Are you like many engineers; highly trained to solve technical problems but not as confident with your people skills? There is a big difference between engineering design and business management. In the engineering profession engineers are constantly studying to stay current on the latest technologies and engineering strategies. For many engineers it is extremely difficult to transition from engineer to manager. Since business and management are not usually classes in engineering college, engineers are expected to obtain their business skills through experience and continuing education. Unless you have a MBA, you will probably find it difficult to locate qualified continuing education sources with management courses tailored for engineers.
Most of the State Licensing Boards require Professional Engineers to renew their professional licenses periodically with a minimum number of continuing education units. These units are usually Professional Development Hours (PDH) or Continuing Education Units (CEU). One PDH is equivalent to one hour of course education, and one CEU is equivalent to ten PDH or ten hours of course education. To obtain these units of continuing education the professional engineer will attend or teach the seminars, classes, or courses, write articles, or sit on professional boards or committees. The majority of engineers obtain their credits by attending conferences or seminars.
Nearly all of the states that require continuing education credits accept business or managerial courses as long as they are related to engineering. In other words you can not take a class in “How to start your own Retail Business” and expect to receive continuing education credit for renewing your professional engineering license. But you can take a course in “Engineering Business Marketing Techniques” and receive full credit.
In addition, most State Licensure Boards do not pre-approve courses for continuing education credit. This responsibility is usually left to the engineer to understand the state codes and to screen the courses appropriately. The Board will either accept or decline the courses after the engineer has submitted the license renewal application and listed the completed and credits received.
Engineering managerial courses can include topics on Engineering Business Plan, Engineering Operations, Engineering Marketing, Financials, Proposals, Leadership, and many others. To acquire the necessary continuing education units, engineers can find these courses in the following sources;
Community College and University Continuing Education Courses – These institutions regularly offer courses on numerous topics. Since the courses have to appeal to a wide audience, they usually do not cover technical topics that would be of interest to engineers. You can find business topics, but these courses are very general. Management courses that can apply to engineers my have words like “professional services” and “technical industry” in the course title.
Vendor Seminar (Lunch Presentation) – This has been one my favorite sources. It usually starts by a product vendor giving you a call. He will ask if you would be interested in a presentation at your office. If you are interested you may say “Yes, but I will need for the presentation to be made at my office during lunch our hour. The attendees will be my engineers and designers, and I will need for you to bring lunch.” Your team will listen to the vendor’s presentation, review his products and literature, ask technical questions, and enjoy lunch. Each of your Professional Engineers gains about 0.5 PDH.
On-the-Job Training – Some firms actually have monthly training sessions for their engineers and support staff. The subjects can be on a wide array of technical, ethical, and managerial topics. As long as the subject covered, who made the presentation, who attended the training, date of the training session, and time spent training is documented, these sessions can count as continuing education.
Seminars – These courses are often held in a hotel conference room for a few hours to several days. Usually the courses offer continuing education credit of 8 PDH per day. If you have to travel to attend the seminar, your additional expenses beyond the cost of the seminar will include lodging, air fares, rental car, and dining. A three-day course can easily exceed several thousands dollars. Also take into account that during this time you will not be working on any contracts, your company will loss billable hours.
Convention and Conferences – These events offers the attendee a multitude of course topics. Attending one four-day convention, you can easily obtain all of the continuing education credits needed to renew your professional license. Like seminars if the convention is away from your home town, you will have additional expenses including lodging, air fares, rental car, and dining. Also since you are away from your office, you will loss billable hours. Again, a convention can cost you or your office thousands of dollars.
Home Study Courses – These courses have been around for a long time; long before the computer. The course material is sent to your home. You study the material, answer the quiz, and return the quiz. A week or two later a Course Completion certificate is sent to you. These types of course are being replaced by Online Courses as discussed below.
Online Seminars – This is becoming a very popular program. Seminars that are online are often quite a bit less expensive than actually attending a seminar. Not only are the courses cheaper, but the attendee also saves due to no traveling, lodging, dining, or other expenses. Of course, the attendee will have to find a quite area to sit-up the computer and speakers, and to post a sign on the door saying “Do Not Disturb”. Once the seminar is completed you receive a Certificate of Completion with the number of PDH or CEU earned.
Online Courses – These courses are much like the home study course but everything is done over the internet. You can take the course 24/7, and you usually have instant access to the quiz and the certificate of completion. These courses are the most economical and convenient for the engineer. You can just about study any topic; technical, ethical, or managerial. Most websites tend toward the technical topics. While only a few websites specialize in the business of engineering. Since most of these courses are written by engineers, it is understandable that most of the courses are technical.
Most engineers have excellent technical skills, but not necessarily the same level of expertise in business management and marketing. It is the responsibility of the engineer to develop these management skills through continuing education. Continuing education can be obtained through Community Colleges, Universities, Professional Training Programs, Professional Organizations, and online training courses. In most states continuing education courses qualify for continuing education units (CEU) or Professional Development Hours (PDH).
In this article we have discussed the different sources for engineering continuing education. The transition from engineer to manager can be difficult, but there are resources available to obtain the necessary knowledge. Acquiring the necessary management skills can be the difference between a good and a bad manager.