Being an entry-level engineer can be an intimidating undertaking. Tasks such as liaising with other, more experienced multidisciplinary teams and protecting multimillion-dollar assets are responsibilities that can intimidate any recent graduate. Therefore, while it may be tempting to hide in the shadows and seek job opportunities that may be the most lucrative, entry-level corrosion engineers should, as early in their careers as possible, try to pursue jobs that offer rich practical experience over a big paycheck.
Although graduate engineer salaries are not the most glamorous, the invaluable experience gained can result in substantial professional growth that can eventually lead to more lucrative choices in the future. In this article, we have compiled the top four tips that entry-level corrosion engineers can use to gain the experience necessary to become more proficient and confident while furthering their professional development in the process.
1. Be Willing to Work With Senior Engineers
There is a common tendency for young engineers to believe that they know more than they actually do. The reality is, when it comes to corrosion, the majority of learning occurs in the workplace, not in the classroom. While academic knowledge is crucial to understand theory and first principles, the most valuable knowledge is gained through years of practical experience.
A senior engineer, or mentor, can help get one’s career off to the right start and fast track the learning process. Working with a seasoned corrosion engineer gives you the benefit of learning from their personal experience gained over the years in the corrosion industry. In addition to technical knowledge, one can gain considerable knowledge of practical field solutions and effective problem-solving techniques. This is especially useful when corrosion engineering judgment is needed to provide solutions for projects that may have constraints.
The right mentor can also provide support, encouragement, boost self-esteem, and provide valuable insights into the corrosion industry.
2. Be Bold, Ask Questions
One of the most crippling attributes of a young corrosion engineer, or any engineer for that matter, is the unwillingness to ask questions. The fear of asking questions typically stems from the fear of coming across as incompetent. However, contrary to this type of thinking, questions demonstrate a willingness to learn and are also essential to the growth of a graduate engineer.
In addition, questioning an engineering design can help uncover flaws or even help inspire enhancements or improvements. In fact, some of the most fundamental questions have helped revolutionize entire engineering design projects. Young engineers should, therefore, not be afraid to step outside of their comfort zone and question anything that they may not be clear about.
3. Continue Your Professional Development
Now, more than ever, corrosion engineers are able to gain access to vast amounts of information. As a result, they are expected to gather data and develop practical solutions in the shortest possible time. Smart graduate engineers know that earning a degree was just the beginning of their career.
Corrosion engineering, like other engineering fields, require constant professional training, development and re-education. The continuous innovations in the fast-paced corrosion prevention industry mean that engineers that do not keep up to date with the latest trends and technologies run the risk of becoming obsolete reasonably quickly. As such, it is worthwhile for entry-level engineers to seek professional development through various avenues including seminars, webinars, training courses, etc. It may also be beneficial to join professional organizations such as the National Association of Corrosion Engineers International (NACE), the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), The Society for Protective Coatings (SSPC), ASTM International, and others.
Because corrosion engineers must regularly work in multidisciplinary teams, it is also essential for them to keep up-to-date with developments in other engineering fields. The cross-pollination of engineering disciplines often leads to crucial innovations in the corrosion industry. For example, innovative new materials in the oil and gas, aerospace and electrical engineering fields can provide direct beneficial impacts to the corrosion engineering field.
Additionally, corrosion engineers will often have to confront design issues outside of their technical expertise. For example, they may be required to provide alternate solutions to facilitate the operation of a particular part or component that is the responsibility of another engineering discipline. Engineers must, therefore, familiarize themselves with the basics of relevant specialties, keeping in mind their requirements when proposing specific solutions.
4. Learn to Work With Other Teams
During years of formal academic training, work is performed primarily in a solitary fashion. Most times, responsibilities are tied to one individual student. However, as mentioned previously, corrosion engineering is a discipline that often requires collaboration with other engineering departments (mechanical, electrical, civil, etc.). Learning to work effectively in a team is a crucial skill for entry-level corrosion engineers.
Problem-solving, conflict resolution and using mediation techniques to achieve a common goal are just some of the techniques that newly graduated engineers need to adopt in a team-based setting. As an entry-level corrosion engineer, seize the opportunity to work with diverse teams as much as possible. (For an example situation where teamwork is essential, read How Better Industry Teamwork Can Reduce Premature Coating Failures.)
The corrosion engineering field can be demanding at times. The idea of being responsible for securing the integrity of multimillion-dollar, high-risk assets can be an intimidating thought for any young engineer. (For more on asset management, see Corrosion Knowledge Management versus Corrosion Management: An Essential Tool for Assets Integrity Management.) With little experience, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the pressures and high standards expected in the corrosion engineering industry.
However, entry-level corrosion engineers can significantly improve their competency and confidence by ensuring that they gain as much relevant experience as possible very early in their careers. Working with mentors, attending team meetings and asking questions are all essential to learning the ins and outs of the corrosion industry. Equally important is continuing education, training, and professional development. It is crucial that entry-level engineers keep abreast with the latest corrosion prevention technologies to ensure that they remain relevant and marketable in this fast-paced industry.