I've worked in the engineering industry for the last 35 years, starting out as a chemist in the water treatment sector in 1985.
One of the biggest changes I've witnessed over the last three decades is the rise of legislation covering every aspect of the industry. It started with basic health and safety and now reaches into countless niche areas, such as the consideration of industry challenges including legionella outbreaks.
While my generation were classically trained chemists recruited to solve problems with scale, corrosion and bacteria in the water industry, new graduates are now required to have a deeper understanding of general issues affecting the whole industry. Engineers are under increasing pressure to show how localized issues fit into the wider socioeconomic and legislative context.
Another change has been the industry's approach to transparency, traceability and accountability. In this age of globalization, formal contracts and job responsibilities allow each action to be traced to an individual. This maximizes resource allocation, improves training accuracy and improves safety.
However, all these changes pale in comparison to the opportunity provided by mobile technology to communicate in real time. The rise of the Internet has fundamentally altered the way we interact.
Engineers whose jobs involve working in the field might be asked to respond to another incident while on a job. Twenty years ago engineers on the road used carbon paper to record actions. Now smartphones, tablets and laptops allow a continuous link to the office, using graphs and charts to visualize data on the go. This technology has improved productivity and means that engineers in the field can get more done than ever before.
Despite these changes, some things have stayed the same. The importance of building valuable customer relationships is as great today as it's ever been. Inspiring confidence in a customer and building trust wins contracts.
Once you've got trust, being able to deliver on your promise is vital. The need to prove reliability and credibility, especially in a service industry, is something I don't think will ever change. At the end of the day, people like to do business with real people and not faceless corporations.
However, there is no doubt that the industry will see significant changes in the future. The rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) is already allowing us to make use of embedded sensors in engineering environments to provide better big-data transparency and interpretation, using novel graphing and visualization techniques. I'm already seeing this evolve to the point where our engineers can remotely prompt customers to turn off a valve in response to a cooling system alert, a change in the pH of process water or if the level of a specific chemical such as bromine is too high for example.
Advice to graduates
My advice to new graduates is that, now you've left university, you can no longer expect to be spoon fed. You are responsible for your own continuous professional development (CPD) and, while employers provide on-the-job skills to allow you to work on profit-making business functions, you have to read around the subject, to develop professionally.
This might mean becoming a member of a professional body such as the Water Management Society for Chartered Chemists, attending networking sessions, conferences or trade shows or finding a mentor who can guide you to success.
Brian Booth is the VP of the Water Treatment Innovation Platform of global water, energy and maintenance solutions provider, NCH Europe.