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IEs and Pink (not the singer)

By Lew Cox

In the olden days (read: 25-50 years ago), it was common for people to enter the workforce, work for a specific company for their useful working lives, receive a gold watch, a hearty handshake, and a pension, and settle down for their Golden Years. OK, some of that (like the gold watch) didn’t always happen, but in general the scenario was common. It isn’t, anymore. Today’s workers move around between jobs and industries a good deal more than their parents did. The movement may be to maximize their upward movement in the corporate hierarchy, it may be because they were given the opportunity to make a career adjustment (read: they were laid off), or in some cases the entire industry may have disappeared and/or moved offshore. 

As an example, author Daniel H. Pink notes, “In the 1980s, a big job of the future was supposed to be data entry clerk.”  He continues, “Now, we’re all data entry clerks.” His moral is it is futile to try to predict your eventual landing spot. “When today’s 20-somethings reach their 40s, they’ll likely be working in an industry that doesn’t exist yet.”  

Pink believes there are three skill sets that will prove useful in today’s ever-changing economy. They are:  

Numeracy.  By this, he means the ability to reason mathematically and deal with statistics. Numeracy is crucial to one’s ability to understand, manage, and improve all things dealing with operations, finance, quality, et al. 

Design Thinking.  In all aspects of the organization, from production to office to computerization, there are opportunities to observe and improve the design of the process and/or the product. 

Ability to Sell.  All professionals must cultivate the ability to sell, since all of them do selling in some form in their jobs. They must sell ideas on projects, sell the need for additional resources, sell their bosses on their worth to be promoted, sell other companies on their skills when changing jobs, and a host of other selling activities.  

Through their academic training in industrial engineering, IEs have the first two in spades. Their IE courses and electives (if any) are rife with training and practice in numeracy and design thinking. In addition, they have opportunities to practice their ability to sell in their project courses, but perhaps the selling training is not as deliberate as the other two. 

Another author and CEO, Tammy Erickson, agrees that “newly minted workers should strive to acquire a menu of skills, even if it means moving around a lot — between companies or even industries.” This is true not only for the “newly minted workers,” but also for much more seasoned workers. Re-quoting Pink, “When today’s 20-somethings reach their 40s, they’ll likely be working in an industry that doesn’t exist yet.” Quoting me, “When today’s 40-somethings reach their 60s, they’ll likely/possibly be working in an industry that doesn’t exist yet." As a J-I-C action, IEs of all ages should be certain to keep up in the field of industrial engineering and delve as widely as they can, sticking a toe in other academic and career fields. 

Luckily, today’s IEs have already taken the first two crucial steps; i.e., a degree in industrial engineering and a membership in IIE. This gives them access to IIE and its headquarter’s resources. This includes, but is not limited to, online courses, short courses, seminars, webinars, newsletters, professional publications, and professional conferences. Use your IIE membership to its fullest and stay up-to-date and fleet of foot.     


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