Ambitious engineers shouldn’t wait for permission or for a ready-made program.

Effective career development is a process you define and execute, not one that the company lays out for you. Too many young professionals are waiting for the company to create a plan for the future when those programs are scarce. Training has soared to the No. 1 benefit as ranked by employees of the best firms to work for. As such, you need to seek training for the skills that are critical for your personal and professional development. Don’t wait for someone to do it for you. It won’t happen!

Organizational support for training is certainly essential to give you access to learning and development options. It starts with a CEO who sets the right example, is adaptable, encourages new ideas, and is willing to invest in learning. The firm’s culture, set by the founders and current principals, must also nurture career development. Sometimes that means flexibility with schedule to allow training opportunities in a hectic project load.

Here are some areas with which I have found employees in AEC firms need a lot of help:

Basic business software — We train people on AutoCAD and Microstation, but what about Microsoft Word, Outlook, Excel, and PowerPoint? Most of us have to use these programs all day long and yet know very little about how they work and what they can do. These programs are essential for managing and growing the business, and thus, career development.

Writing — This is something that is eroding in our culture, thanks in part to cell phones. You need to be able to organize a report that will “wow” the reader. You need to be able to write a proposal that gets the sale. You need to be able to write clear and effective emails and know who to copy. Money spent here will pay big dividends for the company down the road.

Public speaking — Everyone needs to know how to be an effective speaker. This becomes increasingly important as your career progresses. Look up at the people you are talking to. Don’t say “um” every 10 seconds. Get your point across succinctly. There are so many meetings and presentations where you need to speak and communicate effectively. You represent your entire firm every time you talk, so the importance of this cannot be understated.

The business of our business — You need to learn the basic mechanics of accounting, billing, and collection; marketing and sales; and how to recruit and retain employees. The list is long. You can find courses that teach these critical career development skills and receive continuing education credit for your professional license. Not all training has to be technical! Knowing how a design firm makes a profit, what it means to be an owner, and how to grow the company are all critical pieces of knowledge for an ambitious engineer.

To develop your career, you must seek the skills you need to grow. Don’t wait for a CEO to give you permission, and don’t wait for a ready-made program. Take your career by the horns and make learning and skill development a constant in your life.

Chad Clinehens, P.E., is Zweig Group’s president and CEO. Contact him at