Behold The Evolving Engineer

Innovation, broader expertise and a global perspective are increasingly important.

By Ashish Kulkarni, Celanese

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We drive the core technical depth engineers depend upon for their future success in three ways. First, we rotate some engineers through a wide variety of technical roles — from new chemistry to analytical to product development. Second, as highlighted in previous examples, engineers work on and lead programs from ideation to execution wherever possible. And third, we do technical exchanges at a variety of technology, industry and customer levels.

Companies must remember everyone doesn't learn in the same way. For those who prefer building their depth for longer time periods, we encourage principal engineer roles and paths where they add value with their depth.

Manufacturers must create an environment that enables engineers to add these six vital skills. At Celanese, we envision the combination of these skills and experiences will equip our engineers to do things in different and innovative ways. We know it's a critical part of improving our ability to compete globally.

INNOVATION'S ROLE
Helping engineers gain valuable skills isn't enough, though. Many companies over the years have gone through enormous changes but haven't altered their standard way of doing things. Processes become disjointed and irrelevant. An environment that welcomes new ideas gets squashed between reorganizations and the race to meet other goals. And then projects fail.

Today, companies need an environment — a culture of innovation — that will allow engineers to use these valuable skills to ensure we are prepared for any scenario.

At Celanese, we are building a culture driven by knowledge-based innovation. Roles and responsibilities created within the organization and company-driven projects and process support the culture. It values learning and, when appropriate, includes education we provide and encourage — whether MBA programs or on-the-job training on project development and management.

People feel rewarded when they're contributing to something and see results. And working on a project from conception to commercialization is the ultimate reward.

We've used this approach to re-educate our engineers and create exciting roles across the Advanced Engineered Materials business since mid 2010. Many of our engineers like the changes, others don't, and some still are undecided. Nevertheless, Advanced Engineered Materials has enjoyed very low turnover — less than 2% within its technology organization. People do move to other jobs or roles but rarely leave the company.

With these exciting changes, the business has increased its innovation pipeline four-fold. Driven by innovation, profitability projections for the next five years have more than doubled.

These are exciting times for engineers. We hope this approach for adding new skills to our engineers' toolkits will make us an even more appealing place to remain — and attract even more top engineering graduates. The innovation culture has made employees more enthusiastic about the company and their work, which catches prospective hires' attention.

EXTERNAL EFFORTS
Companies also should play a role in helping engineering students learn the skills and competencies future employers need. For instance, while CEO of Celanese, Dave Weidman invested $10 million to build The Weidman Center for Global Leadership at Brigham Young University's College of Engineering & Technology, Provo, Utah. The program is intended to develop students' leadership capabilities and help them lead in a global environment. The company also contributes to science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs in schools around the world where it does business. Celanese employees volunteer their time and knowledge to improve students' skills.

We're also watching with great interest the emerging concept of universities giving students "merit badges" for their skills and experience rather than degrees. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has set up a $2-million grant program, in coordination with the Mozilla Foundation, in support of digital badges. Companies can use these badges to track their employees' training. Top engineering schools such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass., are experimenting with similar programs.

 

A WIN/WIN SITUATION
By creating the right environment, setting up opportunities for engineers to learn and grow, and rewarding their efforts, we will set the path for dynamic, innovative teams that will continue to design products that make the world a better place.

 


ASHISH KULKARNI is vice president, research and development for Celanese, Dallas, Texas. E-mail him at ashish.kulkarni@celanese.com

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