What's the best way to position myself to take fresh opportunities and escape a rut?

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Emer Feeney

Q I have worked in engineering for eight years now and, while I love the sector, I feel like I have been stuck in a rut at my company. I want to progress further in my career, but I feel that if I don't make a change myself it will never happen for me. I hear about all the opportunities in the engineering sector but I am not sure how I should approach making that step change.

A It is definitely an exciting time to be an engineer in Ireland - especially in the pharma and medical device sectors. Demand is particularly high for skilled engineers with experience in the pharma sector, which is growing rapidly.

There are lots of career pathways for engineers and multiple fields you can work in, so there are always opportunities for moving into a new area.

However, successful engineering careers don't happen by chance and if you feel you have been stuck in a rut for the last number of years, you might need to brush up on your skills first.

By making clearly-defined plans, you can make the most of the opportunities in this booming sector. This is true of workers in all sectors - not just engineering. Here are our eight smart tips on how you can get ahead in your field.

1 Define your goals: First set out where you see your career going and then define your goals. You are not making an unbreakable commitment when you do this, but it will keep you focused and moving forward. Regularly review your progress and see where you are on the path to achieving your goals.

2 Continuously improve: To keep up with opportunities in a rapidly-changing career landscape and offer value to potential employers, you need to engage in continuous professional development. Acquire new skills with enthusiasm and always be on the lookout for new professional development opportunities. Keep an eye on the opportunities offered by your company - or invest in your own professional development.

3 Softly does it: Many engineers focus on improving their technical skills, as this is the core of the job spec, but don't underestimate the importance of soft skills. Work on improving your communication, teamwork and presentation skills - this will give you an edge. Having good soft skills might put you ahead of a rival candidate who can only display engineering skills.

4 Embrace change: Engineering - especially areas like software and automation engineering - are constantly changing and you need to keep up. Never think: "That's the way we've always done it." Instead, always be flexible and open and able to change.

5 Work hard: An obvious one, but sometimes people think that holding the qualification is enough to progress their career but you need to do the hard graft too. This isn't exclusive to engineering but can be applied to every industry and job. Take inspiration from inventor Thomas Edison who said: "Genius is 1pc inspiration and 99pc perspiration."

6 Be Optimistic: Engineering is often about problem-solving so you have to apply a positive attitude in order to tackle that challenge. While you have to be realistic, being optimistic when facing challenges will take you a long way.

7 Find a role model: Mentors and role models can really help you develop your career. It could be a colleague you admire or an industry leader. Your relationship can be as formal or informal as you and your mentor want it to be - make the initial contact and take it from there.

8 Stay Flexible. Engineering is a very broad field with lots of opportunities, so remain open-minded about where your career will take you. You could be doing a role in 10 years' time that doesn't exist today and other industries you might not have considered could present you with opportunities. Although my first point was to define your goals, another equally-as-important tip is to remain flexible in their implementation.

Emer Feeney is HR Generalist at SL Controls, a specialist software integration firm, working in the pharma, medical device, healthcare and food & beverage sectors, with offices in Sligo, Dublin, Galway, Limerick and Birmingham.