How to Train New Engineers – 5 Things to Know

Learning how to train new engineers can make or break a company. Without the right processes in place, both engineers and the company will suffer.

Because like every profession, rookie engineers also need handholding. No one hits the ground out of the gate running.

I’m going to go over 5 key items to train new engineers of all types. And to be clear, the process isn’t quick and easy. It may not even be pretty. But if done properly, both sides will win!

#1 Set realistic expectations 

new engineer working with company software

Rookie engineers from all walks of life have learning curves, and it’s unavoidable.

If a company doesn’t want to be a part of this learning curve, then it shouldn’t hire rookie engineers. On the other hand, they’ll never have homegrown talent.

In the same vein, experienced new hires also have learning curves. They need to become familiar with a company’s processes and guidelines.

By hiring rookie engineers though, you’ll gain individuals who offer the following:

  • A strong work ethic and a desire to prove oneself
  • A fresh perspective and enthusiasm for the industry
  • Ambition and a drive to achieve big goals
  • Flexibility in terms of compensation
  • A willingness to learn and take on new challenges
  • New ideas and a unique perspective
  • A willingness to adapt to the company’s culture and processes
  • Potential for long-term growth and commitment to the company

The outcome of throwing rookie engineers into the trenches 

Management heavily relies on rookie engineers by throwing them into the trenches. It’s cheap labor…

And I get it, experience is the best teacher. But, these engineers will learn on your dime. So naturally, they’ll hit road bumps in their work, costing the company money.

Management then becomes frustrated, as their engineers can’t get up to speed quickly enough.

Guess why?!

Engineering education isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. Students don’t learn real-world engineering in college. This is one reason why I believe engineering education needs reform.

Reform aside, these frustrations lead companies to fire some of their new hires. And I find this to be disheartening. The engineers may now think they don’t have what it takes.

But it’s no fault of most of the rookie engineers. Companies need to have realistic expectations and understand training new hires isn’t easy or cheap.

Similarly, you rarely see NBA teams throw their rookies into playoff games without training. Most rookies don’t even get any playoff minutes. It’s because NBA teams have real-world expectations for their rookies.

#2 Create training programs 

A company needs to create a training pipeline to feed rookie engineers into. The goal is to mold engineers to become self-sufficient.

I compare this pipeline to the minor leagues in pro baseball. The big-league teams shape their minor-league players how they want. So when they one day play on the biggest stage in the MLB, they’ll instantly produce.

Equally important, the pipeline allows a set number of months for rookie engineers to acclimate. If rookie engineers don’t produce after a set time, a company can then let them go. Without this protective measure in place, a company will bleed money.

If poor-performing engineers aren’t fired, they’ll financially burden the company. For example, they’ll take resources from the training of other engineers. Because companies aren’t endless money pits. They have a set amount of resources to distribute to new hires.

In short, a company needs to treat every new hire as an investment. Like a fruit tree, you won’t instantly get fruit. You need to water the tree and change the soil for years until you get tasty fresh fruit.

#3 Create a set working structure 

A properly structured company will simplify the onboarding process for new engineers. Below are three techniques companies should adopt.

A) Division of labor: properly separate distinct types of work. For example, engineers should leave drafting work to drafters. Especially difficult and repetitive drafting-type work.

Similarly, limit the admin work engineers do. This will free up rookie engineers to master technical work.

Later down the road, they can learn the various other distinct types of work.

B) Template documents: create ready-to-use template documents. This will optimize the workflow, and show rookie engineers the work quality expected of them. The following are example template documents:

  • Equipment submittal review
  • Study reports
  • Calculations of all sorts

Even more, these templates will make the document-checking process more efficient for others. Reviewers will know exactly where to look with each document.

C) Template drawings: many drawings are simply tweaked from one project to the next. So, a database of template drawings for every project type will save new engineers time. But also, show them what’s expected drawing quality-wise. No different than the template documents we discussed.

#4 Provide accessible resources 

To best tackle how to train rookie engineers, a company needs to first identify its problems. Then, create the necessary resources for engineers to navigate the problems. These resources would complement the training program.

The following are suggestions I find helpful:

A) Manual guide: have senior engineers write helpful design notes, to share with rookie engineers in a manual guide format.

The notes need to include the why in design decisions. For example, why a component is in location X in the design? Otherwise, a rookie engineer will only copy and not learn.

B) Group meetings: set aside a couple of hours every week for group meetings. Rookie engineers can ask senior engineers their questions. Heck, senior engineers can ask other senior engineers questions. Any form of technical discussion will benefit everyone involved while strengthening relationships.

To have successful group meetings, consider the following:

  • Groups need to be small – no greater than 7 or 8 people
  • There’s no such thing as a stupid question
  • Everyone needs to receive the opportunity to speak
  • Note-taking is a prerequisite

C) Mentorship program: have senior engineers lead and guide rookie engineers in a one-on-one teaching program. Rookie engineers will then have a go-to resource for their questions.

No different than a batting coach teaching a baseball player how to hit a ball every day. Or like the age-old apprenticeship model. An apprentice works under a skilled tradesman to learn a trade.

D) Turnover rate: don’t forget the engineers who graduate from your training. Keep them stimulated, by feeding them interesting work to test their skills.

The worst thing is for the engineers you trained to switch companies because they got bored. All after you invested loads of money and time into them.

#5 Don’t forget about senior engineers in the training process

senior engineer teaching new engineer at control panel

We can’t forget the critical role of senior engineers in this apprenticeship model. I learned the most from experienced engineers when I first started working.

You can endlessly read manuals and books, but you can only learn so much. No different than reading about how to swing a baseball bat. Until you stand on a baseball diamond with a coach teaching you how to swing, you’ll never properly learn.

Senior engineers can show the ropes to rookies in the following manner:

  • How to begin a design
  • The required information to begin a design
  • The questions to ask your customer or boss
  • What to avoid in a design
  • Items to be watchful for in the design process
  • The reading material to pickup to kickstart real-world learning
  • How to overcome imposter syndrome

Also, the senior engineer would answer any questions, while correcting any mistakes made. But, they wouldn’t spoon-feed the engineers, to hamper their learning.

Clearly, it’s a drawn-out process with many moving parts.

So, a company cannot forget about its senior engineers who take part in this process. Consider the following:

  • Training rookie engineers is laborious. So, creating an incentive program to entice senior engineers to train rookie engineers is important for morale.
  • Don’t hire more than two or three rookie engineers per 10 senior engineers. You don’t want to overwhelm the senior engineers and slow down ongoing and new projects.
  • Only patient and dedicated senior engineers can train others. The mentoring process is far from easy.

The takeaway is, a company needs to cater to both sides equally.

“How to train new engineers?” wrap up 

Training rookie engineers is a team effort, which requires the right game plan. It’s why so few companies groom amazing engineers right out of the gate.

But once you do mold an engineer though, productivity skyrockets. Plus, the engineers will be grateful for the training they received. They’ll then become more loyal to your company’s mission.

Have you experienced difficulties as a rookie engineer at a new company? What do you find is the best way how to train rookie engineers?

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