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How should I progress in my career if I don't want to be a manager?

Neil Lewin, senior consultant at Festo Training and Consulting

(Credit: Shutterstock)
(Credit: Shutterstock)

There is an assumption that we all want to climb the career ladder. But not everyone wants to be a manager, and there’s nothing wrong with that. So what is the career path for someone with technical skills and knowledge? And how can they progress without taking on management responsibility?


Overcome barriers

Industry 4.0 and the digitalisation of manufacturing represent a considerable opportunity for progression. Businesses that help their people develop new skills will be best placed to capitalise on the opportunities presented by Industry 4.0, which makes it highly likely that any move by employees to step into the breach and upskill will be welcomed.

Before you ask for time and budget to attend any training, it’s important to prepare your case. Think about the areas of digitalisation that most interest you, ideally where your company has a strategic priority and is experiencing a skills gap. Highlight the fact that training will make you better at your job and show how developing new skills will help to future-proof your team and your organisation. 

Supplement skills

Just like upskilling, re-skilling presents an opportunity for growth without the need to rise through the organisational hierarchy. Your skills might lie in mechanical or electrical engineering but could training in digital skills open up different opportunities and meet a business need? 

In a 2017 report on workforce re-skilling by the World Economic Forum, one in four adults identified a mismatch between the skills they have, the skills they need for their current job and the requirements of their organisation. How has your role changed and what could you do to keep up and stay relevant in the 21st century? In the new world of work, agility is key. Having a wide variety of skills means you will be able to slot in to flexible teams that are built and rebuilt in response to constantly evolving conditions.

Share experience

Whether you are recently qualified or have decades of experience under your belt, there are many advantages to sharing your skills. As well as supporting others, mentoring delivers personal benefits and development opportunities outside of a formal line-manager role. 

Newly qualified engineers are perhaps able to share recent knowledge on modern machines and Industry 4.0 technologies, embedding their own learning at the same time. Older engineers can share the benefits of years of experience, as well as the knowledge gained from the in-depth apprenticeships they did many years ago. Mentoring is also a valuable opportunity to practise skills such as communication, empathy and active listening.

The benefits to an organisation of sharing skills across teams and individuals are enormous. Tensions between ‘old knows best’ and the latest trends are common. Sharing experience and energy helps to ease any friction, at the same time as boosting productivity and building relationships that help form the future.

Mind the gap

It’s not compulsory to reach management level in order to have a successful career. By proactively steering your own development and taking responsibility for your own education, you will be perfectly placed to fill the gap between existing skills and what will be required in the future. 

Whether you re-skill, upskill, become a mentor – or all of these – you’ll be progressing in your career without needing to chase the next promotion.


Get more great careers advice with your IMechE membership at imeche.org/workfriend

Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

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