It’s easy to look back at the early years in your career and think about all the things you wish you knew when you started out. No one has a crystal ball, but we do have the internet, which makes it easy to learn from the experience of well-rounded engineers.
With that in mind, there are nine skills that stand out as indispensable for engineering graduates to master once they’ve completed their education (or before, if possible).
9 Skills to Work on When You’re Finished Your Engineering Degree
1) Work on your drawing skills.
Drawing is the language engineers speak, so this is one of the most essential places to start building out your skills. Luckily, it’s an internationally spoken language that doesn’t include ambiguity, but it is a language of precision. No amount of words and sentences in any language can convey what a simple sketch can convey.
Plans, elevations, end views, sectional views: You must be able to sketch all of these crudely but accurately using pencil and paper. Additionally, you have to be skilled on AutoCAD (or equivalent) to draw professionally. Beyond just drawing, it’s important that you work on reading drawings because you need to be able to point out mistakes.
Master drawing, and you will be a master of the language of architects. The rules are simple and after some practice you’ll be far more comfortable with them.
2) Understand the basic strength of materials and the theory of structures.
Instead of focusing on how to calculate them in various structural arrangements and for various loadings, be sure you understand them without outside tools. Computers and software will calculate them for you, but never be in a situation where you are helplessly forced to believe what the computer prints out without being able to evaluate it yourself. It’s essential to be able to look critically at the results and put your finger on anything that looks ‘fishy’ and check and correct it.
3) Develop a flair for numbers and simple math.
Learn short cuts to arithmetic computations and commit to memory some useful formulae and values. Know the properties of common materials like concrete and steel and memorise their E values, densities, unit weights, Make sure you can reel off from memory the I, Z, and area values of the most commonly used rolled steel shapes (such as I sections, channels, angles and round bars).
4) Master (and completely “digest”) the code provisions.
Review CSA-S16 for steel design, CSA-A23.3 for concrete, the National Building Code of Canada for the loading for both steel and concrete design. Read the entire code from cover to cover and commit to memory as many provisions as you can. At a minimum, be aware that such and such provisions exist in the code for a particular situation and know how to zero in directly to that relevant specification instead of searching for it.
5) Know how to use a 3D modeling package.
I recommend S-Frame & Tekla structures, as well as Revit. Master it if possible and learn to automate the generation of drawings.
6) Master a spreadsheet package.
I recommend Excel because it’s widely used and there are plenty of training options out there. Know how to use the built-in functions, and go through all the menus and sub-menus so you understand what features are available. Learn to write Macros and learn VBA and the ability to develop customized applications. Excel is a very powerful tool if you know how to use it fully.
7) Learn and master any one high-level programming language.
Don’t depend on software developers to develop applications for you. They will never learn your subject well enough to give you the best software solution for you. It’s much simpler to have basic software development skills, and, combined with your domain knowledge in your area of specialization, the resulting application will be much better.
8) Welcome every opportunity to visit a construction site and observe (not just “see”) what’s happening.
Take advantage of being able to observe a construction site in real-time. Understand the problems at site, as well as the sequences, techniques, and the construction equipment being used. If you get an opportunity to be posted temporarily at a project site, welcome it! In the long run, it will make you a better and more well-rounded engineer.
9) Visit a fabrication shop if you’re in steel construction.
Learn how they do the job using fabrication drawings. It would be a great idea to have a year or two of experience in a structural steel detailing office and understand how a detailed fabrication drawing is made from the design drawings.
Master Your Skills
Engineers need to draw from a wide range of skills, and this list is by no means comprehensive, but I’ll limit the list to nine so you can focus on building the most important skills first. Remember that engineering is a constant learning process for the first 5-10 years, and even then, you’ll still have a long way to go before you get to the mastery level. All you can do it keep at it and work hard.