By Amy Lieberman
The field of engineering is changing fast.
“It’s no longer focused on the local type of engineering — it’s more global talk, global engineering, and the key is, how do we create global engineers?” said Bernard Amadei, the founder of Engineers Without Borders and former director of the Mortenson Center in Engineering for Developing Communities at Colorado University Boulder.
The core competencies of today’s global engineer go far beyond structural analysis, experts tell Devex. Here are a few fast tips collected from professors and heads of international engineering organizations.
1. Hone your people skills.
This ranges from being a team player to leading operations in potentially complicated work situations. Global engineers should also be comfortable communicating fluidly with a variety of people outside of their direct work zone as they enter new environments. Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering calls these traits “power skills,” which include communication, entrepreneurship and ethical behavior. They are woven into the curriculum at the large university,
2. Arm yourself with a foreign language competency/fluency.
Language skills are being stressed at some U.S.-based universities for engineers. Knowing a second or third language is key when operating in a country or region where English is not the primary tongue. James Mihelcic, the director of the master’s international program in civil and environmental engineering at University of South Florida recommends emerging global engineers walk into the field armed with a second language.
“There’s a question of how do you assess local cultural factors, like gender, that might impact your solution,” he said. “Then you can talk teamwork, dynamic group skills. These are really important areas that have been overlooked.”
3. Cultivate an openness and sensitivity to new cultures.
Cathy Leslie, executive director of Engineers Without Borders, noted that there is “room for everybody” and that strengthening local capacity at the government and academic level is important. But she noted that a lot of international, for-profit companies enter developing countries and execute projects that wind up being divorced from the communities.
Perhaps this need not be said, but engineers who want to travel to and work in a foreign country should try to, of course, be as accepting and as open as possible about experiences, traditions and general ways of life in their new home.
4. Study up on political, social and environmental realities.
Understanding the political structures and happenings on the ground, as well as some of the environmental challenges — like the impacts of global warming — plaguing a particular place can help engineers succeed on the ground.
5. Choose a technical specialty.
Focusing on a particular area, like health or education, can help people distinguish themselves and advance in the field.
“I think that having a specific technical focus, whether it is health or education or the environment or whatever, really, is good for young people,” said Paul Violette, director of climate change and urban services with AECOM International Development. “There are many generalists and to get an overseas assignment, to do something with any technical consequence, specialization is important.”
The writer is UN correspondent for Devex, covering the United Nations and reporting on global development and politics.