Learning how to train new engineers can truly set a company apart from the rest, catapulting it from average to exceptional.
Just like in any profession, fresh-faced engineers need some extra care and attention.
So, let me walk you through 5 essential steps to train all sorts of new engineers. Fair warning, this journey won’t be a walk in the park. But when done right, it’s a win-win for everyone involved!
#1 Set realistic expectations
Let’s face it: rookie engineers, no matter their background, have learning curves that simply can’t be skipped.
If a company isn’t ready to handle this learning curve, then maybe hiring rookies isn’t their cup of tea. But that also means missing out on nurturing homegrown talent.
Even experienced new hires have a thing or two to learn. They need time to get familiar with a company’s way of doing things.
By bringing rookie engineers on board, you get folks with:
- A burning passion to prove themselves
- A fresh and enthusiastic outlook on the industry
- Sky-high ambitions and the drive to achieve big goals
- Flexibility when it comes to compensation
- A hunger for learning and tackling new challenges
- Innovative ideas and a unique point of view
- A readiness to adapt to the company’s culture and processes
- Potential for long-term growth and dedication to the company
Throwing rookie engineers into the trenches
Management often counts on rookies as a source of affordable labor.
Sure, experience is the best teacher. But remember, these engineers will learn at your expense. They’ll inevitably hit snags along the way, and that’s gonna cost the company.
So when management gets frustrated with engineers not catching on fast enough, I can’t help but ask: “Really?!”
Engineering education isn’t all it’s hyped up to be. College doesn’t teach students the nitty-gritty of real-world engineering. That’s one reason I think engineering education needs a serious overhaul.
These frustrations sometimes lead companies to let go of their new hires. It’s heartbreaking, really. These engineers might end up thinking they’re not cut out for the job.
But the truth is, most rookie engineers are not to blame. Companies need to have realistic expectations and understand that training new hires is neither easy nor cheap.
Take a look at NBA teams. They don’t throw their rookies into playoff games without proper training. Heck, most rookies don’t even get to play in the playoffs! That’s because NBA teams know what to expect from their rookies.
#2 Create training programs
A company’s got to set up a training pipeline for rookie engineers to grow in. The aim here is to shape them into self-sufficient pros.
Think of this pipeline like the minor leagues in pro baseball. The big-league teams groom their minor-league players just the way they want. So when these players finally make it to the big leagues in the MLB, they hit the ground running.
Another key aspect of the pipeline is giving rookie engineers a set time to find their footing. If they still can’t deliver after that period, then it’s time to part ways. Without this safety net, the company’s money could go down the drain.
Retaining underperforming engineers would only add financial strain to the company. For instance, they’d divert resources from training other engineers. Companies don’t have bottomless pockets, after all. They’ve got limited resources for new hires.
In a nutshell, a company should treat every new hire like an investment. Think of it as planting a fruit tree. You won’t get delicious fruit right away. You need to water the tree and nurture it for years before you can savor the fruits of your labor.
#3 Craft a solid working structure
Getting your company structured right can make all the difference when it comes to onboarding new engineers. Here are three techniques that can help you do just that:
A) Divide and conquer: Clearly separate different types of tasks. For instance, let drafters handle the drafting work, especially the tedious and repetitive parts. Likewise, keep administrative tasks to a minimum for engineers. By doing this, newbie engineers can focus on mastering technical skills and later explore other areas of work.
B) Template documents: Whip up some ready-to-use template documents to streamline workflows and show rookies the quality of work you expect. Examples of handy templates include:
- Equipment submittal reviews
- Study reports
- Various calculations
Bonus: These templates also make document-checking a breeze for others since reviewers know exactly where to look in each document.
C) Template drawings: A lot of drawings are simply modified from one project to another. So, having a treasure trove of template drawings for all project types not only saves time for new engineers but also sets the bar for drawing quality—just like those trusty template documents.
#4 Provide accessible resources
To effectively train rookie engineers, a company must first pinpoint its challenges and then cook up essential resources to help engineers navigate these hurdles. These resources should complement your training program. Here are some suggestions I’ve found super helpful:
A) Master manuals: Have seasoned engineers jot down handy design notes to share with rookie engineers in a user-friendly manual guide. It’s crucial for these notes to explain the rationale behind design choices. Otherwise, rookies will only mimic the designs without truly understanding them.
B) Power-packed meetings: Carve out a couple of hours each week for group meetings where rookie engineers can pick the brains of experienced colleagues. Even senior engineers can learn a thing or two from each other! Engaging in technical discussions benefits everyone involved and helps forge stronger bonds.
For successful group meetings, keep these pointers in mind:
- Keep groups small, with no more than 7 or 8 people
- Remember, there are no stupid questions
- Give everyone a chance to chime in
- Taking notes is a must
C) Mighty mentorship: Pair up senior engineers with rookies in a one-on-one coaching program. This way, newbies have a go-to guru for their questions. Think of it like a batting coach teaching a baseball player to hit the ball every day or the classic apprenticeship model where an apprentice learns a trade under a skilled craftsman.
D) Retention rules: Don’t lose track of engineers who complete your training program. Keep them engaged by throwing intriguing tasks their way to test their skills. The last thing you want is for your well-trained engineers to jump ship due to boredom after you’ve poured time and money into nurturing them.
#5 Don’t overlook senior engineers in the training process
Senior engineers are the unsung heroes in the world of apprenticeships. When I was just starting out, I soaked up knowledge from those seasoned pros like a sponge.
Sure, reading manuals and books helps, but it’s like trying to learn baseball by reading about it. You won’t truly get the hang of it until you step up to the plate with a coach guiding your swing.
Experienced engineers can help rookies hit the ground running by showing them:
- The ins and outs of starting a design
- The essential info needed to kick off a project
- The right questions to ask your customer or boss
- Potential pitfalls to avoid in a design
- Key elements to monitor during the design process
- Must-read materials for hands-on learning
- Tips for conquering imposter syndrome
Plus, senior engineers are there to answer questions and gently steer rookies in the right direction without spoon-feeding them or stunting their growth.
It’s a complicated dance with lots of moving parts, and a company mustn’t leave its senior engineers hanging. Here’s what to consider:
- Training rookies is hard work. Create an incentive program to motivate senior engineers to train newcomers and boost morale.
- Limit new hires to two or three rookies per 10 senior engineers. You don’t want to overburden your veterans and bog down ongoing or new projects.
- Choose patient and dedicated senior engineers for mentorship. It’s no cakewalk!
In a nutshell, companies need to have the back of both rookies and veterans alike.
“How to train new engineers?” wrap up
Training rookie engineers is a group effort, demanding a well-crafted game plan. That’s why so few companies manage to shape stellar engineers right from the start.
But once you’ve molded a top-notch engineer, productivity soars. Plus, they’ll be grateful for the training they got and become more loyal to your company’s mission.
Have you ever faced challenges as a rookie engineer at a new company? What do you think is the best way to train rookie engineers?
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Koosha started Engineer Calcs in 2020 to help people better understand the engineering and construction industry, and to discuss various science and engineering-related topics to make people think. He has been working in the engineering and tech industry in California for over 15 years now and is a licensed professional electrical engineer, and also has various entrepreneurial pursuits.
Koosha has an extensive background in the design and specification of electrical systems with areas of expertise including power generation, transmission, distribution, instrumentation and controls, and water distribution and pumping as well as alternative energy (wind, solar, geothermal, and storage).
Koosha is most interested in engineering innovations, the cosmos, our history and future, sports, and fitness.