Wood blocks showing various soft skills

Engineering: Hone Soft Skills to Combat Work Woes

April 5, 2024
Chemical Processing’s Job Satisfaction and Salary Survey helps us keep tabs on how everyone feels about the state of engineering. What we’ve found is workforce challenges keep growing – learning how to master communication and interpersonal skills can help.

For nearly 20 years, Chemical Processing’s staff has been monitoring the pulse of the chemical industry’s engineering workforce through its Job Satisfaction and Salary Survey

With the cyclical nature of the economy, obviously, good times mean great pay and plenty of work to do. A downturn, however, brings layoff worries, and lately, it can mean a whole lot more. And while the good years are typically really good, with excellent pay and exciting job opportunities, the last few years have certainly put many folks through the wringer. The retirement boom and growing knowledge gap, the pandemic, and now supply chain and personnel shortages have certainly exacerbated workforce challenges. This is why we ask in our survey, which is currently open for 2024, “What challenges in your career keep you up at night?” If your answer is “nothing,” consider yourself one of the lucky ones. 

Long before workforce issues became the constant chatter it is today, field engineer Dirk Willard wrote about some of these very challenges in his monthly Field Notes column for Chemical Processing. His sage career advice only comes from years in the field. 

In addition to providing field operation tips that help shrink knowledge gaps, Dirk wasn’t shy about sharing the softer, more interpersonal skills of the job and tips on how to master them.

For example, no one likes to do cold calls, but honing your phone skills when reaching out to vendors can make the process far more productive. “A cold call is meant to inspire contractors to help you. So, prepare beforehand,” he stressed. 

In another column, Dirk noted that school teaches you how to learn but not how to think, and thinking critically on the job is key to avoiding drastic mistakes. And, all engineers, seasoned and novice alike, must learn how to cope with ethical and political challenges on the job. It’s not a matter of if you’ll encounter a touchy situation, but when.

And in another  — probably the most important soft skill of all —  he reminded readers to appreciate the help received from colleagues. He provided several examples of how others significantly impacted his own work and concluded, “You always should show gratitude to those who make your job just a little bit easier.” 

Mastering any of these soft skills can turn even the “okayest” engineer into a great one, better securing future career growth and lessening work stresses. 

But as workforce challenges continue to grow from widening knowledge gaps and concerns of burnout to workload stigmas and generational and cultural collaboration challenges these valuable tips are becoming even more important, especially as disruptive technologies continue to change the way we work. 
While we often address these challenges in our coverage, it’s time we search for a columnist dedicated to workforce issues (Dirk has since retired). We’re looking for a seasoned engineer who won’t shy away from talking about the good and the bad of being a chemical engineer in today’s world — one who is willing to offer advice to newcomers in the field. If you are interested in sharing your knowledge, please reach out to Editor-in-Chief Traci Purdum ([email protected]) or me at [email protected]. We’d love to hear from you. 

And don’t forget to chime in with your thoughts in our 2024 Job Satisfaction and Salary Survey. Tell us what workforce challenges you face and what solutions you see that can help create a happier, more productive workplace.

About the Author

Amanda Joshi | Managing Editor

Amanda Joshi has more than 18 years of experience in business-to-business publishing for both print and digital content. Before joining Chemical Processing, she worked with and Electrical Contracting Products. She’s a versatile, award-winning editor with experience in writing and editing technical content, executing marketing strategy, developing new products, attending industry events and developing customer relationships. 

Amanda graduated from Northern Illinois University in 2001 with a B.A. in English and has been an English teacher. She lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband and daughter, and their mini Aussiedoodle, Riley. In her rare spare time, she enjoys reading, tackling DIY projects, and horseback riding.

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