WHAT comes to your mind when you think of engineers? In my father’s day, there was a generalisation that all engineers carried a slide rule.

Early on in my career, calculators were popular items to have on hand. Whatever comes to your mind first probably demonstrates a common misconception about engineers.

The fact is that engineers are dynamic individuals who are also strong leaders, communicators and business people. Not only are they required to design and develop the latest innovative technologies, they are also able to understand what their customers need and manage a product through completion for successful delivery.

Business acumen competency is increasingly important for engineers. It has become imperative for an engineer to be able to understand how a business works as it helps improve his critical thinking and decision-making skills that can then positively impact the business. 

Leading a large department of engineers in the aerospace industry, I consistently tell my team that I would like for them to be intellectually curious about how the business works, how the organisation makes money, and how their decisions impact the company’s ability to stay successful and competitive.

Having strong and dedicated engineers who encompass these characteristics are very important for an aerospace company like Honeywell. It helps to drive leadership in innovation and the delivery of technically rich products and services to customers, which ultimately makes flying safer, more efficient and comfortable. 

During my 30 years at Honeywell, I was provided the opportunity to learn these skills through multiple job assignments throughout the organisation in engineering, supply chain, marketing and product management.

These roles allowed me to improve my understanding of how the company works, and helped develop my leadership and communication skills by working with mentors, engaging with international teams, speaking to customers and suppliers, and presenting at various forums and meetings.

When companies hire new aerospace engineers, they not only consider good performance in their engineering core course work but also their work experiences, personal interests and secondary course work in business and project management.

These additional accomplishments demonstrate an individual’s ability to take on leadership and customer interfacing roles. As the aerospace industry evolves and becomes more competitive, the expectations of engineers have also become more comprehensive.

Engineers, in  turn, should aspire to work in companies that invest in developing their skills through professional development courses, mentorship programmes, higher education assistance but most importantly through on-the-job assignments and training.

Companies that take an active interest in providing the next generation of engineers with opportunities to learn from award-winning engineers who helped shape their industry, from colleagues and customers around the globe and through world-class projects that enable them to expand their horizons, will always be employers of choice.

Becoming a successful aerospace engineer is hard work. It takes significant effort and commitment to remain focused on technologies that require years to enter into service.

However, there is nothing more gratifying than walking through the production line and seeing products being built and shipped and knowing that you have contributed years to their success and then seeing these products on a customer’s aircraft performing the job that you designed them for.

Next time, when you think of an engineer, remember that he or she may not necessarily carry a pocket protector and they know more than just how to design and build complex components.

Engineers are a diverse group of business people who solve problems and deliver value to the end-user. In addition, they excel not just at work but also in other pursuits.

A career in engineering — especially in the aerospace industry — is diverse and rewarding, and it will enrich your skills in design and business for a lifetime.

Article by Ron Rich, director, Auxiliary Power Systems (APU), Honeywell Aerospace.