Professional coaching can propel us to performance levels that would either not be possible or take an inordinate amount of time if left to our own devices. The benefits have been proven beyond doubt in sports and arts. However, the use of coaching in professions has been scarce and limited generally to the high leadership positions.
Since we all relate to sports, we can agree that it would be challenging even for the best coach to transform bad habits and techniques that have built up during one’s younger years. Therefore, shouldn’t coaching be most beneficial in the early stages of your career as those are the formative years?
Both of us look back at our twenty-year careers in the bridge engineering profession and feel that timely inputs from a qualified coach, who is working in your best interest can have a major impact on your career trajectory for the following reasons:
1. You don’t know any better – We enter the industry without a reasonable understating of the profession or the bridge consulting business, and a paltry network of useful connections. Our energy at the beginning is directed at gathering and applying technical knowledge through the tasks our supervisor assigns. As a result, there are several questions that emerge for young engineers:
Are you getting the right type of experience that is aligned with your goals: for example, if your desire is to become an expert on cable-stayed bridges, would working on precast girder bridges and retaining walls get you there?
A rather critical question is: do you have any goals defined yet? I bet most of us are clueless initially and that is perfectly okay; however, we can all agree that without a target, the chances of achieving any meaningful success are minimal. Thus, in terms of a target, one ought to think what one would want to become in the future: A Technical Guru, a sought-after Project Manager or be in a high-powered leadership role such as the Head of a Bridge Group?
This awareness then leads to self-inquiry into what parts of your profession you enjoy the most: computer analysis, steel or concrete design, project management, client relations, teamwork, long-span bridges, etc.? Even if we can clearly identify our skills and temperament, we lack the foresight on how to best leverage our abilities to our careers advantage.
But wait, isn’t it the duty of your current firm to take care of your career growth through mentorship and guidance from your immediate supervisor and mentor? – this brings us to the second reason.
2. Your career is not your firm’s priority – If you are working with a for-profit company then let’s be clear: your firm’s priority is its business health. Period. We don’t mean this in a negative way; we agree that the better your firm performs financially, the better everyone fares. The benefit to you is in the form of job security and perhaps a better bonus.
However, this also means that important decisions such as the selection of project pursuits, project team formation, your role on jobs are primarily motivated by business aspects such as bottom line, risk reduction,
and operational efficiency. Below is a brief summary of one possible scenario, which would be misaligned with your goals:
You are very eager to gain experience on design-build projects, but your firm’s strategic vision now views them as higher risk and is passing on the majority of opportunities.
On the one design-build project that your group just won, your manager is keeping you on the sidelines. For production efficiency, they are using an experienced team to reduce the risk of blowing the aggressive delivery schedule.
Ever since you joined the firm, you have gained repeated experience in analysis. Therefore, your manager keeps tasking you as the analyst as you are now quick and efficient. This prevents you from diversifying your exposure to other aspects of your profession. We know of engineers at reputable firms who have been restricted to a narrow breadth of experience for many years and now find themselves with few growth options.
You must, therefore, realize that your supervisor is paid by your company and primarily works for the best interest of your firm. Of course, there is no denying that often there will be alignment in the goals of the firm and your individual goals. However, expecting your supervisor(s) to act in your best interest always (such as advising changing firms) is unrealistic as there is a clear conflict of interest. That is precisely why the next reason becomes the most relevant.
So, what can a career coach do for you?
3. A Coach shapes your career for success – Refer to the questions raised in Reason#1. Without answering these fundamental questions, you are navigating your career in a very foggy environment. A bridge engineering career coach can help lift the fog in the following ways:
Help you gain a good understanding of the bridge engineering business
Outline many ways you can carve a meaningful niche within the bridge industry
Assist you in setting realistic future goalposts
Using their experience assist to you in developing a practical game plan
Provide ongoing guidance and advice for tackling situations as they arise
Keep you accountable and focused on your goals
There are several HR companies offering career coaching services that may work for a wide variety of careers. However, for something as specialized as bridge engineering, it would make sense that your coach has walked the path themselves before and knows the specific pitfalls and perils, along with opportunities and possibilities.
We could narrate several examples of how we have guided engineers at various stages in their careers. Details aside, this includes but is not limited to providing an in-depth understanding of the bridge business, helping with timely transition decisions and entrepreneurial options, providing technical mentoring and helping new arrivals to Canada navigate the engineering landscape to get a foothold in the local market.
Please visit this link to express an interest in a Spannovation career coach by joining our Career Coaching mailing list at https://www.spannovation.ca/school. We will soon be providing more details on a coaching program anticipated to be floated in early 2020.
Raj Singh and Saqib Khan