Taking Charge of Your Professional Development

Individuals should assume responsibility for their own training, former IEEE continuing education chair says

22 September 2016

When it comes to keeping their skills up to date, many workers expect their employers to tell them what training they need, as well as pay for it. But IEEE Member Ken Pigg, former chair of the IEEE Educational Activities’ Continuing Education Committee, says individuals need to take responsibility for their education.

“When I graduated from college 40 years ago, many engineers expected to work for the same employer until they retired,” says Pigg, a lead engineer for Duke Energy, located in North Carolina’s Raleigh-Durham area. “But our world has changed dramatically, and that just doesn’t happen anymore. I believe it’s up to me to take ownership of my career.

“I certainly take advantage of whatever opportunities my employer provides me, but I have to make myself as valuable as I can be.”

In an interview, Pigg addressed a variety of continuing education topics:

This year AT&T told its employees they needed to update their skills on their own time, occasionally paying for the courses themselves. Do you think other companies will follow suit?

The company has every right to take this position. As an employee, it’s an opportunity to improve yourself. If I see my company has needs that are not being filled, it’s a chance to take advantage of the situation. It makes me more employable and eligible for promotion.

I believe the market should be allowed to manage the process. It so happens I work for a large investor-owned utility, and they are very much invested in their employees. I have been encouraged to find training I think would be of value to the company, and they subsidize the cost. That’s a wonderful opportunity, and when a training opportunity comes up, I jump on it. But I also invest my own time in learning about things that make me more valuable to my employer.

If a company is getting into a new field or starting a new venture, is it responsible for helping its employees get the training they need?

It’s up to employers to acquire the appropriate resources to do the things they want to do. And certainly it makes sense that if the company has proven employees who just need some additional training, it should facilitate that, whether it’s with time or money, or both. I don’t know that they have a responsibility, but I would say it would be incumbent on companies to groom employees to help them grow and take advantage of new opportunities.

What is IEEE doing to help its members keep their skills current?

IEEEx offers instructor-led and self-paced massive open online courses (MOOCs). There’s also the IEEE eLearning Library, located on the IEEE Xplore Digital Library, which contains more than 400 interactive online tutorials and short courses, typically in smaller segments than a MOOC.

Several societies, including IEEE Power & Energy, offer webinars on topics of interest to their members. Many technical chapters also do a really good job of offering programs focused on professional engineers who need to earn continuing education units.

I would argue that conferences also make up a facet of continuing education. IEEE has recognized there’s value in content from its conferences beyond the traditional papers, so it is working to make the additional content discoverable and deliverable through vehicles like the IEEE Xplore Digital Library.

Are there other ways IEEE can help members pick up skills?

Absolutely. I’m a firm believer that volunteering is an excellent opportunity to gain skills you may not acquire with your employer. I’ve been an active volunteer for over 15 years. I’ve served as treasurer for two sections, a council, and two regions, so I’ve learned about budgeting and financial reporting. As chair of sections and committees, I’ve learned how to organize and manage meetings so they stay on track. These skills made me more valuable to my employer.

This article is part of our September 2016 special issue on The State of Engineering Education.

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