Plant & Works Engineering
Engineering the next generation
Published:  18 November, 2016

As the age-old proverb states, “a problem shared is a problem halved”. This forms the cornerstone of modern HR practice, not least because problematic experiences make a strong foundation for improving the next generation of HR professionals. PWE reports.

In the last 35 years, the engineering industry has changed in unprecedented ways, including seeing the adoption of a variety of new legislations. Yet as Brian Booth, VP of NCH Europe’s Water Treatment Innovation Platform explains, among these changes, one of the biggest has been to his own job title and role – from a junior chemist working in the water treatment sector to the vice-president of the water treatment platform of NCH Europe.

This type of career transition only comes from dedication to continuous professional development. Now more than ever, it is crucial that those new to any profession actively strive to develop their skill set beyond the work place and read around the subject in order to excel.

Within engineering, this may mean becoming a member of a professional trade body such as the Water Management Society or becoming a Chartered Chemists with the Royal Society of Chemistry, attending networking events or finding a mentor who can offer guidance. Booth says that his path of professional development has led him to take on the role of mentor and share his accumulated knowledge with younger chemists.

As the leader of a division, he says it could be easy to simply view chemists as resources that you need to see become as valuable as possible. However, a much better way to look at it is that these are younger versions of you. In sharing with them a wealth of knowledge acquired from extensive experience, you pave the way for better chemists and future successes.

These successes will only happen, he explains, with a relationship of trust between both parties. Just as a valuable is the relationship with a customer. It is important in inspiring confidence, a strong understanding across job roles makes all the difference when working to inspire growth.

Booth comments: “Yet even after 35 years there is no point where there is nothing left to learn. Especially within the field of chemistry and engineering, legislative changes can reshape the industry’s landscape seemingly overnight. It is therefore important that, particularly when in a senior position, you keep fully up to date with the wider industry at large. Falling behind change means that your knowledge becomes obsolete and, in a worse case scenario, could open your business up to negative financial or even legal consequences. More importantly, it is the adaptability to change that outlines the longevity of your career – regardless of position or division.

“Sector change is an inevitable consequence of development, so being able to manage change in a way that doesn’t impact on productivity is crucial.”

Managing people effectively

Catriona Whitford, VP of Human Resources and Corporate Affairs, adds that contrary to popular belief, HR no longer fulfils an administrative role: “Over the past decade, we have seen an industry-wide shift in the way that HR functions in the overall operation of a business, with an increased importance on effective people management.

“One of the key things I’ve learned through working at NCH Europe is that although people management is a blanket term, there is no generalised way of doing it effectively. Approaches and techniques need to vary on a person-to-person basis, as not everything that one individual finds works for them may be effective when applied to others. No two people are the same.”

She adds that in managing people according to their own strengths and weaknesses, it becomes possible to establish a formidable work force that can achieve repeatable results. Finding a balance between being process driven and results driven can only be achieved through proper management.

However, Whitford explains there are times when viewing teams as a collective resource is beneficial: “While managing people may be about treating employees in a way that brings out the best in the individual, leadership is about inspiring and engaging a group of people with a cohesive vision.

“Identifying a common goal and constructing a team of people that compliment one another’s skill sets is vital to lasting success. For example, if you are heading up a sales team, setting a monthly target for the team to hit will increase motivation by giving a definitive goal. Without a goal, a business will just meander aimlessly forward with little-to-no benchmarks for success.”

Success fosters growth and recruitment is a big factor in managing that growth.

The typical approach to recruitment is to judge employability entirely on a prospect’s skill set and what technical abilities they can bring to the company. However, Whitford’s experience has led her to realise the importance of assessing potential employees on a personal level too.

The reason for this is a concept which Whitford says is called learning agility, which for NCH describes the speed at which an individual is capable of learning new skills and understanding a product: “A way of assessing a person’s learning agility during the interview process is to make comparable assumptions. For instance, if a person actively enjoys DIY and home renovation and is knowledgeable about the intricacies of this, they are more likely to be a good fit for the company and will have greater potential to develop well in a product demonstration role. If they’ve never hammered a nail into a wall, then a sales career reliant on physical demonstrations may not be ideal for them.”

She concludes that a lot of HR comes down to this idea of personality assessment. Whether it’s determining if somebody is the right fit for the job role or if they are a match for the company culture, one of the most important things she’s learned is how to tell the difference. It’s this knowledge that comes only with experience.

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