will get you so far but the majority of decisions are still made on relationships. Therefore, any opportunity to increase your profile by meeting decision makers within a business environment is going to improve career prospects.”