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Charting a course

Becoming chartered does not guarantee a big pay rise.But it is a step on the way, discovers Mark Hansford.

Many graduate engineers complain they are not realising the full benefits of training and qualifying as a chartered engineer - ie. they do not automatically get paid more (see box).

Why is this- The easiest answer is to berate companies for being tight fisted and bemoan that the construction industry is being squeezed ever tighter. But the real culprits are engineers themselves, says graduate training specialist Niall O'Hea.

'Some companies reward qualifications, but all companies reward professional behaviour, ' explains O'Hea. Getting Chartered is a demonstration that you take your career seriously. And you can get your payback earlier than you think.

'Qualifying as a professional engineer means continually behaving like one, and not just for one day at the review, ' he says.

'This attitude eases the process of preparing for a professional review, makes the individual more valuable to their company, and makes them able to command a higher salary as a result.' O'Hea is well placed to comment, having spent three years setting the standards as ICE professional development manager. Since leaving the ICE last year, he has mentored more than 40 graduates to professional review - with no failures.

To him it is all about becoming what he terms a 'smart' engineer.

'A smart engineer effectively develops skills and knowledge a little every day. By developing these skills gradually, they are also much better prepared and confident about taking advantage of the opportunities that qualification brings, ' he says. 'Their behaviour before the review is exactly the same as afterwards - constantly learning, questioning, developing.' O'Hea teaches graduates to focus on developing the ability to think and behave like a professional - which means better performance in the workplace. Only then does he get them to focus on the exam technique required to pass the review.

'Being a smart engineer is not easy but anyone can do it. A good way to realise what is required is to try to critically analyse someone you admire at work.

'Have you ever thought that they do things differently or work harder at certain things, therefore preparing themselves for certain eventualities- These people are smart engineers and they will succeed because of their abilities to perform, not just because they are chartered.' Having a long term goal sounds obvious - but many people are quite happy to look only a few months or years ahead in their careers, says O'Hea.

He makes the comparison with a 14 year old child who is thinking about going to university and is already looking seven to eight years ahead. By contrast, the average 27 year old civil engineer is only planning for the next two years when he or she expects to becoming chartered.

'Now why is it that a 14 year old child is looking further ahead than a graduate with more experience and wisdom-' he asks.

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