Business Skills for
Being a manager is not about being engineer and understanding how a piece of equipment works, it’s about people as individuals. Everyone is different. This course shows how interesting being a manager can be.
Verified by an engineer
Dave has been with Great Western Railways since he was 16. He has now been with the train operator for 30 years. He joined as an apprentice and rose through the company, while completing Master of Engineering degree at University of West of England. He has worked as a systems engineer, a fleet engineer and, most recently, a depot engineering manager for one of GWR largest and busiest depots in Reading.
Dave explains: “GWR is a big, diverse organisation, in size as well as the number of people, stretching from Paddington to Penzance. Even in Engineering, you can work for the department for your whole career and have no interaction with some others in that team given the diversity of 60-year-old locomotives through to brand new trains. The concept of customers, internal and external, is far from abstract and very real – and is an important part of being a manager.”
Why the Business Skills for Graduate Engineers course?
“For me this was a refresher course. I have just completed five years as a Depot Engineering Manager, and I have now been seconded to a new role looking at future fleet options for GWR. The reason I wanted to do take this course was twofold. Firstly, I wanted to reflect on what I had learned and what I could have done differently in my last role and, secondly, I wanted to brush up on some aspects of finance knowledge for my new role.
“With this project I’m on now, understanding operational expenditure versus capital expenditure is key. For us, operational expenditure is significant; energy costs are huge and thinking of ways of getting them down is so important.
“I’m a great believer in taking at least one course a year – it always comes in useful. Some courses are not necessarily applicable immediately, but they will be in time. To be fair to GWR, they have organised great internal courses and they absolutely recognise that just because someone is good at fixing trains, it doesn’t mean they know about business and will become a good people manager. So, I already had some good internal training and knowledge, but I wanted to get another perspective.”
What was your experience of the course?
“It was a two-day course in the IMechE’s offices in London. The job I had been doing as a depot engineering manager was very intense and it was difficult to get time and space away. Coming to the course was a good time to remind myself of what I had learned in the past and refresh myself on best practice, as well as learn something new.
“There was some pre-course work of looking at your own publicly available company accounts and bringing them along to the session. Attendees came from SME-type companies as well as big companies like mine. We went through some of these company finances and it was interesting to analyse what the accounts showed was happening. You could see people connecting it to their own experience.
“Most of the other attendees were in their 20s or early thirties but that was fine. The trainer was very experienced and was able to bring everyone into discussions. We covered everything from economics to people management.
“One of the things that stood out for me was the three reasons you trust somebody: Are they competent? Do they have integrity? What is their judgment like? You can have competent people who have integrity but sometimes they’ve not got great judgment – about what the priorities are and how they’re going to spend their time. That can lead to conflict.”
What are the key reasons someone should attend the Business Skills for Graduate Engineers course?
1 “If you see yourself as someone who will become a team leader or influence the direction of travel of your organisation, this is a great course for you.”
2 “Being a manager is not about being engineer and understanding how a piece of equipment works, it’s about people as individuals. Everyone is different. This course shows how interesting being a manager can be.”
3 “When it comes to the point in your career where you manage others, you will probably be too busy to take a course. Do it now in anticipation – it won’t be wasted time and you will use the knowledge one day.”
What’s been the impact?
“It was a really healthy refresher for me of best practice and to reflect on how to treat people. We may work in teams but you have to treat people as individuals and, actually, everyone is much happier being treated as individuals.
“It was also good to think about risk and managing people’s different assessment and awareness of risk. It’s really important as the stuff that’ll get you sent to prison is the fact you had an oil spill or didn’t complete a suitable risk assessment for an activity and put effective mitigations in place as an outcome. Understanding and managing the risks you are responsible for is key for your business.”
Three pieces of advice you’d give future attendees
1 “Have a think about things that have frustrated you in the last couple of years and bring them along for discussion.”
2 “It’s easy to dismiss pre-course work or leave it the last minute but don’t! Do the pre-course activities – you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what you get from that.”
3 “Are there management decisions that you haven’t agreed with? Reflect on them during and after the course. See if you can make sense of the decision from a management point-of-view.”
“I think a lot about trust – and those three qualities of competence, integrity and judgment. Admittedly, judgment is subjective but, looking back to where I have had challenges managing people and things got a bit bumpy, it’s crystal clear that the reason was the disconnect between our priorities. It’s where our judgments didn’t align. Equally, when I look back to when things have gone well, it’s where our judgments aligned. That was a real lesson for me to consider for the future.”
Business Skills for Graduate Engineers