Yikes. It’s been a while since I’ve asked “Am I doing this right”, and the world has sure changed since then. Growing up, I had this simplistic view of our society that every person who graduated college ended up with a high paying job and would be set for life. I didn’t realize until later that my mom had graduated college during a recession, and despite her business degree had to take a job as a grocery store cashier because she couldn’t find a job in marketing.
I also didn’t realize (because how could I) that a global pandemic would hit during my last semester of college and that I would be graduating in a month where one in four Americans are unemployed, and most grads I know who thought they had a job lined up are applying for unemployment. Big lesson? A college degree alone cannot guarantee a job.
But I knew there must be a way to stand out a little more in my career. So, I turned to Continuing Education Expert Carl O’Brien, PE, PP, CME, CPWM. Though he humbly laughed when I called him an expert on the subject, he has extensive experience both as an engineer who is constantly trying to improve himself and as an educator, having taught courses for Certified Municipal Engineers for over a decade.
“I take courses on everything I deal with. From transportation to drainage to flood hazards, I’m always trying to improve myself. We need to be cutting edge, and we need to know what is going on in the industry.” I could tell by the passion in his voice how much he genuinely enjoys his job.
I guess that’s the difference between a job and a career, right? If you’re excited about what you’re doing and want to do a good job, you’ll naturally be more excited about improving and learning.
I asked him what kinds of resources are out there today, during this time of quarantine and social distancing.
“Many educational opportunities that used to be in-person have been moved online. You should be looking at the many professional organizations that exist for your unique industry. There are so many tools out there, but you have to be ambitious enough to find them.” What are some of these organizations? The ASCE local and national chapters, NSPE, and ITE for transportation are just a few.
I also wanted to see what young professionals had to say about continuing education. Is it important in your twenties, or can I wait a few years until I have to worry about it? Did I really just celebrate the end of homework to sign up for more homework? To answer these questions, I asked Russ Gelpke and Evan Scarpino in our IT department.
“A lot of people think that landing their first job is an end goal. But if you don’t realize that getting the job is just a starting point, then you’re in trouble,” Russ stated. “You have to continue to improve yourself.”
Good advice, but what does he think is the best way to do that?
“In my field, get as many certifications as you can. They can really set you apart. And some certificates only last a certain amount of years. You have to stay on top of that,” Russ pointed out. An A Plus certificate, which is a computer certification for PC computer service technicians, lasts only four years, for example, so continuing education is a must.
“Be humble, man. No matter what degrees you have, there are plenty of other people with those same degrees,” Evan noted. “So, you can’t become complacent just because of them.” This is true, since more Americans are educated than ever before. He, too, agrees that earning certifications that are relevant to what you want to do is the way to make yourself stand out. With all the other recent grads who are looking for jobs in an uncertain economy. This may be more important than ever.
Equipped with this advice, and with the desire to stay on top of what’s new, I am definitely going to look into what professional organizations I can take part in today.
Looking for Resources?
There are a ton of professional engineering organizations out there: ITE, NSPE, ASCE, Alison, just to name a few! Or if you’re in another industry: LYNDA, Plural Sight, or Coursera. Many have free trials!
Also, be on the lookout for Maser’s webinar series, where you can learn more about topics like ADA Ramp Compliance and Mobile Mapping in Tunnel Systems.
Let me know in the comments what resources you use to learn more about your field, and I’ll see you the next time I ask, “Am I Doing This Right?”