Workshops Help Tech Professionals Make Career Transitions

Offerings also expected to increase value of membership

6 January 2012

A series of new workshops from IEEE could be coming to a large city near you. They deal with emerging technologies, like the smart grid and software engineering, and feature career planning advice on how to enter these and related fields.

IEEE hopes the Smart Tech Metro Area Workshop Series will help members see the value of IEEE membership, and spur others to join.

“Our survey data tells us that U.S. members are most interested in keeping abreast of new technology and networking with their peers,” says Howard Michel, 2011 IEEE vice president of Member & Geographic Activities. “Through the Metro Area Workshops, IEEE can address both these needs. In the current employment marketplace, it is important to stay current and have options.”

If the first two workshops, recently held in Austin, Texas, and Huntsville, Ala., are indicators, IEEE is onto something. Of Austin’s 153 attendees, 35 became new members; of 120 in Huntsville, 15 joined.

“While overall IEEE membership is growing, membership in the United States has been declining,” says Barry Shoop, the 2010 vice president of MGA. “To help stem the decline, the IEEE Board of Directors funded several new programs for 2011 that would engage members and also help revitalize the geographic units by providing them with new offerings.”

One of those programs is the workshop series. To reach as many people as possible, the series is made available in metropolitan areas with high concentrations of engineers, Shoop says. IEEE sections host the multiday, multitrack event, with IEEE societies providing the speakers and technical content. The workshops eventually might be simulcast or provided as webcasts to other geographic areas.

In Region 5, the Central Texas Section sponsored the Austin event. In Region 3, Huntsville was the sponsoring section.

“When I learned of the program, I recognized that value-conscious members would use it in their annual ‘return on investment’ decision to renew their IEEE membership,” says Senior Member Bob Robinson, chair of the IEEE Huntsville Section. “It also is an opportunity for nonmembers to see the value that membership brings.”

Adds Senior Member Tom Grim, chair of the IEEE Central Texas Section, “We try very hard to bring opportunities to our section members, and when we see the chance to serve them, we try to do it.”

The workshops were held in Austin on 21 and 22 October at the Marriott South Hotel, and in Huntsville on 4 and 5 November at the Von Braun Center.

The same three eight-hour courses were taught at both events: Introduction to the Smart Grid, Software Engineering Essentials, and Wireless Communications Engineering. The IEEE Power & Energy Society provided the instructor and content for the smart-grid workshop, which covered smart metering, the integration of grid elements into utility operations, and cybersecurity. The principles, standards, and practices needed to create robust applications were taught in the software engineering session with an instructor and material from the IEEE Computer Society. The wireless course, from the IEEE Communications Society, provided an introduction to the field.

In addition to those courses, an eight-hour career assistance session with members of the IEEE-USA Employment and Career Services Committee was held on the second day.. The speakers discussed how to develop networking and job-seeking skills, and offered tips on résumé writing, interviewing, and consulting.

The price for the two-day workshop, including breakfast, lunch, and dinner, was US $99 for members and $179 for others—quite a deal, according to Robinson. He estimates that each course alone would normally cost up to $1000. “It’s a remarkable value for such excellent technical and career training,” he says. IEEE membership, which starts at $138, was also available.

Attendees came from near and far. Some participants in Huntsville came from as far away as Oregon and the island of Jamaica. About half a dozen college students drove from Florida.

Grim says a group of 10 college students from El Paso, Texas, rented a van for the 805-kilometer journey to Austin. Other attendees flew in from Chicago and Los Angeles.

Feedback on the series was positive, with a satisfaction rate over 77 percent for Austin and 82 percent for Huntsville.

“Attendees were engaged in the workshops to the very end, with the career workshop presenters receiving a standing ovation,” Robinson says. “And there was spontaneous networking throughout the event.

At least one underemployed engineer said he picked up some “great” job leads, fulfilling the workshops’ goals and promoting IEEE’s larger mission as a career companion.

The next workshops are scheduled for Baltimore, Detroit, Santa Clara, and the New York metro area. Check the IEEE Smart Tech website for the Metro Area Workshop nearest you.

IEEE membership offers a wide range of benefits and opportunities for those who share a common interest in technology. If you are not already a member, consider joining IEEE and becoming part of a worldwide network of more than 400,000 students and professionals.

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