Consulting Engineer – Mentor, Glen Hall
Glen received his engineering degree from the University of Illinois and later obtained an MBA from the University of Michigan while he worked for Ford Motor Company in Detroit. His career path later included jobs with a number of automotive suppliers. In his last position with a supplier, he was the Director of Operations over four plants and a distribution warehouse that employed 1400 people. Glen recently made another career change and became a consultant helping companies identify and hire engineering and manufacturing talent. Helping companies solve these staffing problems has allowed him to develop his own successful consulting practice. Glen’s article will be of interest to anyone considering engineering as a career and especially those who want to know more about mechanical and process engineering.
I grew up on a farm in rural Illinois near Kentucky border. I was not sure exactly what an engineer did at the time I graduated from high school. But I was good at math and science and decided to go to college and pursue engineering. I chose the University of Illinois. Big Ten schools in general are recognized as having strong engineering programs plus Illinois was in-state for me and had a strong agricultural engineering program. That program taught basic mechanical engineering skills but with a focus on agricultural equipment. Plus there were only fifteen students graduating each year, which meant you got a lot of personal instruction.
Most of the graduates in agricultural engineering went to work for companies like John Deere and Caterpillar. I interviewed with these companies but also with Ford and received a job offer from them. I accepted and moved to Detroit. Ford offered a diverse training program where you learned to design, test and develop new automotive parts. I ended up working as a product design engineer on the F150 pickup 4X4 front axle system. I worked there for seven and a half years during which time I was able to get my MBA from the University of Michigan. While working at Ford, I found that I liked the operational side of manufacturing, which means working in the plant rather than designing and testing parts. But Ford would not let me move into production. I also knew if I wanted to work outside of Detroit, I would need manufacturing engineering experience. So I left and took a job in Virginia for an automotive parts supplier where I was a Senior Manufacturing Engineer. I got that job out of an ad in the newspaper. That was the only job I ever got without a strong networking connection.
I found I enjoyed working in a smaller company where it was easier to get things done. I also found that I liked working with the people on the plant floor like the machinists and welders. We made fluid level sensors that went in things like heavy-duty transmissions. But after a year and a half, I found out that our production was going to be moved to China. So I changed jobs and went to work for an auto supplier that made headlamps primarily for Chrysler. In that position I started getting leadership roles. We won the Automotive Pace Award given by Ernst and Young and the Best Plant Award given by the Industry Week magazine as well as a Shingo Prize. I was then approached by Ernst and Young to join their automotive consulting practice. While I liked the job I had, it required a lot of travel and long hours. So I went back to Detroit where I worked as a Managing Consultant for E&Y for two years. I then took a job as an in-house consultant for the ZF Group, a German company that is one of the largest auto suppliers in the world. One of their largest customers was Ford. Because of my experience with them, I ended up running a new Ford business unit for ZF in Chicago.
In 2007, I made another move and was hired as the Director of Operations for an automotive parts supplier to run a business unit that had four plants, a distribution warehouse and 1,400 employees. One of the plants was in Mexico and one in Canada. So I was out of the country for as much as two weeks every month. But with the recession in 2008, all the major auto manufacturers and suppliers were cutting back. I decided I wanted to take more control of my life and we came to Tulsa to work in manufacturing businesses that required less travel so I ended up running operations at two companies over 6 years. (one in aerospace and one in heavy equipment) I did a ton of talent recruitment internally at these companies as we went through economic ups and downs. Eventually, in 2013, I set up my own consulting practice primarily recruiting engineering talent that could help a company with a particular staffing problem. I named the company Coltec Consulting. I often recruit engineers, managers or executives to do jobs that I used to do myself that included all aspects of a manufacturing business. The business can be done from one location and I only spend about 5% of my time traveling to my clients.
What an Engineer Does
As I mentioned, I became an engineer because I was good at math and science. I really did not know what an engineer did every day. As an engineer in a manufacturing environment, you are testing how parts operate under different conditions. This could be measuring the strength of the materials, temperature variations, how the part responds to vibrations (harmonics) and the durability testing. You also working with the plant to see how the part fit together during assembly to make sure they can be built efficiently. So you design, build, and either deliver or assemble the parts. If problems come up in any of these areas, it is your job to find a way to fix them.
How to Prepare to be an Engineer
- First make sure that you are good at math and science. You are going to use the structured thinking skills learned in math and science every day. For more technical jobs, you will use applied mathematics daily.
- Engineers are usually needed to be the best the problem-solvers for manufacturing. Make sure you think in a structured manner and enjoy the dynamics of the problem solving process.
- Decide on a field within engineering depending on your interests. The main categories are Mechanical, Electrical and Chemical. If you are not sure, Mechanical Engineering will give you the most flexibility within manufacturing when it comes time to get a job and for training once you are there.
- It is not necessary to start at a four-year college. Most community colleges allow you to earn your first two years of credits for much less money and transfer those credits to the college or university where you will receive your four year degree. While schools like the Big Ten have reputations for strong engineering schools, check local schools in your area. Many have good programs that are recognized by local employers. Public in-state schools are usually less expensive, too.
- Start networking and getting to know your classmates in college. There are national engineering societies that sponsor student groups at most colleges. It is a good way to meet experienced engineers who could potentially hire you after you graduate as well as meet other students who might recommend you for a job later in your career. It is amazing how staying in touch with others to try and help them has enhanced my career.
Best Ways to Find an Engineering Job
- While I mentioned that I did get one job out of the newspaper, networking is the best way to get a job. This is how you get referrals. So connect with other people in groups and start in high school & college. Many industry associations are active on college campuses and often owners of companies come on campus to meet young students. Ask your professors for referrals to leaders and owners in businesses that are in industries you find interesting.
- Your resume is a sales document that will get you an interview but not a job. Continue to update it through out your career and highlight your achievements in quantifiable results that shows the value you were able to create.
- When you are interviewing, show potential employers that you are a problem solver. Learn as much about their business before the interview and think of ways you can help them.
- When you get an interview, be patient but follow up.
- Build your network using social media like LinkedIn but also by writing hand-written thank you notes.
- When you are in a job, stay involved in industry associations and community groups so you continue to build your network via helping others first.
Engineering is one of the highest paid professions and a career that I have thoroughly enjoyed. It is a career that gives you a lot of satisfaction seeing things you have helped design or produce helping improve peoples’ daily lives. While the demand for young graduates can vary some with the general economy, experienced engineers are always in demand. If you are good at math and science and enjoy problem solving like I do, engineering is a rewarding career that you should consider.
Visit my website http://coltecconsulting.com to learn more about my consulting practice or to contact me directly with questions about engineering and job opportunities.
US Bureau of Labor Statistics – Mechanical Engineers
The median annual wage for mechanical engineers was $80,580 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $52,030, and the top 10 percent earned more than $121,530.
In May 2012, the median annual wages for mechanical engineers in the top five industries employing these engineers were as follows:
|Computer and electronic product manufacturing
|Architectural, engineering, and related services
|Transportation equipment manufacturing
|Fabricated metal product manufacturing
Job Growth Outlook
Mechanical engineers should experience faster than average growth in architectural, engineering, and related services as companies continue to contract work from these firms. Mechanical engineers will also remain involved in various manufacturing industries—specifically, transportation equipment and machinery manufacturing. They will be needed to design the next generation of vehicles and vehicle systems, such as hybrid-electric cars and clean diesel automobiles. Machinery will continue to be in demand as machines replace more expensive human labor in various industries. This phenomenon in turn should drive demand for mechanical engineers who design industrial machinery.
Mechanical engineers are projected to experience faster than average growth in oil and gas extraction because of their knowledge and skills regarding thermal energy.
Mechanical engineers often work on the newest industrial pursuits. The fields of alternative energies, remanufacturing, and nanotechnology may offer new opportunities for occupational growth. Remanufacturing—rebuilding goods for use in a second life—holds promise because it reduces the cost of waste disposal. Training in remanufacturing may become common in mechanical engineering programs at colleges and universities.
Nanotechnology, which involves manipulating matter at the tiniest levels, may affect employment for mechanical engineers because they will be needed to design production projects based on this technology. Nanotechnology will be useful in areas such as designing more powerful computer chips and in healthcare.